KPBS AIRDATE: September 03, 2004
The climatic conditions and prevailing winds in 1930 Germany were not so different from today. Ambi-sexuality was rampant. Moral decay, debauchery and decadence were all around. And there was a silently creeping, mounting menace, trying to clamp down, steal freedoms and mandate morality. A very scary time, then and now. A perfect time for a “Cabaret.” The brilliant, 1966 Kander & Ebb musical paints a horrifying portrait of extremism — on both ends of the spectrum — and the range of reactions to a world going mad and self-destructing. from turning your neighbor in to leaving the country; from saying ‘It can’t happen here’ to ‘What’s all the fuss about?’
Because the City of Vista supports them, and the City is very conservative, Moonlight Stage Productions has had to sanitize the show. There’s significantly less depravity and sexuality in their production than is in the text. But the focus here is on the encroaching political oppression. And that makes it very timely indeed. With the hedonistic English cabaret chanteuse, Sally Bowles, stripped of her wantonness and drug abuse, and the struggling American writer, Cliff, deprived of his bisexuality, their relationship loses its bite. Here, the spotlight is angled more toward the secondary characters, the German boardinghouse owner Fraulein Schneider and her courtship by the Jewish fruitseller, Herr Schultz. Their relationship is emblematic of the price the Nazis exact, and when the Fraulein sings the dark, haunting song, “What Would You Do?,” we all have to catch our breath and think hard about ourselves.
Director Steve Glaudini has used the script and borrowed the setting of the 1987 Broadway revival, which has a mirror facing the audience, forcing them to see themselves in this morass. But Glaudini has gone even further, making the final moments of the show shocking and terrifying. When Sally comes out to sing her finale, the title song, she isn’t shrugging it all off any more. She’s wasted, devastated, destroyed, just like the once-vibrant Berlin around her.
With its magnificent score, wonderfully played, and with dazzling singing and dancing, this is a “Cabaret” that must be seen, whitewash notwithstanding. Eric Anderson is chilling as a sinister, skinheaded Emcee, who comments on the action by turning each event into a music-hall number. Susannah Hall is superb as Sally, though she sings almost every song with the exact nuance and timbre of Liza Minelli in the 1972 film, which, by the way, totally omitted the touching relationship between the German pragmatist and the Jewish optimist. In the role of that pragmatist, Fraulein Schneider, Debbie Prutsman gives a terrifically heartfelt, understated performance. What would you do, indeed? You have a chance to decide, on November 2nd, whether, as Cliff warns, “The Party’s over.”
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.