Jose here. I have a confession to make that might make me very unpopular around here: I don’t get Michelle Williams. I understand the reasons why she’s beloved and acclaimed and why she’s earned three Academy Award nominations so far, but I can’t bring myself to declare myself as part of her fanclub. The reason behind this is that I can’t fully fathom her as a true sexual being, yet time after time she’s asked to portray characters for whom sex is an essential trait. For instance, as much as she aced the moves, comedic timing and picaresque tone of Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, she played the most famous sexual icon of all time as a timid porcelain doll, whose internal turmoils kept her from having an emotional life. What is the point of having Marilyn onscreen if you’re not having at least mildly naughty thoughts about her?
Yes, as problematic as the previous question might sound, my point is that there should be a clear dividing line between oversexualization and over-intellectualization. With Williams, you can always see her thoughts before her reactions, which is why I was extremely wary when it was announced she’d be taking on the role of Sally Bowles in the latest Broadway revival of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret. The previous revival of the iconic Tony Award-winning production closed in 2004 and brought unsurpassed acclaim for the creative team of Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall who cast Alan Cumming as the Emcee and the late Natasha Richardson as Sally Bowles (they both won Tonys for their work).
With the Tonys practically around the corner and taking into consideration theater fans’ never-ending paranoia about movie stars stealing their territory, can Michelle Williams unseat frontrunners Kelli O’Hara, Sutton Foster and Jessie Mueller? I believe the answer will be a big no. She might get nominated though, because the Tonys do like acknowledging movie stars’ work (except if they’re completely unremarkable like poor Jessica Chastain in The Heiress last year) and I was pleasantly surprised by MiWi’s voice; however that’s all she really has going for herself in this show.
The character has been completely desexualized, to the point where she’s often wearing pink robes and very girlie attires as if to warn people to stay away from her. In her very first big number, “Don’t Tell Mama”, Williams’ turns Sally into an “adult girl”, very much like her Marilyn, who coos and aahs, but warns us not to think of her as a sexual being. I’m not sure if this was a conscious choice (but it probably wasn’t since we often hear other characters talk about Sally’s libido) yet it makes for a very problematic plot since we are never sure what Sally wants from the world.
Her mannerisms have been practically copied from Liza’s (and honestly who can blame her?) but sometimes her accent sounds like she’s trying to emulate Dorothy Whitney's Mag Wildwood from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. When juxtaposed with the rest of the cast (Cumming is once again, brilliant beyond words) Williams feels misplaced, as if she’s always the one trying the hardest, something that we might argue works well for Sally, but feels more accidental than planned. I would like to think that she was trying to project Sally’s inner life by making her performance-within-a-performance even more obvious to the audience but more and more I believe that maybe this time she wasn’t completely ready to take on the part.
Have you seen this production yet? If so, what did you think of Williams?