OpEd: The Uncanny Reality of Cabaret

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Cabaret” the musical. Credit: Joan Marcus.

"There was a cabaret, and there was a master of ceremonies ... and there was a city called Berlin, in a country called Germany ... and it was the end of the world."

— Cliff Bradshaw, the young American writer in ‘The Cabaret’

‘Wilkommen’ to 2017, to the Cabaret of dreams denied and hopes quashed.

I am your host and Master of Ceremonies to the journal that will be cataloguing the end of the democracy, as we know it, at least.

The Oval Office of great presidents, from Washington to Jefferson to Lincoln, has become the cellular tower of Trump the Childish, the Tweeter in Chief, the spoiled little rich kid who lied, cheated and screamed his way into the White House.

The irony of it all is out of the Twilight Zone; that a man who craved attention so desperately now has more than he ever bargained for. If this has an eerie feeling for you, it should. 

A self-indulgent, vengeful misanthrope who looks down upon everyone is wearing the crown in the game of thrones. The concept of a robust and healthy democracy where debate and dissent are encouraged will be repressed and restricted. A man who got elected because of the press will demean and disgrace it every day. He does so still, nearly 60 days after winning this disaster of an election.

Whether you are the New York Times, or the South Florida Gay News, there is no holding back. We are going to have to bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, and challenge every foe that threatens our liberties or seeks to limit a free press. That’s my inaugural address- short, simple, and sweet.

There will be no honeymoon for Donald Trump. He can’t give speeches saying it is time for America to come together when with every tweet he drives us apart, congratulating himself and demeaning his opponents. It does not appear like he is going to rise to the occasion. It looks like we will rue the day he was elected. But we can’t be pessimistic.

Folks, we can’t turn away. We have to stand our ground. There is a temptation to put our heads in the ground. We must not. We have to face forward, not in pessimism, but with hope. We have to believe no matter what our differences, as Americans, we all still have more in common than we do apart. 

The best part of Trump’s presidency is there will be no honeymoon for Republicans either, folks. Trust me when I tell you that he will call them out and challenge them as he does anyone who defies or stands up to him. He lives in a world where he is right and you are wrong, and the election won’t change that one chad. It’s too bad he grew up without anyone ever telling him that the more sure you are, the more wrong you can be.

Meanwhile, the timing for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts to bring back a run of the Cabaret with its national touring company could not have been better. 

Set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, it is based in nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub, and revolves around a young American writer and his relationship with a 19-year-old English cabaret performer. But it’s deeper than that.

The underlying theme of the 50-year-old musical, so artfully performed by so many great talents over this past half century, is one of political freedom in an age of rising repression. The setting for the play was when Berlin- emerging as an arts capital- was threatened by the ominous rule of nationalist Germans seizing power.

Diversity was denied; outsiders were deemed outcasts; free speech was challenged.

The role of the master of ceremonies, the emcee, in Cabaret, probably first commanded the attention of LGBT audiences in the 1987 Broadway revival starring Joel Grey. But Grey, an outstanding performer, presented himself as an asexual character dressed in a tuxedo. 

In 1993, that changed when Alan Cumming was cast in the role.  Cumming’s stunning portrayal of the emcee was dramatically sexualized, as he wore suspenders around his crotch and red paint on his nipples. He reprised the role last year in South Florida, with great reviews.

One of the more popular songs in the show is "Tomorrow Belongs To Me." In the final scene, the Emcee removes his outer clothes to reveal a striped suit of the type worn by the internees in concentration camps, on it are pinned yellow badges, identifying Jews, and a pink triangle, denoting homosexuals.

A subplot within the play is the story of how a Jewish fruit vendor, Herr Schultz, falls in love with a German woman, Fraulein Schneider. Their love, their marriage, is interrupted by the crash of a brick being thrown through the window. It was a warning about a love that dare not speak its name; of the future terrors Berlin would soon bear.

Cabaret is still a remarkable musical that has stood the test of time, and it is one which reveals how tenuous and fleeting our freedoms can be. It reminds us how much we have gained, and how much we have to lose. It’s a metaphor about what could happen if we look the other way.

In the liberal and LGBT communities, Trump’s election has sounded an alarm not unlike the bells that tolled in Berlin back in 1931. There is a fear that we elected not a president but a fuhrer; that democracy will be denied, and dissent will be crushed. 

In our community, there is a fear that gay marriage will be dissolved, that women’s rights will be eviscerated, that minorities will be persecuted, that immigrants will be ostracized and deported. We can’t let it happen. We won’t let it happen. We must become the loyal opposition, protecting what we have and preserving what is ours.

The gauntlet has been cast. We may have been in the majority only a few years ago. We may have had a seat at the table. But don’t expect too many Harvey Milk Days at the White House with Donald Trump as President. Don’t expect too much of anything, in fact, but don’t tolerate too little. Speak out and stand up. 

Frederick Douglass said it best a hundred years ago: “Find out what people will submit to, and you will have found out just the amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.”

Cabaret has won many Tony Awards in its 50-year history, from best musical to best actor. The new national tour appears to be as great as so many before them. Perhaps the new president will be too, but don’t count on it. If you have to be somewhere on January 20, there are still tickets for the Au-Rene Theater performance at 8 p.m. It’s a show you should see if you have not, and one you need to see again if you already have. 

Don’t say it can’t happen here. Some of us would tell you it already has.

The Uncanny Reality of Cabaret

 

"There was a cabaret, and there was a master of ceremonies ... and there was a city called Berlin, in a country called Germany ... and it was the end of the world."

 

--Cliff Bradshaw, the young American writer in ‘The Cabaret’

 

‘Wilkommen’ to 2017, to the Cabaret of dreams denied and hopes quashed.

 

I am your host and Master of Ceremonies to the journal that will be cataloguing the end of the democracy, as we know it, at least.

 

The Oval Office of great presidents, from Washington to Jefferson to Lincoln, has become the cellular tower of Trump the Childish, the Tweeter in Chief, the spoiled little rich kid who lied, cheated and screamed his way into the White House.

 

The irony of it all is out of the Twilight Zone; that a man who craved attention so desperately now has more than he ever bargained for. If this has an eerie feeling for you, it should.

 

A self-indulgent, vengeful misanthrope who looks down upon everyone is wearing the crown in the game of thrones. The concept of a robust and healthy democracy where debate and dissent are encouraged will be repressed and restricted. A man who got elected because of the press will demean and disgrace it every day. He does so still, nearly 60 days after winning this disaster of an election.

 

Whether you are the New York Times, or the South Florida Gay News, there is no holding back. We are going to have to bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, and challenge every foe that threatens our liberties or seeks to limit a free press. That’s my inaugural address- short, simple, and sweet.

 

There will be no honeymoon for Donald Trump. He can’t give speeches saying it is time for America to come together when with every tweet he drives us apart, congratulating himself and demeaning his opponents. It does not appear like he is going to rise to the occasion. It looks like we will rue the day he was elected. But we can’t be pessimistic.

 

Folks, we can’t turn away. We have to stand our ground. There is a temptation to put our heads in the ground. We must not. We have to face forward, not in pessimism, but with hope. We have to believe no matter what our differences, as Americans, we all still have more in common than we do apart.

 

The best part of Trump’s presidency is there will be no honeymoon for Republicans either, folks. Trust me when I tell you that he will call them out and challenge them as he does anyone who defies or stands up to him. He lives in a world where he is right and you are wrong, and the election won’t change that one chad. It’s too bad he grew up without anyone ever telling him that the more sure you are, the more wrong you can be.

 

Meanwhile, the timing for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts to bring back a run of the Cabaret with its national touring company could not have been better.

 

Set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, it is based in nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub, and revolves around a young American writer and his relationship with a 19-year-old English cabaret performer. But it’s deeper than that.

 

The underlying theme of the 50-year-old musical, so artfully performed by so many great talents over this past half century, is one of political freedom in an age of rising repression. The setting for the play was when Berlin- emerging as an arts capital- was threatened by the ominous rule of nationalist Germans seizing power.

Diversity was denied; outsiders were deemed outcasts; free speech was challenged.

 

The role of the master of ceremonies, the emcee, in Cabaret, probably first commanded the attention of LGBT audiences in the 1987 Broadway revival starring Joel Grey. But Grey, an outstanding performer, presented himself as an asexual character dressed in a tuxedo.

 

In 1993, that changed when Alan Cumming was cast in the role. Cumming’s stunning portrayal of the emcee was dramatically sexualized, as he wore suspenders around his crotch and red paint on his nipples. He reprised the role last year in South Florida, with great reviews.

One of the more popular songs in the show is "Tomorrow Belongs To Me." In the final scene, the Emcee removes his outer clothes to reveal a striped suit of the type worn by the internees in concentration camps, on it are pinned yellow badges, identifying Jews, and a pink triangle, denoting homosexuals.

A subplot within the play is the story of how a Jewish fruit vendor, Herr Schultz, falls in love with a German woman, Fraulein Schneider. Their love, their marriage, is interrupted by the crash of a brick being thrown through the window. It was a warning about a love that dare not speak its name; of the future terrors Berlin would soon bear.

Cabaret is still a remarkable musical that has stood the test of time, and it is one which reveals how tenuous and fleeting our freedoms can be. It reminds us how much we have gained, and how much we have to lose. It’s a metaphor about what could happen if we look the other way.

In the liberal and LGBT communities, Trump’s election has sounded an alarm not unlike the bells that tolled in Berlin back in 1931. There is a fear that we elected not a president but a fuhrer; that democracy will be denied, and dissent will be crushed.

In our community, there is a fear that gay marriage will be dissolved, that women’s rights will be eviscerated, that minorities will be persecuted, that immigrants will be ostracized and deported. We can’t let it happen. We won’t let it happen. We must become the loyal opposition, protecting what we have and preserving what is ours.

The gauntlet has been cast. We may have been in the majority only a few years ago. We may have had a seat at the table. But don’t expect too many Harvey Milk Days at the White House with Donald Trump as President. Don’t expect too much of anything, in fact, but don’t tolerate too little. Speak out and stand up.

Frederick Douglass said it best a hundred years ago: “Find out what people will submit to, and you will have found out just the amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.”

Cabaret has won many Tony Awards in its 50-year history, from best musical to best actor. The new national tour appears to be as great as so many before them. Perhaps the new president will be too, but don’t count on it. If you have to be somewhere on January 20, there are still tickets for the Au-Rene Theater performance at 8 p.m. It’s a show you should see if you have not, and one you need to see again if you already have.

Don’t say it can’t happen here. Some of us would tell you it already has.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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