My dream is to one day see Cabaret,the musical adaptation by Kander and Ebb, in full musical form. I’d only ever seen parts of the revival with Alan Cummings and the 1972 movie with Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey. I distinctly remember listening to Wilkommen with Alan Cummings over and over again as a 16-year old. Considering my later relationship with my sexuality, it makes sense why I was drawn to the dark and gritty underworld of the play.
I grew up in a fairly religious upbringing where the role of sexuality was frowned upon or even repressed. Any reference to a non-heteronormative preference or non-cisgender presentation was ridiculed or hushed-up as something to be feared. When I was watching the movie or clips from the musical at sixteen, I was enraptured with just how easy it was to be sexually confident. How carefree and even glamorous the performers were in embracing how their bodies looked, how they moved onstage. How they loved. How they dreamed, even if society frowned upon their “choices”.
The musical itself is about a nightclub in Weimar Germany (the glittering party era before the rise of the Nazi Regime). The shiny and beautiful musical numbers within the Kit Kat Nightclub reflect a metaphor about averting your eyes from the insidious nature of evil. As people are brutally murdered in the street or carted away and torn from their families, the casual partygoers within the nightclub just laugh and dance and drink some more.
None of us want to admit that something is evil. Perhaps we are afraid of it. We fear that there is wrongdoing in the world, so we prefer to watch the underdog win an athletic championship or laugh over silly cat videos. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Life is terribly hard. If every day is a struggle, we need to escape it with something that makes us smile. To remember that life is still good.
I sobbed when watching the movie the first time, because I knew it was true. I hated it. I was afraid of just how easy a mindset it is to fall into.
And then I sang the songs, because the final haunting line of Sally Bowles, the manic pixie dream girl who drinks herself into stupors or potentially even overdoses at the end of the play, sings…
Life is a cabaret, old chum.
Come to the cabaret….