More than 16 years after her first visit to the Kit Kat Club, Emma Stone has come back to the Cabaret, old chums. A Golden Globe nominee, known for her work in films such as The Help and The Amazing Spider-Man, Stone, 26, joins Tony winner Alan Cumming in Roundabout's remount of Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall's celebrated revival of the classic Kander and Ebb musical. Replacing Michelle Williams, Stone stars as Sally Bowles, a nightclub singer in 1930s Berlin, through Feb. 1, 2015, at Broadway's Studio 54. Don't tell mama, but she might even open a club in her dressing room.
By Brandon Voss
Playbill: What's your theatrical background?
Emma Stone: I did 16 shows and some improv sketch comedy at Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. That's about the extent of it.
You joked with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show about your very first musical, No Turkey for Perky, when you were in the first grade. What are some of your other memorable musical experiences?
I was a stepsister in Cinderella... I was in The Wiz — twice!
What attracted you to live theatre at such a young age?
The whole group experience was the most affecting thing for me — the impact of being in the same room as people who are all telling the same story together, feeling what the audience is feeling right along with them. It felt like... every kind of everything all at once, if that makes sense. I really responded to that.
Was Broadway a goal?
I just wanted to do theatre in New York one day. When you're 13, 14, and haven't experienced rejection, anything seems possible. That's why I moved to L.A. at 15.
What was your last stage appearance before Cabaret?
Valley Youth Theatre did Titanic in 2003 with the touring set in an 800-seat house at the Herberger Theater Center, which is about as close to professional as you can get at that age in Arizona. Oh, I performed in front of a live audience as host of Saturday Night Live, but it's totally different.
You also sang for live audiences on the 2004 VH1 competition series In Search of the Partridge Family.
And under the scariest reality show circumstances, because I could've been cut and sent home! It was good preparation.
You've had memorable musical moments in movies like Easy A and The House Bunny. Do you ask directors to put your singing skills to use?
No. Can you imagine? I'd be the worst! In fact, I never thought I'd be asked to sing in anything. I didn't see myself as a singer. Now, I guess, I see myself as an actor who sings — that's Sally.
Are you finding that Broadway is pretty much like regional youth theatre with a bigger budget?
[Laughs] It's funny, because Cabaret is so specific that it doesn't really feel like Broadway or not Broadway. With the way Studio 54 is structured, we're really a part of the audience, and the audience is a part of the show. We bond. I know I'm having a different Broadway experience than if it were in a more traditional Broadway house.
You still get to experience the great Broadway tradition of meeting fans at the stage door.
Yeah, I've never had anything like that. It's another pretty damn cool experience that you never get to have when working on a film.
What's your relationship to Cabaret?
I saw Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson in the original [revival] production in 1998. We were in town seeing shows and my mom got rush tickets. I don't think she would've taken me if she'd known the premise. We got table seats and I just went nuts for it. I'd already seen Les Miz and Phantom, and everyone sounded like they do in Les Miz and Phantom. But when Natasha opened her mouth as Sally, I felt everything she was feeling. It was the first time I'd ever heard a voice like that coming out of a character. It wasn't perfect, but it was beautiful. It's hard not to be taken by Sally.
The fact that you were nine years old must make Alan feel pretty old.
[Laughs] I doubt it. He seems like the youngest person I've ever met. I don't think he ages. He's like Benjamin Button.
Doing Cabaret now with Alan must feel surreal.
What really stoked my fire to do this was that it was with Alan. Joel Grey's amazing, but Alan has always been my Emcee. He's been so wonderful and welcoming.
When did you and Alan first meet?
I met him last year when he was in the middle of doing his MacBeth. He'd just finished a show and we went to dinner. I don't know how he was functioning. Honestly, I don't know how he does it, but he does it gorgeously.
Alan turned his dressing room into a backstage hangout called Club Cumming. What will you do?
I am thinking of opening Stone's Soirée to compete with Club Cumming, but I don't think I have the stamina. I just want to go home every night, drink six gallons of Throat Coat and lie there like a rag doll.
Are you a fan of the 1972 film with Liza Minnelli?
Of course! Hers feels like a different version of Sally, but one of the cool things about Sally is that she's infinitely interpretable. Everyone has a different approach, a different vulnerability or hope that they bring to her — it's just a matter of what you personally identify with as an actor. It all works, I think. I loved Michelle's interpretation too, and now I'm doing my own thing.
Some insist that Sally is not supposed to be a really great singer. Others argue that Broadway audiences are paying big bucks to see really great singers. Thoughts?
I understand Broadway audiences wanting to see really great singers, but they can always go see Les Miz and Phantom. [Laughs] Christopher Isherwood, writing about Sally in The Berlin Stories, did write that "she sang badly," but I think the biggest mistake an actor could make would be to play her as a bad singer. That seems constricting to me, and it's certainly not a window into the character.
What's it like to step into an iconic role that's been played by so many great actresses?
Sally's one of the best characters a female actor can play, so it's an incredible lineage that I feel lucky to be a part of. It feels like getting your shot at Hamlet, I'd imagine.
You were initially approached to open this revival, but you passed due to filming commitments.
Yeah, that was hard. There was a lot of travel and hubbub happening at the same time, so I knew it would be too much for me. Now that I have this second chance, I've had more time to prepare and build up certain areas that weren't up to snuff. Long story short, I'm just grateful I get to do it now. There was never a moment when I didn't want to play Sally with all my heart.
How did it feel the first time you finally slipped on Sally's lingerie?
Pretty great. You gotta love a velvet corset.
Playbill, December 2014 issue; extended online version.