2/4/2016—Last night my wife and I went to see the revival of Cabaret playing here in Pittsburgh. Since I teach today, I could not stay to see the second act. But I saw enough.
For those of us raised on the movie, this production is raw. What is in the movie a hint of corruption is here transformed into full, bleak nihilism. The line in the play about it seeming that Berlin is little children playing ever more wildly, waiting for parents to put an end to it, must have been in the original production. So, this overdone decadence is not imposed on the musical. But the scene is bleak. Sex and money define everything in life and only the Nazis have any real force. Even the landlady who wishes to marry sings “So What” in the first act.
But now think about our musicals and how many of them highlight corruption. Chicago, of course, comes to mind. And there is some of the same theme in La Cage aux Folles (in fact you could think of Cabaret as La Cage meets the Sound of Music). Then there is The Angry Inch.
Not all or even many musicals are like this. There is the huge Disney contribution to Broadway. But those musicals are meant to be fluff. They tell us nothing of life. Literally, they are suitable for children.
What is missing is the serious musical that considers life and affirms it. For example, South Pacific. Would that be possible today? People still love that musical.
It’s amazing that Cabaret premiered in the confident 1960’s—-in 1966. But maybe then it was Germany that was the issue. Clearly now, at least, we are meant to feel the impending doom all around us.
Is this Weimar? Well, if it is, it is not nearly as much fun. It is not riotous disorder. It is a slow ebbing. After the show, my wife and I watched numerous instances of what looked to us like decline outside the theater.
But what is missing in the two contexts is quite similar—-hope. Where is hope for the future today?