Cabaret: A Challenge

Krannert’s presentation of Cabaret offered a deeply challenging and condemning performance of the dangers of apathy.

Stresemann, a man I knew as a champion of the Republic that would eventually fall to dictatorship…alongside other historical facts to remind us there was a world moving along outside the rise of fascism.

In Cabaret, the songs lend to help express the desires of the characters within. Namely, they provide thematic purpose. The songs’ meaning by the Master of Ceremonies are collectively absurd in sexualization and depiction. They serve to offer an alternative Germany, one the antithesis of the oncoming Nazi Reich by being exposingly liberal in any possible sentiment. Its smiling faces cover the realities of the cabaret within. Obviously, it is island surrounded by an increasingly radicalized country. Also, while the cabaret is a place for open homosexuality and otherwise a place for the audience to abandon their stressors, the experiences of the workers themselves are mostly negative. Sally Bowles, the primary window into cabaret life, experiences shallow fulfillment of her desires and drowns all of these in sexual encounters and gin. 

The band eventually disappears in a moment suggesting the “end of the party” as the Nazi reign begins

Sally, in need of escape in the course of the story, returns to the cabaret after an unceremonious dismissal to sing “Life is a Cabaret” in a desperate attempt to hide the encroaching dangers and responsibilities she will be asked to undertake. Sally is convinced she will fail in any relationship she attempts (and so sabotages her relationship with the American author willing to support her–despite his clear lack of preparedness), murders her unborn child based on the liklihood it is of an unknown father and to free the American of any sense of responsability towards her, and refuses to acknowledge the severity of the uncoming Nazi regime. Rather than face anything, she returns to gin and the cabaret where she, at least on stage, can pretend the false veneer of the performance is reality. She resigns herself to apathy.

The final notable use of music is the song “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” where the happy folk-sounding tune is twisted into a disturbing cantor for the coming Nazi regime as the dictatorship comes to a Germany seemingly estactic for their rise to power. It is a tool of dramatic irony, the innocent-sounding tune ringing in with smiles and cheers a “New Germany” that the audience knows will bring some of the basest horrors mankind ever offered. It appears twice, first as a radio tune playing over a German-Jewish loving couple and later with swastika emblazoned across its measures as a chorus sings it in the presence of few horrified onlookers.

The costume design also offers thematic hints to each character. Some characters, like the American author, the German landlady, and the Nazi political operative are dressed conservatively to reflect their ultimate values. Ultimate because each fail to meet them in some circumstance over the course of performance. The American only rises to support Sally when she is with child. The landlady begins an early affair with a Jewish man before setting up the failed engagement, and the Nazi operative attends and reccomends the cabaret despite his membership in the party.

In contrast, the prostitute, Sally, and any of the cabaret workers dress loosely and provocatively to reflect their liberal sexual ethics. The prostitute makes a notable costume change, dressing more conservatively when she attends the landlady and Jewish man’s party. This is after a scene where she is seemingly jealous of the landlady achieving a meaningful relationship. During the party, she initiatates singing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” in order to keep the Nazi operative’s attention. As such, the costume change reflects her character changing to be willing to embrace the Nazi ideaology, though I found this suggested more that she was primarily aiming to seduce a Nazi to avenge to her jealousy (and the insult that she was not initially invited to the party).

During the show I felt quite scandalized, as I know at least one of the performers personally and the cabaret’s costume styling was deeply uncomfortable to my sentiments, especially to endure it publically. Perhaps most offensive was a song where the choreography involved the actors making sexual gestures with each other. I may have been put more at ease if this was meant to be comedic, but I wondered if I was meant to admire them. If it were the case that the cabaret’s debauchery was an imaginary, dreamlike lie (perhaps the gorilla-dancing meant to drill this point), I would still not find it funny and just depressing as I do now. 

I also am a big Shakespeare fan and actor, though my experiences are limited to student theater here at UIUC. Don’t I know you from there…?

A classmate, Alice, was very friendly conversation before, between, and after the show as she took time to chat with me. I deeply appreciated that. After the show, the ladies at a booth offering pens and information booklets kindly let me take their photo for this blog. I also deeply appreciated this. Alas, I did not have the opportunity to enjoy a beverage nor meal prior to this performance. It also happened to be Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day. I will hope my abstention from it will be taken as condemnation. 

The pen also had a touchscreen stylus!

A final note, outside the theater were exhibits of various art pieces reflecting Weimar Germany. These flavorful elements I wish I appreciated prior to entering the showspace, as after they are tainted by a very strong image of the holocaust murders.

The mentioned artwork

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