Cabaret is a musical based on a book written by Christopher Isherwood. Set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, it focuses on nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub and revolves around the 19-year-old English cabaret performer Sally Bowles and her relationship with the young American writer Cliff Bradshaw.
Through examining cabaret during Germany in World War I, the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany, it will be shown that cabaret served as a barometer of public opinion. Political commentary within cabaret flourished during times of uncertainty and mitigated peace, while in times of war, the political content and satire within cabaret was suppressed by external factors such as the state, but also by internal factors such as public taste.
This is an interesting fact, in that it shows how fitting it is to have the story revolve around a cabaret. The point behind a cabaret is not only the drinks and sexual performances but the satirical commentary it offers, and how the changing political/social scene inevitably changes the entertainment within.
Since Cabaret first opened in 1966, people have described the show the same way: it shows how the Nazis used the decadence and moral decline of 1930 Berlin to come to power. But the accuracy of that description depends on how you define decadence. Berlin was like any big city in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Was it decadent for gay men and women to live openly? Was it decadent for women to live independently and to express their sexuality openly? Was sex outside of marriage decadent? Some people would say yes; others would disagree.
The film's most controversial line was a lyric to the song "If You Could See Her." As Grey slow-danced with Quick dressed in a gorilla suit, the last line of the song went: "If you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn't look Jewish at all."
The lyric and gorilla costume were meant to show how anti-Semitism was beginning to run rampant in Berlin, but Grey said it caused problems in the New York stage production.
Apparently people who saw this stage production took it badly because they thought it was merely saying Jews look ugly. I liken this problem to how people call The Tales of Huckleberry Finn a racist novel. It was staying true to its time period, when racist terms were thrown around in 19th century America. In Cabaret, Jews don't look like gorillas, but to many people during this time they were as repulsive as gorillas.
Cabaret was based on several chapters from Christopher Isherwood’s somewhat autobiographical novel Goodbye to Berlin, and it seems that new versions of this story have always appeared at times of crisis in America. The novel appeared at the close of World War II; the non-musical stage version debuted during the McCarthy era; the stage musical opened during the Vietnam era; and the movie musical opened in the midst of the Watergate era. Each of these times has also been a turning point in regard to the social standing of American women and gays. Each subsequent version of this story has been braver, edgier, more explicit, and only now can it be told completely truthfully.
The movie is loosely based on the 1966 Broadway musical by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb. The musical was adapted from the 1939 Christopher Isherwood novel Goodbye to Berlin and the 1951 play I Am a Camera, which was also adapted from the book. When the film came out in 1972, it blew away the sugary cliches of movie musicals with its candid depiction of sex, anti-Semitism, homosexuality, Nazism and abortion.
The plot centers on a young British cabaret singer, Sally Bowles, who is the featured performer at the very seedy Kit Kat Klub and is desperately trying to cope with the uncertainties of her life. She becomes involved with a young American writer who is seeking inspiration for a new novel. The theme explores the sexual decadence of this society in the midst of the ominous rise of the Third Reich.
"Cabaret" is probably most familiar to audiences from the film performances of Grey and Liza Minelli, but the play is a very different animal. A number of songs were dropped for the movie, and others substituted. The subplot with Herr Schultz was also dropped, and Cliff and Sally switched nationalities, possibly because Minelli had trouble with an English accent. And the darker elements of the era are much more prominent in the stage play.
The desperate hedonism of the night club set was captured by the British author Christopher Isherwood, who lived in Berlin as Germany descended into chaos between 1929 and 1933. Isherwood's novel "Goodbye to Berlin," published in 1939, was adapted into the stage play "I Am a Camera" in 1951. Set to music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, it became the hit musical "Cabaret" in 1966.
Cabaret is a style of variety entertainment, typically including music, dance, comedy, and short theatrical pieces. The style is named after the venue in which it is performed, which is similar to a nightclub. Cabaret began in France around the turn of the 19th century, later flourishing in Germany and the United States.
“People hear ‘Cabaret’ and they think, ‘Oh Christ, it’s a musical about happiness,’” Minnelli said to the LA Times in a recent interview. “It’s not about that at all. It’s about opinions and politics and survival.”
Indeed, “Cabaret” takes place in 1931 during the fading of the German Weimar Republic (the liberal parliamentary representative democracy established in 1919) and the rise of the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party.