I arrive at the Marshall Performing Arts Center (MPAC) right before show time and begin to get comfortable in the cushy seats of Rose Hall as Cabaret begins. Little did I know how beautifully uncomfortable I would get throughout the course of the musical.
With racy costumes and bright lights, the opening number of Cabaret, “Willkommen,” introduced a seemingly fun and light show as senior Jonah Goldberg’s character, a twisted person called Emcee, said, “No worries here at Cabaret.”
Before watching the show, I knew the Nazi Germany plot, however, the opening number confused me. After all, wasn’t this supposed to be a racy show all about the horrors of Nazi Germany? Little did I know that the first act in its entirety served to distract me, the audience, of what was really going on in Germany during this time.
The first act introduces American novelist, Cliff Bradshaw, and his soon-to-be fiancé, ex-stripper, Sally Bowles. The act had subtle hints to the Nazi party and the hatred of Jews, but the Swastika symbol itself was not seen until the beginning of the second act when many characters that the audience thought were good, turned out to be part of the Nazi party.
The singing was marvelous. There was everything from upbeat songs and ballads, to songs with subtle anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, my favorite song, “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” seemed to have nothing to do with the time period since it was all about a pineapple given as a present to Fräulein Schneider. However, it allowed for some much-needed comic relief in the musical.
Although I researched the musical before I saw it, I could not have been able to truly understand the performance without the setting, props, fancy wardrobe and dramatic lighting which really brought the show to life. The Kit Kat Klub dancers, group of troubled girls who found refuge in the strip club, wore scandalous outfits while others wore suits that looked like they came straight from the 30’s. The lighting, sounds, staging, and props were done so that not only did the storyline make sense, but it made the important show feel even more powerful.
The characters were played flawlessly. Senior leads, Jonah Goldberg (Emcee), Ali Simenc (Sally Bowles), Evan O’Brien (Cliff Bradshaw) and Ryan Hanger (Herr Schultz) not only played their characters extremely well, but their singing matched their incredible acting skills. Every senior had their own either solo or duet song in which they really proved to the audience why they had such big roles.
The last scene of the performance is what made the production so everlastingly impactful. It featured a bus full of strippers and the only Jew in the musical, Herr Schultz, as they were driving to one of the concentration camps. On top in the balcony, Emcee stood mostly hidden from the audience, not coming into the light until the final drumroll of the song. At the final drumroll, the bus-riders take off their coats to reveal Holocaust concentration camp uniforms. While they were showing the audience what they have become, Emcee reveals that he is wearing a full Nazi suit as he does the Heil-Hitler sign as a Nazi flag hangs below the balcony. At this very moment, I began to cry. The lighting shone brightly on the Nazi flag and Emcee even had a slight change in face-makeup that made him look almost identical to Adolf Hitler himself.
This musical triggered emotions in me and many other audience members because of how perfectly everything was put together. Outside of Rose Hall, the cast and crew of Cabaret put up a wall to remember the Holocaust. On the wall, audience members were invited to write about their reactions to the musical. I felt compelled to do so, writing much more than I thought I could with tears still dripping from my eyes.
Photo from Greenhill Communications Department