The problem with doing this little project is that when I really grow to love a show -- maybe something new to me, or (in this case) something I was very familiar with but just didn't really appreciate -- it's hard to leave it. I tend to get on these "kicks" where I will listen to one thing nonstop for... weeks... months... years. (I'm sure you Hamilton fans can understand.) But, if I did that, I'd never finish this. And it's not that I have a deadline or something, but there is just clearly more to discover.
I've spent the last several weeks with Cabaret. Remember a few months ago saying how I wasn't the biggest fan of Kander and Ebb? I think Cabaret was why. I had seen the movie when I was a teenager and I did NOT like it. The 1998 revival was happening right when I was really starting to connect with musical theatre and it really.. scared me. It was just too racey for me or something. The raciness of Chicago, which I saw with my family, was nothing compared to this, so it just seemed like a show that I didn't need to know about. We did it in college my senior year (I was not in it) and I remember GASPING at the end of "If You Could See Her," and I certainly was moved, but it wasn't hitting.
But, oh, it HIT the first time I listened to the revival a few weeks ago. I was sitting on the 7 train with my face drawn and my eyes wide open (I caught my reflection at one point in the window). Similar things would continue to happen with every listen. I had to put it on hold for a few days, because of Christmas, but when I came back, I was at Queensboro plaza, ready to transfer to the N train and Natasha Richardson was singing "Cabaret" and I was CRYING and walking and trying to avoid eye contact.
I think it's getting to me now more because of the landscape of the US. Things are not good. And I can't help thinking about refugees, and the Muslims being persecuted and the African Americans being persecuted and the LGBTQ community.... and people like Trump, who IS a modern day Hitler (I don't think he even believes the things he says -- I think he's doing it for attention -- but I don't understand WHY or what his end game is, and either way, he is the worst person currently living). There is so much denial in Cabaret. So many people like Cliff who speak out when they know people agree with them but are quiet when they really need to do something. People like Sally who would rather pretend nothing is wrong at all. People like Fraulein Schneider who feel like they have no choice but to accept whatever comes her way. I guess it'll always be like this. And that's even more upsetting. So, it's been a weird couple of weeks.
But, as far as the actual musical itself is concerned, there are no longer any doubts in my mind about the work of Kander and Ebb because, despite what I had previously refused to see, Cabaret is phenomenal and maybe the most important musical ever written.
I did listen to the original cast and the revival. I liked the revival better 98% of the time, but I do like the Finale better with the original. So much was changed from original to the Sam Mendes revivals and most of it for the better. I wish I could see Joel Grey's (not the movie) original performance so I could compare him with Alan Cumming. I watched the recorded stage version from the 1993 (or so) London revival -- the first with Alan Cumming. I mean, he's fantastic, but I think if you listen to the Broadway revival audio recording, you will hear better performances and acting than what I *saw* from the London cast. Natasha Richardson was insanely good. Sally shouldn't be too good of a singer (and none of these ladies were -- although obviously Liza was, but they were obsessed with Liza, so whatever. It's a movie, I forgive them) and no one was really THAT great, except Alan Cumming, whose voice can be gorgeous. That role is... I don't know. It's THE role. I mean, you think about musical theatre now, and you're asked to name the most iconic roles... the Emcee is in the top 3. Maybe #1.
I had read so much about Cabaret over the past week, and you're welcome to do your own research and go over it. I can't explain it. What I can tell you is that Cabaret has destroyed me, and it's GOOD that I need to stop listening to it and thinking about it, because it's too hard. (Ugh, why is this meta??) However, I am SO THANKFUL it finally "hit" me and that I listened to it during this time in our lives, because it is so, so important to hear these lessons.
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Book by Joe Masteroff