Monday, November 20, 2017

Today in 1966: The Broadway Musical 'Cabaret' Opened

Cabaret is a musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff, based on John Van Druten's 1951 play I Am a Camera, which was adapted from the short novel Goodbye to Berlin (1939) by Christopher Isherwood. 

Set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, it focuses on the nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub, and revolves around young American writer Cliff Bradshaw and his relationship with 32-year-old English cabaret performer Sally Bowles.

A sub-plot involves the doomed romance between German boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider and her elderly suitor Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor. Overseeing the action is the Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub. The club serves as a metaphor for ominous political developments in late Weimar Germany.

Director Harold Prince's staging was unusual for the time. As the audience filled the theater, the curtain was already up, revealing a stage containing only a large mirror reflecting the auditorium. There was no overture; instead, a drum roll and cymbal crash led into the opening number. The juxtaposition of dialogue scenes with songs used as exposition and separate cabaret numbers providing social commentary was a novel concept that initially startled the audience, but as they gradually came to understand the difference between the two, they were able to accept the reasoning behind them.

The original cast featured Jill Haworth as Sally, Bert Convy as Cliff, Lotte Lenya as Fräulein Schneider, Jack Gilford as Herr Schultz,  and Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies (Emcee).

The original Broadway production opened today, November 20, in 1966, and became a hit. It was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won eight, including Best Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Grey and Best Director of a Musical for Prince. 

It resulted in numerous subsequent productions in London and New York, as well as the 1972 film of the same name starring Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey, Michael York. The film went on to receive eight Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Minnelli, Best Supporting Actor for Grey, and Best Director for Bob Fosse.

The film is significantly different from the Broadway musical. In the stage version, Sally Bowles is English (as she was in Christopher Isherwood's "Sally Bowles"). In the film version, she is American. The character of Cliff Bradshaw was renamed Brian Roberts and made British (as was Isherwood, upon whom the character was based) rather than American as in the stage version. The characters and plot lines involving Fritz, Natalia, and Max were pulled from I Am a Camera and did not appear in the stage version of Cabaret (or in "Sally Bowles"), and a minor character named Max in the stage version, the owner of the Kit Kat Klub, bears no relation to the character in the film. In the film, Sally is a very good singer, whereas the stage version often portrays her as being untalented.

Fosse cut several of the songs, leaving only those that are sung within the confines of the Kit Kat Klub, and "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" – sung in a beer garden (in the stage musical, it is sung first by the cabaret boys and then at a private party). Kander and Ebb wrote several new songs for the movie and removed others; "Don't Tell Mama" was replaced by "Mein Herr," and "The Money Song" (retained in an instrumental version as "Sitting Pretty") was replaced by "Money, Money." "Mein Herr" and "Money, Money," which were composed for the film version were added to performances of the stage musical alongside the original numbers. 


Raybeard said...

For the film of 'Cabaret' wasn't 'Maybe this Time' especially written in order to give Liza M a stand-out solo? And a fine number it is too, many people's favourite song from that film, including (possibly) my own.

I only got round to reading 'Goodbye to Berlin' earlier this year and was surprised at how little emphasis there is on the Sally Bowles character, where she's actually little more than an incidental, fringe figure, though blown up as a star vehicle in both the Van Druten play and much moreso for the 'Cabaret' musical, in both theatre and screen versions.
Incidentally, Isherwood took great exception at the various versions of the original story portraying him as bisexual (so that audiences of the time wouldn't be quite so antagonised, I suppose) culminating in the portrayal in the 'Cabaret' film of his having a physical relationship with Sally B. In his shoes I'd have felt the same horror - not so much as the thought of him having sex with a female but of his sexuality being 'toned down' almost to the point of it being whitewashed so as not to scare off audiences. I'd like to think we've progressed from there.

MarkfromMaine said...

Thanks for the comment Raybeard! I really appreciate you taking the time to add background and interesting content and commentary.

Raybeard said...

No, thank YOU for doing some really interesting posts, TGA, on subjects I would probably not have otherwise talked about, there being little opportunity elsewhere.

Btw: I don't know if you were aware, but Judi Dench's big breakthrough when she first got noticed was way back in 1968 in the original London production of 'Cabaret' (there are clips of it on YouTube) which shows that then and right up to now, she simply is NOT a singer, always with that very audible 'catch' in her voice which invades her speech as well. Some find it endearing, but even apart from that she can't hit the right notes so as to be classed as having a 'singing' voice - rather as Sally Bowles herself hadn't one.
Without going off-topic, I saw the original London production of 'Cats' in 1980 (twice! - and three times later with other casts, incl twice in Amsterdam). You probably know that she was to have appeared as Grizabella, but during rehearsals one day her Achilles snapped, she then having to pull out and be replaced by Elaine Page. I've always wondered how she would have coped with 'Memory', a song that has such an enormous range, from near bass ("Burnt-out ends of smoky days") to the upper reaches ("Touch me. It's so easy....") Page manages it fine, though I'm not terribly keen on her singing either, but for Judi it would have been a near-miracle if she could have coped with those vocal stretches.

MarkfromMaine said...

I had heard that Sally Bowles was not supposed to be a very good performer, which changed when Liza played her. I am not much of a Cats fan, but do love Betty Buckley's version of Memory, which I got to see her sing in a NCY concert. It was amazing.