Call me a shill or a sell-out for hyping the coming Cabaret tour already amply being advertised on our site, but what I actually am is someone cowering in horror before the nightly news, shocked reading the daily newspaper, in low-level constant panic about the ways American democracy is creeping toward autocracy. Also, I'm someone who loves musicals, and thinks Cabaret is one of the best, because it neatly solves the inherent problem of musicals (why are these people breaking into song?). And what can I say? When I'm feeling sad, I want sad music, and when I'm living in the shadow of creeping autocracy, I want musicals about characters living in the shadow of creeping autocracy.
I saw the Sam Mendes-directed revival of Cabaret at Studio 54, produced by Roundabout Theatre Company, on a trip to New York City in 2000, shortly after Alan Cumming stepped down as the emcee, when a guy I'd never heard of named Michael C. Hall was playing the part. God, he was good. (His next project was Six Feet Under.) I've seen the Liza Minelli movie, which is so different from the stage version it might as well be different material.
(The movie is much more of a love story, with Sally Bowles as the central character. The Mendes stage show is set almost entirely in the Kit Kat Klub, with the emcee as the central figure.) I saw the stage show again in Seattle in 2008 when 5th Avenue Theatre did it with Nick Garrison in the starring role; I remember him draped across a moon shape descending from the rafters.
But those were halcyon days—those were Clinton and Bush days. Back then, Cabaret was a piece of history. The Nazis? So long ago. The brick that crashes through the window of Herr Schulz's fruit shop? Unsettling but ambiguous. Was it random kids, or was it because a jealous woman had just alerted the Nazi Ernst Ludwig that Schulz was a Jew? Can you believe people lived through murky times like that? All the fantastic numbers in the show, all the bawdy, funny, hedonistic songs that will be sung by these people (cast bios here) at the Kit Kat Klub, are ignorant bliss on amphetamines, a carnival of humanity not perceiving the magnitude of what's coming their way. They are living in Berlin in 1931.
Christopher Isherwood, who wrote the novel that became a play that became the Kander and Ebb musical, lived in Berlin from 1929 to 1934. He got out when he detected "terror in the Berlin air." He started having "mild hallucinations," he wrote in his memoir Christopher and His Kind. He heard wagons pull up to the building that weren't there and started seeing swastikas in the wallpaper of his room. So what did he do? He moved. He got out of there. He relocated to Los Angeles, to the United States, where nothing like creeping autocracy would ever happen.