Listening to the musical soundtrack from a show evokes vivid memories of the show, sometimes more than expected. That is why, after my trip to various US destinations this spring, I was sitting on a full airplane back to Edmonton, but I feel like I’m sitting in a theatre, specifically the Kit Kat Club Studio 54, swept into the world of Cabaret, and the nightclub in 1930s Berlin while the prospect of Nazi power loomed like the Nightwatch on Babylon 5. This was not the most comfortable mood to be in on an airplane, but it was a wonderful show and I wanted to remember it as fully as I could.
The musical Cabaret was the last show I saw on my trip to New York City. it opened recently with Alan Cumming (currently in the TV drama The Good Wife) as the Emcee, Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles, and Bill Heck as the viewpoint character American novelist Cliff Bradshaw. The poignant and tragic glimpses of ordinary people going about their lives ignoring or worrying about or unaware of the political and social shifts during what we know is the time immediately before World War II create a compelling story. You can’t raise the narrative stakes much higher. The plot line about Fraulein Schneider, the landlady, and about her late-in-life suitor Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit seller, was particularly heartbreaking. The Emcee’s speeches and songs addressing the imaginary cabaret audience give an impression of self-conscious parody of depravity, but the other narrative between the songs, like Sally Bowles’ matter-of-fact acknowledgement that various members of the chorus had male and female lovers, just felt like a way of illustrating that the culture of that time and place wasn’t very different from our own.
The front rows of the orchestra and balcony sections in the theatre were all set up like little cabaret tables, with candle lights. In the parts of the musical set during cabaret performances, the little table lights lit up, so that even though I was sitting in a cheaper seat I felt part of an intimate live performance. The Club space at the Citadel feels similar, so I imagine I’ll recall Cabaret the next time I go to a show there. The male ushers for the performance were not entirely clothed, adding to the impression of arriving somewhere exotic and slightly daring. Before the show started, the orchestra musicians were wandering around and warming up on stage, before settling in to their platform above the main part of the stage.
Both Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams will be replaced by other performers for the extended run of this show. While I loved seeing Alan Cumming in this role, the show would be good even without them.