Cabaret – surprisingly timely
What could possibly be timely about a 50-year-old musical set in Berlin during Hitler’s rise to power?
Had I seen Cabaret a year ago, I would have enjoyed it, but seeing it during the 2016 election cycle as we argue over transgender bathroom rights, immigration and religious freedom made this musical even more powerful, and rather unsettling! (In retrospect, I shouldn’t be surprised. John Kander and Fred Ebb, the same songwriting duo responsible for Chicago, another musical set in a different time period that also has uncanny modern day parallels, wrote the songs in Cabaret.)
Set during the Weimar Republic
Cabaret is set in Berlin at the tail end of the Weimar Republic, a cultural microclimate running from the end of WWI in 1918 to Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. During this unique slice of time Germany experienced a frenzied renaissance in art, culture and science. Nine German scientists (five of whom were Jewish) earned Nobel Prizes, for instance, while German women began seeking careers outside the home, and the word “transvestite” was coined by a German doctor who advocated for LGBT rights.
Dancing in their sleep…
Cabaret begins in 1931 and revolves around a tawdry Berlin hotspot called the Kit Kat Club. The storyline (which differs significantly from the 1972 movie adaptation starring Liza Minelli) follows the interactions between Clifford Bradshaw (Lee Aaron Rosen), an ambitious American who arrives in Berlin seeking inspiration to write a novel, but winds up too busy partying to notice sinister changes in the political climate and understand the danger they bring.
Along the way, Clifford teams up with a British nightclub singer named Sally Bowles (portrayed by Andrea Goss.) Sally thinks of herself as Clifford’s muse, but she is more like his anesthetic, a cute but shallow pixie distracting him from the real world.
In the first act it is easy to dismiss Clifford and Sally’s romance as an empty fling, but by the end of the show, the realization that there is something deeper sneaks up on the audience just as much as it seems to sneak up on them. Meanwhile, a mid-life romance between the stern German landlady (Shannon Cochran as Fräulein Schneider) and the kindly Jewish fruit vendor (Mark Nelson as Herr Schultz) provides characters I could actually invest in emotionally throughout the entire play.
More than boy meets girl
Feels like a cabaret
Left me near tears
Eventually, as the outside world begins to shatter their gin-soaked world, Clifford wakes up and realizes what is going on with the Nazi party. Sally, on the other hand, continues “dancing in her sleep,” choosing to believe her dead end nightclub job will eventually make her a star.
And while I never expected Cabaret to end with a pretty little happily ever after bow, the final scene was a real blow. No spoilers here, but let me just say that the staging and imagery were thought-provoking, timely, and left me near tears.
I highly recommend catching Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Cabaret in Dallas at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas before it moves on! (Scroll down for ticket information.)
Cabaret tickets & more information:
What: Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET
When: Now through June 5, 2016 in Dallas, TX
Where: AT&T Performing Arts Center/Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Tickets: Check availability and book online at the AT&T Performing Art Center official website.
Runtime: Approximately 3 hours, with one intermission.
NOTE: While tickets were provided for review purposes, the opinions expressed in this article are wholly my own.
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