Cabaret: How Hair and Makeup Create the Kit Kat Club’s Effervescence

Details bring a story to life, but they’re all the more important in this current Broadway production of Cabaret. Directed by Rebecca Frecknall, this revival of the timeless musical is an immersive experience: audience members are handed a shot of cherry schnapps at the door and dinner-service seats surround the arena stage. A challenge with staging a show in the round is that there are no backdrops and minimal props, giving the cast fewer resources to set the scene. But this is where the creativity of Hair & Wig Designer Sam Cox and Makeup Designer Guy Common truly shines through. 

While Cabaret is set in 1930s-era Berlin, the designers were open to a more modern interpretation. “We tried to steer clear of what had been done before and look at this story through a different lens, taking inspiration from the period but not dismissing a modern take,” says Cox. 

“When creating the designs for this show, I looked to a variety of source material from the time to give the looks a grounding in history: the shapes of the brows, the placement of the blush, and of course, the lip shape,” adds Common. “But I imagined the audience being contemporary with the cast and viewing the show through a feverish, intoxicated lens.”

The show opens with our Emcee, played by a puckish Eddie Redmayne, standing center stage. His striking ginger hair feels synonymous with this revival’s branding, emphasizing the colorful quality of his character. “With (scenic designer) Tom Scutt’s sketches, we collaboratively conceptualized a look that felt right for Eddie,” says Cox. “ [We looked] at different tones of red against his skin that would work well with Guy (Common)’s makeup and shapes to suit his face.” 

Redmayne starts as the mischievous master of ceremonies of the Kit Kat Club, but his character is a shapeshifter, bridging reality and fantasy. During “Money Money,” he dons an army helmet and black-and-white mime-like face paint. He dances with a gorilla in “If Only You Could See Her,” wearing a clown suit, bright red lips, and a party hat, a little off-kilter. 

“The Emcee is a joy to design due to the multiple facets of his personality: from impish playfulness at the opening of the show to the stark red, white, and black of his Pierrot that perfectly reflects the Nazi undertone lurking beneath his grinning facade,” says Common. “Working closely with Eddie gave me so much insight into the way he viewed the character and allowed me to use that insight when customizing my designs for him.”

Sally Bowles (Gayle Rankin) also goes through a transformative journey throughout the show. When we first see Sally in a perfectly curled red bob, powdered face, and fluttery lashes, she’s the alluring—but chaotic—singer at the Kit Kat Club. By the end of the show, she’s still singing, but there’s a different tone to her voice.

Sally is such a complex character. Despite her fervent insistence that she is going to be a huge star, there is an underlying melancholy and a deep-seated belief that this may not happen,” explains Common. “I wanted to start off with an almost mask-like opening look that slowly gets stripped back as we see more and more of the real Sally.”

Stage makeup is already highly pigmented, but the Kit Kat Club turns it up to full volume. Bright pink cheeks, glittery neon eyeshadows, and drawn-on black brows are staples of the nightclub scenes. “The Kit Kats are a motley crew of nightlife performers. I imagined them living a fully nocturnal life, never fully coming out of their stage looks, just adding on top of last night’s remnants,” says Common. “Something I was keen to impart on the cast [was] it’s good if the look is a little undone.” 

Also unique to this show is that wig caps become part of the looks, adding to the blurred reality aspect. “The idea behind the wig cap look was to make you feel like not only are you present at the Kit Kat Club, but you are also behind the scenes with the characters,” says Cox. 

Cabaret is already a memorable show for its political commentary, but the dedication to detail and character makes this production visually distinct. Through the high level of artistry and collaborative excellence, the Cabaret designers have managed to create a world you can’t help but lose yourself in—and much like the show itself, once you realize, it’s too late. 

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club, at the August Wilson Theatre. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes. For tickets:

Annika Olives

Staff Writer

Annika is a Manila-born, California-raised, and NYC-transplanted Filipino-Spanish-American storyteller. Her writing career has spanned from content design to journalism to social media, so she can craft seamless product copy, compelling articles, and killer captions with ease. She’s a techie by day but a creative always, and she loves all things wellness, lifestyle, food, travel, fashion, arts, and culture. Because she’s a Virgo rising and eldest daughter who doesn’t understand the concept of rest, she’s obsessed with perfecting the lazy girl routine and perhaps—one day—achieving that all-elusive leisure. Her simple joys include skincare that doesn’t break you out, chai lattes, baking, a good thrift find, and building trip itineraries on Notion.