“Wilkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!” sings the Emcee of the Kit Kat Club through painted lips, as the people of 1929 Berlin join him. Any troubles dissolve inside the doors of this cabaret. Cabaret follows Sally Bowles, a middle-class lass from Chelsea, London, is working as a singer at Berlin’s Kit-Kat Club and trying her best to live the thrillingly decadent life the city offers. Into her orbit comes Cliff Bradshaw, a young American writer, and Sally soon moves into his room in the boarding house run by Fräulein Schneider. Their fellow lodgers include the cheerful whore, Fräulein Kost, and the gentle, graying fruiterer Herr Schultz. As the clouds of political change gather over Germany, Sally, now pregnant by Cliff, is still determined to show the world what a good time she is having and that she will not or cannot hear the noises of Nazism around her. But others can.
Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum
The culture cabaret was born in the Monmartre district of Paris in 1881 when Le Chat Noir opened. The informal saloon hosted poets, artists and composers; Maupassant, Debussy and Satie frequented Le Chat Noir. People felt comfortable at the cabaret—they didn’t have to take off their hats, and they could talk, eat, and smoke when they wanted to. Once the cabaret’s intimate and informal spirit caught on, other Parisian cabarets opened, including the Moulin Rouge—with its famous windmill—in 1889. By 1900, similar establishments sprang up in several French and German cities. After World War I, cabarets flourished across Europe, particularly in Germany, where the Weimar government had ended nearly all forms of censorship. The Kit Kat Club of Cabaret is one of these flourishing nightlife hotspots, operating on the eve of Hilter’s rise to power and presenting entertainment and distraction for the Berliners.
The Origins of the Kit Kat Club
The musical Cabaret went through many changes from its source material to the musical that made Liza Minnelli a household name to the current stage productions. The tale of a young English cabaret singer named Sally Bowles and her admirers comes from Christopher Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical short story collection Goodbye to Berlin (1939). The book was first adapted for the stage in 1951 by John Van Druten as the play I Am a Camera.
Another stage incarnation of Ishwerwood’s stories was planned by Sandy Wilson, who had written the book and score for a musical he called Welcome to Berlin. But when Wilson’s producer’s option on the novel and the play expired, Hal Prince picked up the project.
Prince commissioned Joe Masteroff to write the book of the play, Fred Ebb to write the lyrics, and John Kander to compose the music. The quartet realized their initial vision of a play with a prologue of songs describing Berlin from varying viewpoints actually worked better as a traditional book musical, with songs evolving from and driving the plot. The show ultimately became two separate stories in one; the first was a revue centered on the decadence of the seedy Kit Kat Club, the second a story set in the real world in which the club existed. The juxtaposition of scenes with songs used as exposition and separate cabaret numbers as social commentary was a novel concept in the 1960s.
The original Broadway production of Cabaret, directed by Harold Prince and choreographed by Ron Field, opened on November 20, 1966. The show ran for 1,165 performances. A West End Production followed in 1968, with Judi Dench as Sally Bowles.
In 1972, choreographer Bob Fosse directed the Cabaret film adaptation. Fosse took out all the musical numbers that didn’t take place on the Kit Kat Club stage, so only two characters sing—Sally Bowles, played by Liza Minnelli, and the Emcee, Joel Grey, reviving his role from the original Broadway production. The film won 8 Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor.
The 1987 Broadway revival of Cabaret incorporated songs written specifically for the movie, including “Mein Herr” and “Money, Money.” Woodwind Theatricals will produce the revised 1987 version.
In 1993, director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead) revived the play in the West End. Mendes' conception differed greatly from the original. Possibly the most significant change was in the character of the Emcee. The role was initially played by Joel Grey as an androgynous, stiff, marionette-like character in a tuxedo with rouged cheeks, but actor Alan Cumming's portrayal in the revival was highly sexualized.
Mendes’ critically acclaimed production came to Broadway in 1998, starring Cumming as the Emcee and Natasha Richardson as Sally. This production featured a number of notable replacements later in the run including: Joely Fisher, Gina Gershon, Deborah Gibson, Teri Hatcher, Jane Leeves, Molly Ringwald, Brooke Shields, and Lea Thompson as Sally; Michael C. Hall, Neil Patrick Harris, Adam Pascal, and John Stamos as the Emcee. The show’s 2,377-performance run makes it the third-longest running revival in Broadway music history.
Woodwind Productions, established by veteran agent Paul Bartz in 2001, produced Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The show traveled to 70 cities across the United States and Canada in 2002. Woodwind’s touring production of Bye Bye Birdie was part of the Popejoy Presents 2008-2009. Woodwind is producing Cabaret for the 2009-2010 season.
Selected Song List
Don’t Tell Mama
It Couldn’t Please Me More
Tomorrow Belongs To Me
Maybe This Time
The Money Song
If You Could See Her
What Would You Do?