Last Saturday I impulsively went to see the John Kander and Freb Ebb musical Cabaret. What a wonderful and arbitrary decision it turned out to be! The show was staged at Fort Mason, which as you might expect is a former military base. The space was essentially a big auditorium with a few permanent seats, with a handful of tables set up to establish the cabaret nightclub atmosphere. (I tried to sit at one of these tables but to no avail, the ticket taker was a grade-A tool.)
Despite this setback, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. If you aren’t very familiar with the show Cabaret, it has been performed in many different incarnations; the original Broadway production is worlds apart from the film, as well as the well-known oversexed 1998 Broadway revival. This production brought together the best aspects of each, with songs and storylines exclusive to each previous version of the show.
What I was especially pleased with was how well this production handled the source material. Despite its immense popularity, Cabaret has always to me seemed a bit of an oddball show. As a product of 1960s Broadway tradition, it filled with lots of fun and bubbly jazz numbers, which it somehow manages to balance with the dark themes of Nazism and the inevitable tragedy facing the characters. Having never seen the original production (duh) I can’t say how well that managed it, but I am very happy to say that this independent version did so. It adds depth to seemingly carefree songs with heavy emotion and weight. When the show’s protagonist (or the closest thing to one, since the characters are practically amoral and cowardly) sings “Life is a cabaret, old chum” toward the show’s finale, her eyes are in tears; she knows what she is singing is false but she still forces herself to believe her own words.
The major fault with this production was with the orchestra; they were often overpowering the un-miked (and therefore very imrpessive) singers, making the lyrics hard to decipher if you are unfamiliar with the score. I knew the songs inside and out so for me it wasn’t a problem, but I imagine some of the clever lyrics were lost on greenhorns.
Despite this setback, I thoroughly enjoyed this production of Cabaret. A Saturday night well spent!