Straight Actor Eddie Redmayne to Play 'Traditionally Queer' Emcee in 'Cabaret' Revival

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday October 24, 2021
Originally published on October 15, 2021

Straight British actor Eddie Redmayne is returning to the stage for the first time in a decade in order to reprise a role he last played as a teenager: That of the Emcee in a London revival of "Cabaret."

The casting choice troubles some, since the role has long been considered, and played, as queer, Vogue reported.

As Tom Scutt, designer for the London revival, noted to Vogue, "The history of that role is one of queer portrayal."

"This began with Joel Grey's white-faced take," Vogue recalled, going on to add that "it has been emphasized by other interpretations, including Alan Cumming's mesmeric and menacing incarnation. (Grey and Cumming are both gay, while Redmayne is not.)"

The casting of straight and cisgender actors in LGBTQ+ roles has been increasingly controversial in recent years. Some actors hold the view that their profession, by definition, requires them to portray identities that do not actually belong to them, while others point to the ranks of talented non-heterosexual and transgender actors, arguing that they should have the chance to bring real-world authenticity to LGTBQ+ roles.

Redmayne addressed his casting in the role, telling Vogue, "I hope when people see the performance, the interpretation will justify the casting."

Added Redmayne: "The way I see the character is as shape-shifting and a survivor." The actor went on to say that "The only point in us doing it would be if we could do something different from those other productions, something new."

Issues of representation may take on extra significance in this case: Vogue recalled how, when the musical first premiered in 1966, the director, Hal Prince, sought "to make the cabaret a metaphor for Germany as the Nazis rose to power, putting the characters in a chilling historical context."

In addition to carrying out an unprecedented genocide, murdering six million European Jews, the Nazis also targeted other minorities for persecution — including gays. An estimated 50,000 gay men were arrested under the Nazi regime, with between 10,000 and 15,000 being sent to the Nazis' death camps.

Director Rebecca Frecknall echoed Redmayne's thought that the production will seek "fresh" things to say, telling Vogue that Redmayne "brings an angle to it that's unexpected."

"There are a lot of things bubbling up: Politics, gender, hierarchies, stereotyping, the human fear of otherness and difference and how that can be weaponized," Frecknall said.

Redmayne played the role of the Emcee in a production at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival when he was 19, Vogue noted. He's also played an LGBTQ+ character before, taking the title role of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe in Tom Hooper's 2015 drama "The Danish Girl." Even then, as the Associated Press reported, "some trans activists...expressed unease at his casting in the historically important role."

"Ultimately, I think, you only live once," Redmayne told Vogue while discussing his return to "Cabaret" and the Emcee. "If it's a catastrophe, I got to play a part that always felt unfinished in me. If I don't do it, then perhaps I will just live with regret."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.