Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Staying Power of Cabaret

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a new rendition of the Broadway musical Cabaret at the Kennedy Center. I had read a negative review in the "Washington Post" but didn't share it with my friends until after the performance. The reviewer found the production too dark, a criticism that led me to wonder if he'd ever seen the play before or if he was only making the comparison to the Liza Minnelli film. Because the play is dark, indeed. And it should be.

Based upon the collection "Berlin Stories" by British writer Christopher Isherwood, the play centers around the rise of Fascism and the Nazi party in Germany in the 1930's. The Kit Kat Club, the cabaret of the title, acts as a microcosm of the decadent, and yes, gender fluid (before the term was cool) lifestyle of the city's denizens that opened the doors for the creation of the Aryan nation.

No matter how many times I see Cabaret produced, and how much I love the music, I find my stomach beginning to churn in the final scenes of the first act when Herr Schultz proposes marriage to Fraulein Schneider. Though they become engaged, I know that his sweet naivete will ultimately be rewarded with violence and rejection. Schultz is a Jewish fruit seller with his own business. Schneider is the proprietress of a seamy boarding house, a woman who relies on good relations with local government officials for her business permits.

In the second act, a low level Nazi officer points out what everyone has ignored. A marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew will not be tolerated. Arguments break out, sides are taken, and a few guests begin to sing the chilling "Tomorrow  Belongs to Me." As more people join in and the music grows louder and more militant, the audience realizes that they are witnessing the cusp of a new world order. It is terrifying. (from the film, which did it best) https://yhoo.it/2wigRTe

And even though Herr Schultz's store is trashed by vandals, he attempts to convince the more clear-eyed Fraulein Schneider that this craziness will pass, that they should proceed with their marriage, that it will be safe.

"We are Germans after all," he says. "We are one people." The rest, as they say, is history.

You might wonder how a play this old, it was first produced in the '60's, can maintain its relevance. But all you have to do is think, as I did watching this latest version, of the poem attributed to German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller:

"First they came for the Socialists, but I was not a Socialist, so I did not speak out... Then they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist......."

You know the rest. Right now, here in the so-called greatest democracy in the world, we are facing a crisis of enormous proportions. We have elected an erratic leader who has placed himself above the laws of the land. Each day he is in office is another day of chaos. The normal checks and balances built into our constitution don't seem to apply.

Of course, as a cock-eyed optimist, I want to be Herr Schultz. I want to say, "This too shall pass." But what if it doesn't? What if we, like Germany's Jews, put our heads in the sand and take no action until it is too late? I don't have an answer and I don't know what to do. I can only offer this advice. Continue to read, to educate yourselves about our history and our rights, and to be vigilant. Knowledge is power and we must share it widely if we are to keep our democracy free to all of our citizens. When they come for one of us, they come for all of us. http://nyti.ms/2tWfLfi


Linda said...

Really enjoyed your posting -- a true social commentary -- and think it's worthy of a Washington Post op-ed piece, Sally!

Sallyb said...

WOW! Thank you. What a compliment.