Cabaret is a musical with a book by Joe Masteroff, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and music by John Kander. The 1966 Broadway production became a hit and spawned an acclaimed 1972 film as well as numerous subsequent productions.
Originally entitled Welcome to Berlin, it is based on John Van Druten's play I Am a Camera, which in turn was adapted from the novel Mr. Norris Changes Trains and a collection of short stories, Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood. Set in 1929-1930 Berlin on the eve of the Nazis' rise to power, it focuses on nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub and mostly revolves around the English 19-year-old cabaret performer Sally Bowles and her relationship with young American writer, Cliff Bradshaw. A sub-plot involves the doomed romance between German boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider and her elderly suitor Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor. Overseeing the action is the Emcee, who presides as master of ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub and serves as a constant metaphor for the current state of society in Weimar Germany throughout the show.
Background and productions
The book and score originally had been written by Sandy Wilson, but when his producer's option on the novel and play expired and Hal Prince picked it up, he commissioned Masterhoff, Ebb, and Kander to work on the project. Their version at first was a play preceded by a prologue of songs describing the Berlin atmosphere from a wide variety of viewpoints, but it quickly took on the structure of a more traditional book musical, with the songs dispersed between and evolving from dialogue scenes. The show ultimately became two separate stories in one, the first a revue centered on the decadence of the seedy Kit Kat Club, the second a story set in the real world in which the club existed. The juxtaposition of scenes with songs used as exposition and separate cabaret numbers as social commentary was a novel concept.
Original Broadway production
After 21 previews, the original Broadway production, directed by Prince and choreographed by Ron Field, opened on November 20, 1966 at the Broadhurst Theatre, eventually transferring first to the Imperial and then the Broadway before finally completing its 1,165-performance run. The opening night cast included Jill Haworth as Sally, Bert Convy as Cliff, Lotte Lenya as Fräulein Schneider, Jack Gilford as Herr Schultz, and Joel Grey as the Emcee, with Edward Winter and Peg Murray in supporting roles. Replacements later in the run included Anita Gillette as Sally, Ken Kercheval and Larry Kert as Cliff, and Martin Ross as the Emcee.
West End productions
There have been three major London revivals: in 1986, at the Strand Theatre with Kelly Hunter as Sally, Peter Land as Cliff and Wayne Sleep as the Emcee directed and choreographed by Gillian Lynne; in 1993, a critically-acclaimed limited run at the Donmar Warehouse, with Alan Cumming as the Emcee directed by Sam Mendes; and in 2006 at the Lyric Theatre, opening with Anna Maxwell Martin as Sally, James Dreyfus as the Emcee, Harriet Thorpe as Fraulein Kost and Sheila Hancock as Fräulein Schneider (winning a Laurence Olivier Award for best supporting actress). Replacements in the cast have included Kim Medcalf and then Amy Nuttall as Sally, Honor Blackman and then Angela Richards as Fräulein Schneider, Julian Clary and then Alistair McGowan as of 21 April 2008 as Emcee, this production is still running.
1987 Broadway revival
After 18 previews, the first Broadway revival, again directed by Prince and choreographed by Field, opened on October 22, 1987 at the Imperial Theatre, eventually transferring to the Minskoff to complete its 261-performance run. Joel Grey received star billing as the Emcee, with Alyson Reed as Sally, Gregg Edelman as Cliff, Regina Resnik as Fräulein Schneider, and Werner Klemperer as Herr Schultz.
1998 Broadway revival
The second Broadway revival was a transfer of the Mendes-directed Donmar Warehouse production. Co-directed by Mendes and Rob Marshall and choreographed by Marshall, it opened after 37 previews on March 19, 1998 at the Kit Kat Klub, housed in what previously had been known as Henry Miller's Theatre. Later that year it transferred to Studio 54, where it remained for the rest of its 2377-performance run, becoming the third longest-running revival in Broadway musical history, third only to Oh! Calcutta! and Chicago. In addition to Alan Cumming as the Emcee, the cast included Natasha Richardson as Sally, John Benjamin Hickey as Cliff, Ron Rifkin as Herr Schultz, and Mary Louise Wilson as Fräulein Schneider.
This production featured a number of notable replacements later in the run: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joely Fisher, Gina Gershon, Deborah Gibson, Teri Hatcher, Melina Kanakaredes, Jane Leeves, Molly Ringwald, Brooke Shields, and Lea Thompson as Sally; Michael C. Hall, Raúl Esparza, Neil Patrick Harris, Adam Pascal, Jon Secada, and John Stamos as the Emcee; Boyd Gaines as Cliff; Tom Bosley, Dick Latessa, Hal Linden, Laurence Luckinbill, and Tony Roberts as Herr Schultz; and Blair Brown, Polly Bergen, Mariette Hartley, and Carole Shelley as Fräulein Schneider.
Mendes' conception differed greatly from the original. Possibly the most significant change was in the character of the Emcee. The role was initially played by Joel Grey as an androgynous, stiff, marionette-like character in a tuxedo with rouged cheeks, but Cumming's portrayal was highly sexualized, wearing suspenders around his crotch and red paint on his nipples. The cabaret number "Two Ladies" was staged with the Emcee, a cabaret girl, and a cabaret boy in drag and included a shadow play simulating various sexual positions. The score was entirely re-orchestrated, utilizing synthesizer effects and expanding the stage band, with all the instruments now being played by the cabaret girls and boys. "Sitting Pretty" was eliminated entirely and replaced with "Money"; "I Don't Care Much," which was cut from the original production, was reinstated; and "Mein Herr" and "Maybe This Time," written for the film adaptation, were added to the score. Staging details differed as well; instead of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" being performed by a male choir, the Emcee plays a recording of a boy soprano singing it. Most dramatic of all was in the final scene in which the Emcee removes his outer clothes to reveal a striped suit of the type worn by the internees in concentration camps on which were pinned a yellow Star of David (identifying a Jewish prisoner) and a pink triangle (denoting a homosexual).
Several subsequent productions of the play have followed the Mendes version fairly closely, including a 2006 production staged in French at the Folies Bergère in Paris.
The action opens in the Kit Kat Klub, a decadent, seedy cabaret at the dawn of the 1930s in Berlin. A neon sign reading "Cabaret" lights up. The Klub's Master of Ceremonies, or Emcee, together with the cabaret girls and waiters, welcomes the audience to the club ("Willkommen"). The action then cuts to a train station downtown, where Clifford Bradshaw, a young American writer coming to Berlin in the hopes of finding inspiration for his new novel, is arriving on the evening train. On the train, he meets Ernst Ludwig, a German who offers Cliff work if he ever needs it. He also recommends a boardinghouse for Cliff to live in.
Cliff arrives at the boardinghouse, run by Fräulein Schneider. She charges Cliff one hundred marks for the room; he can only pay fifty. After a brief argument, she relents and lets Cliff live there for fifty marks. Fräulein Schneider then says that she has learned to take whatever life offers ("So What?"). Afterward, Cliff remembers that Ernst mentioned a cabaret—the Kit Kat Klub— and decides to visit it.
At the Klub, the Emcee introduces a British singer, Sally Bowles, who then performs for the cabaret's audience ("Don't Tell Mama"). Afterward, she calls Cliff on the table-to-table phone and talks to him. She asks him to recite poetry for her; he recites Casey at the Bat. Cliff offers to take Sally home, but she says that her boyfriend Max (the club's owner) is too jealous. The cabaret ensemble then performs a song and dance, calling each other on inter-table phones and inviting each other for dances and drinks ("The Telephone Song").
The next day, the scene is at Cliff's apartment. Cliff is working on his book when Sally arrives; she tells him that Max has thrown her out and she has no place to live, asking him if she can live in his room. At first he resists, saying she would be "much too distracting," but she convinces him (and Fräulein Schneider) to take her in ("Perfectly Marvelous"). Directly after this scene, the Emcee and two female companions sing a song ("Two Ladies") that comments on Cliff and Sally's unusual living conditions.
The action moves to Fräulein Schneider's apartment. Herr Schultz, an elderly Jewish fruit-shop owner who lives in the boardinghouse, has given Fräulein Schneider a pineapple as a gift ("It Couldn't Please Me More"). This scene is the beginning of Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz's romance.
The next scene takes place in a beer garden. A youth begins singing a hymn to the Fatherland ("Tomorrow Belongs to Me") a cappella, with others joining him, including the Emcee (at the last line).
Months later, Cliff and Sally have fallen in love. Cliff knows that he is in a "dream," ignoring the reality of life on the outside, but he enjoys living with Sally too much to come to his senses ("Why Should I Wake Up?"). Sally reveals that she is pregnant, but she does not know with whose child. She reluctantly decides to get an abortion, though she dreads going back to "that greedy doctor." Cliff reminds her that it could be his child, and convinces her to have the baby. Ernst then enters and offers Cliff a job--delivering a suitcase to his "client"--which Cliff accepts; he thinks it is easy money. The Emcee and the cabaret girls comment on this with a song praising money ("Sitting Pretty", or in later versions "Money") and a dance routine based on the currencies of different countries.
Meanwhile, Fräulein Schneider has caught one of her boarders, Fräulein Kost, bringing sailors into her room. Fräulein Schneider forbids her from doing it again, but Fräulein Kost threatens to leave. She also mentions that she has seen Fräulein Schneider with Herr Schultz in her room. Herr Schultz saves Frau Schneider's reputation by telling Frau Kost that he and Frau Schneider are to be married in three weeks. After Kost leaves, Frau Schneider thanks Herr Schultz for lying to Kost. Herr Schultz, however, says that he was serious, and proposes to Frau Schneider ("Married").
The next scene is Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz's engagement party, at Herr Schultz's fruit shop. After Cliff arrives and delivers the suitcase to Ernst, Herr Schultz sings "Meeskite" (Meeskite, he explains, is Yiddish for ugly or funny-looking) a song with a moral ("Though you're not a beauty it is nevertheless quite true,/there may be beautiful things in you..."). Afterward, looking for revenge on Fräulein Schneider, Fräulein Kost tells Ernst, who now sports a Nazi armband, that Herr Schultz is a Jew. Ernst warns Fräulein Schneider that marrying a Jew may not be wise. The act ends with a reprisal of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," led by Fräulein Kost and sung by the whole cast save Cliff, Sally, Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz.
After the cabaret's band plays the "Entr'acte," the cabaret girls, along with the Emcee in drag, perform a kick line routine which eventually becomes a goose-step.
Fräulein Schneider expresses her concerns about her union to Herr Schultz, who assures her that everything will be all right. They then reprise "Married", but the song is interrupted by the crash of a brick being thrown through the window of Herr Schultz's fruit shop. Fräulein Schneider is afraid that the gesture might represent malicious intent, but Schultz assures her that it is just children making trouble.
Back at the Kit Kat Klub, the Emcee performs an upbeat song-and-dance routine with a girl in a gorilla suit ("If You Could See Her") and sings of how their love has been met with universal disapproval. Encouraging the audience to be more open-minded, he defends his ape-woman, concluding with, "if you could see her through my eyes... she wouldn't look Jewish at all."
Fräulein Schneider then goes to Cliff and Sally's room and returns their engagement present, explaining that her marriage has been called off. When Cliff protests, saying that she can't give her fiancé up, she asks him what other choice she has ("What Would You Do?").
Meanwhile, Cliff informs Sally that he is taking her back to his home in America so that they can raise their baby together. When Sally protests, declaring how wonderful their life in Berlin is, Cliff angrily tells her to "wake up" and take notice of the growing unrest around them, to which Sally retorts that politics have nothing to do with them or their affairs. Following their heated argument, Sally returns to the club to perform again, this time singing the song "Cabaret", which, though often performed as a show-stopping number, is imbued in its original context with a heavy irony and desperation bordering on hysteria. As Sally finishes the song, she breaks down and hurls her microphone to the ground.
When Sally goes back to her and Cliff's room, Cliff asks where her fur coat is. She answers, evasively, that she left it at the doctor's. He asks her if she's sick, but she says she is not— and then mentions how much she hates "that greedy doctor": She has had an abortion. Cliff slaps her. Sally, devastated, says that she had hoped their relationship wouldn't end like this, because it is the first time she has really cared about anyone. Cliff says that he is leaving for Paris in the morning, still hoping that she will join him. But Sally says that she's "always hated Paris." Cliff leaves, heartbroken.
The next scene switches to Cliff on the train to Paris. He begins to write his novel, reflecting on his experiences: "There was a city called Berlin, in a country called Germany. There was a cabaret, and there was a master of ceremonies. It was the end of the world, and I was dancing with Sally Bowles— and we were both fast asleep." He then begins to sing "Willkommen". The Emcee joins him and then overtakes him, as the scene shifts from the train car to the Kit Kat Klub. The Emcee continues the song, but the scene is now lit more darkly and it is revealed that the Emcee is dressed in Nazi regalia. The cabaret ensemble reprises the tune as before, but it is now harsh and violent instead of extroverted and sleazy. "Willkommen" is interrupted three times by other songs from the show— first a ghostly "Meeskite", as Herr Schultz's reasurring comments from before echo and fade, then "So What", in which Fräulein Schneider rationalizes her breakup with Herr Schultz ("After all, what am I? A German."), and finally "Cabaret," as Sally appears beside the Emcee. However, her song soon fades away as well. The Emcee slowly sings, "Auf Wiedersehen, à bientôt," then the final, spoken "Good night." The lights go out, while the "Cabaret" sign lights up.
Original song list
Of the prologue of songs originally planned, only "Willkommen" remained. One of the dropped numbers, "I Don't Care Much," was eventually restored to the 1998 production. "Roommates" was replaced by "Perfectly Marvelous", but largely serves the same purpose, for Sally to convince Cliff to let her move in with him. "Good Time Charlie" was to be sung by Sally to Cliff while they are on their way to Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz's engagement party, with Sally mocking the overly dour and pessimistic Cliff with the lines "You're such a Good Time Charlie/What'll we do with you?/You're such a Good Time Charlie/frolicking all the time..."). "It'll All Blow Over" was planned for the end of the first act: Fräulein Schneider is concerned that marrying a Jew might not be wise, and Cliff is concerned about the city's growing Nazism. In the song, Sally tells them both that they have nothing to worry about and that all will turn out well in the end. She eventually convinces Cliff and Fräulein Schneider to sing the song with her. (Both this song and "Roommates" are occasionally underscored by the ostinato rhthym of the piece.) These three deleted songs were recorded by Kander and Ebb, and the sheet music for the songs was included in The Complete Cabaret Collection, a book of vocal selections from the musical. The song of Cabaret Willkommen is close in beginning melody and underlying theme to Kogda Bi Zhizn Domashnim Krugom of Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky.
The first recording of Cabaret was the original cast album, with some of the the songs (especially "Sitting Pretty"/"The Money Song") heavily edited and several cut to save disk space, and others (especially "Telephone song") taken at a faster tempo.citation needed When this album was released on compact disc, Kander and Ebb's voice-and-piano recording of songs cut from the musical was added as bonus material.
The 1972 movie soundtrack with Liza Minnelli is perhaps the best-known of the recordings, although the movie is much re-written and eliminates all but six of the original songs from the stage production.
The original London cast recording (1968) was released in the U.K. and reissued on the CBS Embassy label in 1973. Both the 1986 London and 1998 Broadway revival casts were recorded.
A 1999 two-CD studio recording contains more or less the entire score, including songs written for the movie or for later productions, and many incidentals and instrumentals not usually recorded. This recording features Jonathan Pryce as the Emcee, Maria Friedman as Sally, Gregg Edelman as Cliff, Judi Dench as Fräulein Schneider, and Fred Ebb as Herr Schultz.
In addition to these recordings, cast albums for the Spanish, Greek, Israeli, Italian, Austrian, Dutch, and two German productions have been released.
Broadway awards and nominations
Open a New Window: The Broadway Musical in the 1960s by Ethan Mordden, published by Palgrave (2001), pages 152-161 (ISBN 0-312-23952-1)