Cabaret is back on Broadway in its third revival, now in previews inside Studio 54 tricked out as the Kit Kat Club. Given the expense of tickets these days (which has well outpaced general inflation), there are few shows that I will see twice, either in an initial run or in a revival. There are a handful of exceptions, and this is one of them. I didn’t see the original production in 1966, but I’ve seen the others including, as of this past Tuesday, the current one.
Most people are familiar with Cabaret from the 1972 movie with Joel Grey and Liza Minelli, and this is not a bad way to know it. (Personally, I’m not big on movie musicals – the screen strikes me as the wrong medium for what is properly a live performance – but this one directed by Bob Fosse is about as good as they come.) It is worth catching on stage even so. Not only is it the right setting, but the play benefits from a tighter, more compact book than the movie. The revival at Studio 54 has a fine cast in a solid production. Set in a Berlin cabaret in the waning days of the Weimar Republic, it subtly makes the point (along with broader unsubtle ones) that the rise of Nazism, with all of its S&M aspects, was less a reaction to the decadence of the period than an expression of it.
I did notice one difference between this production and earlier ones: the difference was in the audience. I saw the play in the company of a Millennial, who was polite enough to keep the smart phone inside her purse where the light was invisible to anyone but herself. Nonetheless her fingers continued to do the walking inside the purse. She was far from alone. Others used coats in laps as phone shields. The couple in front of us used only cupped hands as they read and sent texts. I have no idea how telephonic multitasking affects one’s perception of performances like this – my companion for the evening professed to love it. Well, the Kit Kat Club had a phone on each table which allowed a patron to call interesting people at other tables. The whole world is now a Kit Kat Club. Whether or not that is a sign of decadence I'll let the reader judge.
Trailer for the 1972 film