New York Stories and Tips

Off Broadway - CABARET at Studio 54

The TKTS half-price booth in Times Square Photo, New York, New York

"Why do you sit there alone in your room...come hear the music play . . . life is a cabaret old chum . . . come to the cabaret . . . "

For a Broadway virgin such as myself there can be no greater musical for me to cut my teeth on then the mighty ''CABARET''

I was swept along by this marvel. It reberverated around my head for the remainder of the trip and I was even whistling it on the plane on the way home. How can I forget the German twang of the emcee bidding you "Wilkommen to the KitKat club", Fraulein Kosts "The future belongs to me" and a chilling finale which still sent shivers down my spine.

For $40 I got to see this marvel. Hats off to New York and its amazing theatre scene which gives credence to its claim to be the entertainment capital of the world. Just like in London this scene sucks in tourists and out-of-towners in equal measure, and just like London is a good bet for a rainy day. I was there on a Saturday which the weathermen said would be rain all day so I got myself down to the TKTS ticket booth on Times Square (which is covered in previous journal) and managed to bag a ticket for ''CABARET'' for the afternoon matinee performance at half price.

You cannot find a more perfect venue for this wonder then Studio 54. This is down West 54th Street, past 8th Avenue and the ''Ameritania'' hotel. The front has an awning and ''CABARET'' lit up in bright lights. . A movie was made about ''Studio 54'' starring Ryan Phillippe and Mike Myers. It was the seventies heyday of disco, drugs and sex but its owners broke the law and eventually ended up in prison. I can think of now better venue to stage a show set in the decadent nightclubs of 30''s Berlin than this.

Inside was faded art-deco wallpaper and crystal chandeliers and I joined a queue to enter the auditorium. We were told that Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Hauser MD) was not in this performance and his role of emcee would be taken by Vance Avery. I was in the upper tier which was a vast balcony converted into theatre seats. Below was a stage surrounded by nightclub tables and chairs (where the most expensive seats were) and the first stalls below us were leopardskin seats with little lampshades next to them. The domed ceiling was purple beaux-art, and the stage was on two levels. The KitKat band was on top, wooden walkways ran down the side and the main stage was at the bottom. My view was impressive, but a little distant, and for $40 I certainly am not complaining.

For $8 you could buy a souvenir programme which was worth buying for the detail on the show. ''Cabaret'' is one of the world’s most famous musicals and started in 1965 with Lotte Lenya as Mrs Schneider. The most famous casting is Liza Minnelli who took the film role with Michael York as Cliff Bradshaw. I was surprised to find that the production I was seeing was British. It has transferred from the Donmar Warehouse in London under the helmsmanship of Sam Mendes (director of ''American Beauty'' and husband of Kate Winslet). Its original Broadway cast had Alan Cumming as the emcee and Natasha Richardson as Sally Bowles. I was pondering this as the lights went out and there was a roll of drums.

A light illuminated the door and through it stepped a topless, chalk-white emcee singing "Wilkommen and biennvue stranger." He stepped back and uproariously introduced the ''KitKat girls and boys'' and the daring sexual freedom of 1930''s Berlin ("Lulu is so called because of the colour of her cheeks" -- smacks bottom). Then the story begins with American Clifford Bradshaw (Rick Holmes) meeting a young German named Ludwig on the train to Berlin. He directs him to a cheap guesthouse run by the lonely Mrs Schneider (Mary Louise Wilson) who rents out rooms to working girls. Cliff visits the ''KitKat'' club one new years eve and is introduced to "the toast of Mayfair...Miss Sally Bowles!!" who is played by Debbie Gibson (remember her? Eighties pop star with "shake your love") and my favourite song "Mein Herr" with Sally in fish-nets, feather boa, and bowler hat and much stomping by the chorus girls.

Sally Bowles invites herself to live with Cliff Bradshaw at Mrs Schneiders guesthouse. Short of money he does courier work for the mysterious Ludwig, allowing the song ''money makes the world go round'', and Sally falls pregnant belting out the song ''This time.'' More interesting is the burgeoning romance between old maid Mrs Schneider and Mr Schultz -- a Jewish grocer (played by Tom Bosley, the father in ''Happy Days''). But things have changed. The Nazi''s are in power and for some people life becomes dangerous. Mrs Schneider marries Mr Schultz but is warned by Germany''s new rulers that it is frowned upon. Sally goes back to the ''KitKat'' club but things are not the same. There is fear in the air and pain in the emcee''s voice as the patrons who once frequented the club are now in danger. Sally''s rendition of ''Cabaret'' is forced and nervous.

Things get very bad as Ludwig, a committed Nazi, assumes power and Cliff is the only one able to flee the country. The audience can guess the future of Schultz, Schneider and the emcee. And this is brought home in a chilling climax where he throws off his MC gown and reveals the stripes of a concentration camp uniform.

I cannot fault this musical and would see it again and again. The performances were top-notch especially Debbie Gibson and Vance Avery and it was one of the great experiences of visiting New York.

But it was the underlying message that you carried out of the theatre with you. This is most memorable at the Schultz/Schneider wedding where Fraulein Kost breaks into a Nazi song and all the citizens of Berlin join in. The underlying theme is that all were taken in by Nazism and all participated.

"The sun in the meadow is summery warm . . . the stag in the forest runs free . . . but gather together to greet the storm . . . tomorrow belongs to me . . ."

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