I always really like stories that are definitive in their genre and medium. There are certain stories that can only be told as novels, as comic books, as films.
And then there are stories that can only be musicals, and at their best, only stage musicals.
Cabaret is like that. Cabaret was a movie, and a good one. It was developed from a straight play, a good one. But Cabaret shines as a stage musical, it’s the best possible way to tell this story, of lost, broken people, in a lost broken place.
I was eleven years old when Sam Mendes brought his vision of Cliff, Sally, The Emcee and everyone else to Studio 54 the first time. I didn’t know what Cabaret was. I certainly wouldn’t have understood it. But I knew it looked strange, and wonderful and right. I knew that I wanted to be a part of whatever was happening there.
And a week ago I finally was. I sat in the mezzanine and watched Alan Cumming host the evening’s story of a world in tatters, on the edge of exploding. Cabaret’s Berlin is a dangerous, seedy, beautiful place, where two people who should have never met, fall in love and destroy one another, as the world gets ready to destroys itself again.
Cumming was flawless, creepy, sensual, and amazing. He’s backed up by Emma Stone right now and she simply was Sally Bowels. It was nearly impossible to not rise to your feet in the middle of act 2, when she sang “Cabaret.”
The supporting cast around the two of them was equally fantastic and affecting. Cabaret isn’t an easy musical. The music itself is atonal and odd. It’s structurally challenging, taking place on two different planes of reality that finally merge. It has unlikable characters and ends with most of them in a concentration camp. It’s leading man is a closeted homosexual. It’s leading lady is perpetually drunk cocaine addict who ends a pregnancy against the wishes of the child’s father.
Cabaret asks you to “forget your troubles,” and you do, but ironically, because you see what real trouble looks like.
I can understand it now. Nearly twenty years later, I went to go see the music play, and I’m so glad that I did.