A success in every decade in which it has been produced, Cabaret continues to evolve in its form – with songs added or re-ordered in each major interpretation since its debut in 1965 – but its message remains steadfastly, and all too sadly, relevant. Originally conceived by Hal Prince during the civil rights era as a cautionary tale about racism (and how what happened in Berlin in the ‘30s can happen here in the States), the piece resonates today; all one has to do is read the headlines on any given morning. Questions about national identity, scapegoating a minority group, the dangers of a blindly faithful populace and the steep price of apathy are found coursing through Cabaret, pin-pricking and prodding us into self-reflection and, hopefully, action.
Amazingly, Cabaret manages to propel its thematic aims via one of the theatre’s most astute scripts and enduringly vibrant scores. How it manages to entertain and seduce while stirring up such a profound mix of political and social issues is nothing short of masterful. It is, perhaps, why audiences keep coming back for more. But not just audiences: artists, too – particularly the actors on stage at this performance, some of whom have been with this brilliant Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall interpretation for almost two decades. Whether they played the show on Broadway (where it initially ran from 1998 to 2004), on tour or in the regional theatres, they continue to return to it (as do I) – heeding the siren’s call – because it is a production that is uniquely fulfilling on every level. It uses every part of the artist, and, because it was conceived as an actor-driven show (with little more than 3 doors and 6 chairs), it exposes and celebrates all of who and what we are. The risk and responsibility are enormous – as are the rewards.
Fortunately, Sam and Rob’s stunningly theatrical vision is expansive enough to welcome intelligent, deeply human and skillful actors to the fold with each incarnation. This new Ogunquit staging is no exception. Together, this committed ensemble of actors (many of whom are also musicians) collaborates and conspires to live the text and music with their own truths, bringing new facets of their characters to light as no one before them has– nor as anyone in the future will. That’s the beauty of this Cabaret – it is True Theatre, possessing the immediacy of the here-and-now in performance and theme, while viscerally evoking a civilization of the way-back-then: scandalous, romantic, dizzying, and teetering on the brink of an abyss. As Sam has said, it’s about the time when the world was about to spin off its axis, changing history forever. All set to song and dance.
So willkommen, bienvenue, welcome. Leave your troubles outside. In here, life is beautiful.
-- BT McNicholl, Director