(Directed by Bob Fosse) (1972)
Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 24 June 2021
Inspired by the Weimar work of Christopher Isherwood, Cabaret is perhaps the last great movie musical. A brilliant rendering of the last days of chaotic democracy in Germany, the long shadows of Nazism entering stage left, the Kit Kat Klub becomes a trope for the death of heady, insouciant decadence, about to be replaced by something far more depraved. Fosse’s direction is faultless, as are the period feel and production values.
The cast is superb, led by Liza Minnelli, perfect as the brash and wide-eyed Sally Bowles, an American making her way in Berlin, man by man; with Joel Gray as the Mephistopheles who will doubtless lose his Faustian bargain; Michael York in the Isherwood role as ‘Brian’, and Helmut Griem as the debauched aristocrat, Maximilian. In a sub-plot, crypto-Jewish Fritz (Fritz Wepper) woos Jewish Natalia (Marisa Berenson), which causes complications in a country soon to be subject to the Nuremberg laws.
The musical numbers and choreography are terrific, symbolizing the era and serving as faux narrative. Particularly good are Gray’s knowing and humourous “Willkommen,” “Two Ladies,” “Tiller Girls,” and the creepy “If You Could See Her“; Liza’s dramatic “Mein Herr,” “Maybe This Time,” “Money, Money” (with Gray) and her great finale in the title track. And then there’s the terrifying yet stirring song outside a gasthaus, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” roundly belted-out by a Hitler youth, in which almost the entire throng joins with annihilating fervour, prompting Brian to ask complacent nobleman Max as they decamp: “Do you still think you can control them?” The film’s finale reminds us of the answer to that question.
Cabaret remains the grandest musical outside the genre’s golden age.
A special screening of Cabaret enabled us to revisit the film in its proper setting. With a guest appearance by Adelaide Cabaret Festival darling Kim David Smith (looking appropriately louche – see below), we were invited to “dress the part, bowler hat and suspenders in an immersive experience” à la The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Some ladies did that in spades, even trying to get a ‘Songalong‘ going during Liza’s eponymous finale. KDS, now a resident of NY, introduced the film à la Joel Gray and explained how he had loved it and channeled Sally Bowles from an early age in his beautiful hometown of Traralgon (if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere). His voice is very good and while doing a take from the title song (“Put down the knitting, the book and the broom“) he asked the musical question ‘why did you bring a broom?’ All up, a lovely evening.