Suzi (k00kaburra) wrote,

San Jose Stage: Cabaret

It seems odd that a fan of musicals like myself could go nearly twenty-eight years without ever managing to see Cabaret. I mean, it's become such an iconic Broadway show and it seems that every other year there's a production of it somewhere in the Bay Area. Yet somehow, today was the first time I ever saw the show, thanks to Jeannie snapping up a pair of tickets via Groupon or LivingSocial or one of those sites.

We saw the show at the San Jose Stage Company – another first. I've never seen a production at this theatre company. Although I've head their name in passing once or twice, I had no idea where this theatre was even located until we stumbled across it last Thursday on our way to glass class. The theatre is very small and intimate. The set-up is in-the-round, with the stage surrounded on three sides by seats that almost made me think of bleachers. Our seats were on the far right – a bit unfortunate, because the angle from where we sat obscured our view of the orchestra. It also meant that for the majority of the show, the actors weren't looking in our direction. But, it can't be helped!

I'm too lazy to write a proper plot summary, so I'll steal this one from Wikipedia:
It is based on John Van Druten's 1951 play I Am a Camera, which in turn was adapted from the 1939 short novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood. Set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, it focuses on nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub and revolves around the 19-year-old English cabaret performer Sally Bowles and her relationship with the 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 Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub which serves as a constant metaphor for the tenuous and threatening state of late Weimar Germany throughout the show.

It's a pretty entertaining show. What struck me initially was that, even though I'd never seen the show, I recognized a lot of the music. Through one source or another I'd managed to hear over half the songs before. Not just “Willkommen” - so popular for parody – but also “Mein Herr”, “Two Ladies”, “Money”, “If You Could See Her”, and of course “Cabaret” were all familiar to me. It's good music, too – very fun and suitable to the action of the musical.

I had been somewhat aware that Nazis figured into the story of Cabaret, but I had no idea how deeply involved in the plot the party was. Heck, I was under the imrpession Cabaret was just buckets of good ol' sexy fun time, with actors singing and showing lots of skin. It turns out the play is a HUGE downer, with broken hearts and racism and evil Nazis ALL OVER THE PLACE. It was really surprising, but I liked that the story was so dark. The final scene was chilling. I don't know if every version of the show does this (Wikipedia gives the impression that this scene came to be included only after the Broadway revivals) but at the very end, the Emcee – a mocking, flamboyant figure who laughs at everyone around him, including the audience – changes into the striped uniform of a concentration camp prisoner, with a big yellow star on his chest. It just really drives home the point that this is the eventual fate of men like Herr Schultz. It also implies that the whole cabaret has been the memories of the Emcee as he suffers in a camp somewhere during WWII.

Which, come to think of it, made me think of Chicago. Not the concentration camp, obviously, just the whole way in which the show is framed by a framework in theatricality. Just as the events of Chicago get filtered through the imagination of Roxie and transformed into fancy nightclub/vaudeville performances, the Emcee is reinterpreting the past through the lens of a cabaret club. I wasn't at all surprised to realize that the same creative team was between the two musicals. (Heck, I kinda feel like that was something I should have known going in.)

Actors and actresses were good. Costumes were, well, dirty-looking for the most part, but I suppose in a seedy bar like the Kit Kat Klub that would be likely. It was a fun show, and I'm glad I went. I feel like I can cross that one off the bucket list now – not that I wouldn't see it again, because I would, it just no longer looms as “Oh yeah, that's something I want to do.”

Tags: musicals, san jose, san jose stage, theatre

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