Cabaret is best known as a movie released in 1972. My Mother was so offended by its depravity and decadence that she refused to see another modern film at the theatre for 25 years. What was shocking then is merely titillating today, and it certainly seemed the audience at the Arizona Theatre Company production of the stage musical version enjoyed it thoroughly.
The setting is Berlin, just as Hitler is gradually taking over. This was a time and a place where there were no inhibitions to experience new things. The Nazis represented a very socially conservative reaction to the libertine lifestyle of Berlin.
There is a notable pineapple motif in the play. It is encountered early in the play by Frauelein Schneider (played by Lori Wilner), who is given one by her neighbour and sometime fiancee Herr Schultz (played by David Kelly). The pineapple motif is used again in their pre-wedding celebrations, appearing as a series of cut-out images strung across the stage.
Far from a mere prop or decorative element, the pineapple is a symbol of exotic escapism: a wide world outside Germany. This existential thing embodies what so many people in Germany wanted, namely a pathway of escape from the worldview controlled by German Nazis into a wider world where the sunshine of liberty remained undimmed. Even though he is a Jew, Schultz believes his German birthright will protect him, but Schneider sees clearly what her fate will be if she marries a Jew. This is made clear in her solo performance, the song What Would You Do? The song exemplifies the moral dilemma of survival, is is touchingly delivered by Wilner.
Another standout song is the Act 1 closer, Tomorrow Belongs to Me, which becomes literally a Nazi war chant. With choreography that enforces a robotic motion, one actor after another begins to take part. Notably, actors representing British, American and Jewish people look on with bewilderment as their German friends are overcome with Tribalistic force.
It shows is clearly on the stage that there is a psychological weakness within human beings that makes them want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Many are susceptible to that kind of thinking. But as we see in the conspiracy thinking that has gripped the minds of many such people surrounding and supporting the person currently subject to impeachment, it is a dangerous thing. Our moral sense of what is right and wrong is based on our intuitions. Cabaret, in addition to being an extremely entertaining musical that I highly recommend, is also a dire warning about what can happen when a dictator rises to power through a democratic vote.
There are many marvellous aspects of the play, including fine acting and singing from the main players, a versatile set design, and very fine period costumes. Special mention must be made of Sean Patrick Doyle as the Emcee, who gets to deliver the iconic song Cabaret, and move the play along its trajectory with a flair born of great dedication to this seminal role made so famous by Joel Grey.
Cabaret, directed here by Sara Bruner, plays until Dec. 29, 2019 at 330 S Scott Ave in Tucson.
Visit the website for tickets: arizonatheatre.org