In the half-century since the world premiere of Cabaret, so much in our world has changed and yet so much remains the same. Like the giant mirror that formed the backdrop for the original set, reflecting the audience back to themselves, this great work of art has been, as Hamlet says, “the glass wherein we can see the inmost part of us.” Our guide, the Emcee, seduces us into his world, luring us with song, dance, and laughter, putting us at ease until we drop our guard and then beckons us into the heart of our own darkness.
The original Cabaret was very much “of its time,” reflecting the Dionysian spirit of abandon in the face of evil. While the ugliness of the Vietnam War raged in prime time, Cabaret urged us to shake off that “prophet of doom.” To face the notion that from “cradle to tomb isn’t that long a stay,” to live, drink, be merry in the face of unavoidable catastrophe. The bold sexuality of the play, tinged with danger, reflected the sexual revolution of the sixties. It was an Epicurean call to throw ourselves into the fire and dance.
The brilliant Sam Mendes revival of 1998 brought out themes that had lain dormant in the original. The Emcee was openly gay, the sexuality of Alan Cumming being much more blatant than what was only hinted at in Joel Grey’s original performance. Cliff also was gay, a tribute to Christopher Isherwood, whose Berlin Stories was the source material for the play I Am a Camera that then became Cabaret. Isherwood was never able to be open about his sexuality.
So why now? At nearly 75 years past the end of World War II, the survivors, the perpetrators and the witnesses to the Holocaust, the generation that endured the most horrible genocide in modern history, are nearly gone. The personal accounts that rendered these events visceral and inescapable could lose their immediacy and be relegated to some dusty volume about some old war that high school students are forced to read. So we bring back Cabaret inviting us with its dazzling theatricality to make history chilling and real and remind us not only never to forget, but that we must be on watch lest it repeat itself.
– Bill English, Artistic Director
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