It’s easy to think of a cabaret performance as an eccentric, seedy form of entertainment that one would think twice about bringing a 6 year-old child to attend. That possible guilty pleasure of a spectacle, however, also contains a long tradition of political satire in its performances, which the Boston College Dramatics Society’s musical, Cabaret, highlights in its dazzling presentation at the Bonn Studio. Directed by Chris Pinto, MCAS ’16, Cabaret immerses the audience in all of its provocative glory with its stunning vocal performances and exceptional cast, dragging viewers through the heartbreaking landscape of Europe in the time leading up to World War II.
Set in 1930’s Berlin, Cabaret begins at The Kit Kat Klub, where a flamboyant and larger-than-life Emcee (Andrew Troum, MCAS ’16) introduces the Klub’s black-sequin-clad performers, including their promiscuous British singer, Sally Bowles (Taylor Tranfaglia, MCAS ’18). Meanwhile, on his trip into Berlin, a struggling American writer, Cliff Bradshaw (Jared Reinfeldt, MCAS ’16), meets Ernst Ludwig (Michael Quinn, MCAS ’19), one of the musical’s eventual German antagonists, who recommends that Cliff take up residence at Frau Schneider’s (Lia Tessitore, MCAS ’19) boarding house. When Cliff appears at the Klub, Sally is thrilled to meet another English-speaker, but the two remain apart until Sally gets fired, and shows up at Frau Schneider’s wanting to move into Cliff’s room. After the pair falls in love, the characters are left trying to plan their futures amid the growing influence of the Nazi Party, and the ominous threat of a drastic change to life as they know it.
One notable aspect of the musical is that no matter where the characters seem to go, the Kit Kat Klub never fades out of the background. The cabaret stage, complete with its showy red curtains, flashy lighting, and worn-down, filthy aesthetic, is ever-present. No matter if Cliff and Sally are at Frau Schneider’s boarding house, or if Ernst Ludwig is at a (comical) English lesson with Cliff, the scandalous stage and its cabaret dancers are constantly there to intervene and move the plot along. This phenomenon is intriguing on so many levels, as the whole point of a cabaret performance, and the Kit Kat Klub itself, is to allow viewers to escape the trials of daily life.
As the Emcee compellingly notes in the song “Willkommen,” “So—life is disappointing? Forget it!” The structure of the play, as well as the literal stage, forbids the characters and audience from doing that, as the Emcee and his performers keep creeping into the play’s tender and shocking moments alike. Furthermore, the actors who portray the cabaret workers are the same ones who play the menacing Nazi henchmen and the scandalous sailors, which suggests the dreaded concept of being able to run but not hide, and chips away at the fantasy of escaping into the crazy cabaret world.
On numerous occasions, the numbers performed at the Kit Kat Klub make the characters face the struggles in their own lives, and convey them in a twisted way that leaves the audience members grimacing, shaking their heads in pity for these characters. The over-the-top interpretations of their concerns, including finances, handling complicated relationships, and anticipating the Nazi takeover, come off as compelling. For example, the song “Money” serves as a disturbing commentary on how everyone in society depends on money to function. Through the song’s mocking sound and scoffs at the poor, the audience can’t help but be reminded of the shady things the characters will do to get the stuff that “makes the world go round.” Complete with a wheelbarrow full of cash that all the dancers frantically crowd around, the number portrays society as a slave to “that clinking, clanking sound,” and winds up leaving the audience to wonder if the world has any ounce of humanity left at all.
Perhaps the most striking element of this play is how appalling the actions of the early Nazis really were, which is explored through the relationship between the gracious Frau Schneider and Herr Schultz (Joe McCarthy, CSOM ’17). Herr Schultz is an elderly Jewish man who comes across as more likeable and sweeter than the fruits he cheerfully sells. Nevertheless, the ever-threatening Nazis view Schultz as someone less than German, and less than human. This chilling dichotomy between who Schultz really is and what the Nazis proclaim him to be gets played out in a cringeworthy manner, and by the time the play reaches its discordant conclusion, the audience realizes that some crises run so deep, even the underground world of cabaret begins to look a bit bleak.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor