Emcee Squared: Joel Grey and Eddie Redmayne on ‘Cabaret’

Eddie Redmayne had never seen “Cabaret” when, as a 15-year-old student at Eton, he was first cast as the Emcee, the indecorous impresario of the bawdy Berlin nightclub where the musical is set. So Redmayne did what anyone wondering about the character would do: He watched the 1972 film, and studied Joel Grey’s performance.

Redmayne, 42, has played the Emcee three more times — at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe following high school; in London’s West End, winning an Olivier Award in 2022; and now on Broadway, where he has just picked up a Tony nomination.

“Cabaret,” set in 1929 and 1930, is about an American writer who has a relationship with a British singer working at the Kit Kat Club; the queerness of some of that nightclub’s habitués and the Jewishness of some of its neighbors become risk factors as the Nazis gain power.

Redmayne had never met Grey, who originated the role on Broadway in 1966 and who went on to win both Tony and Academy Awards as the Emcee. So I asked them to lunch, to talk about a character both have played several times, and about a musical that has continued to move audiences.

We met at Le Bernardin — Grey’s choice — and for two hours they shared stories, Redmayne reverential and thoughtful, Grey puckish and supportive. At times, when words seemed insufficient, Grey reached out to clasp Redmayne’s hand.