Spotlight: Randy Harrison from “Cabaret”

Randy Harrison has a career that spans stage and screen. He is perhaps most widely known for his role as Justin Taylor on the Showtime series “Queer as Folk,” which ran from 2000 to 2005. Randy is making his way to Louisville next week, performing the salacious role of the Emcee in the new touring production of “Cabaret” March 8 through the 13 at The Kentucky Center. We caught up with Randy to get a little more insight into his career and what we can expect from Roundabout Theatre Company’s exciting new show.


Cabaret Providence Performing Arts CenterHow did you get your start in the performing arts?

I think I started performing when I was like 6 years old. I started very young – not professionally but lots of community theatre stuff. I grew up in New Hampshire not too far outside of Boston, so it was a time when Boston would get tryouts for shows moving to Broadway. So I saw theatre at a young age and was just fascinated by it. I thought it was pure magic, so I wanted to perform. I did community theatre in New Hampshire then studied it a CCM then continued studying it in New York.


How did your time on “Queer as Folk” influence your onstage acting – if at all?

That’s interesting. For five years, I was doing “Queer as Folk” almost exclusively – I did a TV movie during one hiatus and a play during one hiatus – so by the time I started doing theatre again, it was very different, of course I was five or six years older. But I’m not sure that it came directly from my experience doing “Queer as Folk”  or just from life experience. I was also studying acting the entire time, so who can say? I know the intimacy of being in front of a camera – the audience is the camera to some extent – is something. It’s much closer to you; it’s much – I wouldn’t say it’s more nuanced – but it’s a different way of working. I think television requires a very different kind of focus.


Do you prefer one over the other – film to stage?

They’re just different. I’m a bit ADD, so I’ll get bored – if I’m just in front of a camera forever, I’ll be anxious to get onstage, and I’ve been onstage for a long time, I’m anxious to get in front of a camera. I’m appreciative of having the opportunities to work in both mediums a fair amount though.


So how are you liking performing as the Emcee in “Cabaret”?

It’s amazing. I love this show, and I love this production. It’s a dream role, and it’s just been amazing getting different audience reactions in different states and cities. It’s been a real thrill.


As you’ve been familiar with the show for so long, is there a moment in the show that sticks out to you as a favorite to perform?

I’ve been asked this before, and it’s changed every time. Right now, it’s “I Don’t Care Much,” which is really the only ballad I have and pretty much one of the last things I sing. I love it just because it’s so beautiful and falls at the perfect time in the course of the show narratively, which gives it a really cumulative, powerful effect. Also because it’s completely different from anything else I do in the show, and in some ways, I feel like it’s the first time the audience sees who the Emcee is underneath everything.


With “Cabaret” being such a classic and historic musical, is there anything new that those familiar with the show or the 1972 LIza Minnelli film can look forward to or expect?

I think the biggest thing is that the original creative team went back to the source material – the novel, yes, but specifically the historical context of what was happening in Berlin, the cabaret that was existing and the art that was being made in 1929 or 1930 Berlin. I think the movie was groundbreaking and risque in its time, but this is very gritty, really fun and crass and massively amusing. But it truly does have this gritty underbelly that I think is really authentic to what was happening in Berlin at the time, which, really, is what the show is about.


Do you think the darkness of the deeper themes of “Cabaret” can still be applied to today’s sociopolitical landscape?

The show as initially written in 1966 as really a response to the Civil Rights Movement and comparing the hatred that was being fermented at the time to the anti-Semitism that was emerging and would eventually cause the Holocaust and fascism’s rise in Berlin. And I think, sadly, I think it’s relevant that we always ask ourselves, “How did this genocide happen? How did we as civilized people allow it to happen?” And of course, during in an election year at a time when hate is being very much exploited for political gain, it’s very important that we see these parallels.


See Randy in “Cabaret” running at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts March 8-13. Tickets are available at kentuckycenter.org or by calling 50.584.7777.


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