Wesley Taylor and Barrett Wilbert Weed Are Loving Their Cabaret
The New York stage favorites take on the iconic roles of the Emcee and Sally Bowles in Washington, D.C.
"She's laughing at me because I'm currently in mid-leg extension while we're doing this interview," Wesley Taylor says with a chuckle. "He actually has his leg next to his head," Barrett Wilbert Weed replies through a hearty belly laugh. "This interview is cutting into my pre-show warm-up," Taylor continues with good nature. When you're doing eight shows a week plus press, you figure out how to multitask.
Taylor, with credits including Rock of Ages and Smash, and Weed, a Drama Desk nominee for Heathers: The Musical and recent star of Found, are taking on the iconic roles of the Emcee and Sally Bowles in Signature Theatre's production of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret in Washington, D.C. The way these two young, in-demand actors secured these roles is as unique as their personalities. Cabaret also happens to be their first time in a professional revival, a fact they excitedly brought up during a conversation about loving the show, working at Signature Theatre, and devoting their lives to the "magical" Liza Minnelli.
Tell me about the first time you discovered Cabaret.
Barrett Wilbert Weed: I watched the movie and fell madly in love with Liza Minnelli. I think she's a magical human being, and for me, it was one of the first instances where I was like, if someone like [Liza], who is such an enormous presence, can be appreciated, maybe there's room for me, too. That was my first introduction to Cabaret and it's been like a slow, romantic, burning love affair since. I never have seen it [live]. I've been out of town for most of the recent revivals.
Wesley Taylor: I also fell in love with that film, watched it about a million times in college. I loved Joel Grey's marionette-dummy performance of the role. I watched the archives of the revival of the nineties, and saw the last revival three times. I very much showered myself with Cabaret.
How did the two of you come to star in this production?
Barrett: It's pretty funny.
Wesley: We didn't audition. I was very interested in the Signature after seeing a lot of my friends do shows down here. I was always impressed with the caliber and I specifically started watching [director] Matt Gardiner's work in the past year, Threepenny Opera and Sunday in the Park With George, and I just straight up asked for it. I saw they announced Cabaret and I called and I asked for it and shortly after, they said yes.
Barrett: I did a show at the Atlantic [Found] with Nick Blaemire this past fall. Nick and I are buddies and he's just such a wonderful human being. He grew up in D.C. with Matt, and was doing a production of his new show, Soon [at Signature], and Matt was saying, "We can't find anyone for Sally, I don't know what to do." And Nick, because he's just the nicest person in the world, was like, "Oh, you should just hire Barrett Weed. I'll send you some videos of her and if you think she's the right fit, you can make her the offer and be done with it." Matt watched the videos and thought it was a good idea.
Wesley: However, the rest of the cast auditioned and they are perfect.
Barrett: They all earned their roles. [laughs]
The roles of the Emcee and Sally Bowles are iconic. How are you handling audience expectations and the memories of Joel and Liza and Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson?
Wesley: Obviously it's a little intimidating stepping into the shoes of a character that has become one of those roles that makes an actor an icon. Joel won an Oscar [and a Tony]; Alan won a Tony. I feel like one of the reasons I'm in love with the character is because I'm in love with them. Stealing from them is not the worst thing in the world, but I'm not copying them. I hope that I'm making little nods to both of them with choices, but I think this Emcee is much darker and definitely moves more than any Emcee ever has.
Barrett: In my opinion, the only person who comes to mind when I think about this part is Liza Minnelli. No one can be her because she just is the ethereal being that she is.
You're both making your revival "debut" in Cabaret. Is the process of putting together a revival vastly different from putting together a new show?
Wesley: There's a level of pressure of expectation and interpretation, but it's also thrilling, because it's so liberating to do a process where you're not getting new pages every morning. Cabaret is a masterpiece; it is so smart and so good that there's such a freedom in being able to play and put it on for size.
Barrett: It's completely different, especially when you're doing new comedy work. In previews, you will get a line in rehearsals and go, "I have no idea how to make that funny." You'll get all the way through previews and every time it comes out of your mouth, it's like a rotten egg that splashes on the stage. You get a hundred notes from your director being like, "You're really not making that funny — can you just ham it up?," and you're like, "I'll really do my best," and finally it gets cut and you're like, ahhhhh!
Wesley: Or it gets cut and you're devastated because it's your baby.
Barrett: I never feel that way. [laughs]
Wesley: I feel like there are obvious perks to doing original work. You're on the cast album. Originating a role is pretty special. But you don't know if something's going to land or if people are going to respond to it. I read the script for Rock of Ages and thought it was going to close in a week…It opened the same year as Next to Normal and Billy Elliot, these artistic achievements, and they closed…Cut to six years later and [Rock of Ages was] still running. The opposite of that is Addams Family, which we all thought was going to be the next Producers and it kept not exceeding our expectations. You have no idea what's going to work or what's going to fall on its face. It's just your job to keep trying to do good work.