Why Cabaret Is Unfortunately Still Relevant

This semester, much of my time has been eaten up by assistant stage-managing the Davidson College production of Cabaret. This is fine, but it’s led me to some eerie thoughts about the show, which takes place in early 1930s Berlin, and how it relates to today.

The show tells about a young American author, Cliff, who comes to Berlin and meets a fun and flirty young performer, Sally Bowles. In the background of the play, the Nazi party comes to power. One would think that has little to do with today, and on the whole, I generally agree, but there are still a few moments which resonate.

One of the most powerful scenes in the musical comes when a few Nazi sympathizers break into the song “Tomorrow Belongs To Me,” causing an entire party to drop everything they’re doing and join them. The song isn’t overtly about Nazism, but rather about the great things in Germany and how the people wish to have glory for their nation. It’s a nationalist song, and a particularly beautiful one at that. That’s what is so spooky. Watching it, one gets caught up in the music, and dreams of the characters. It isn’t until you see the faces of the Jewish sympathizers that you remember it’s that attitude, that national pride, which brought about the Holocaust.

The song distinctly reminds me of Trump’s campaign slogan (though the song is more elegant), “Make America Great Again.” The people supporting him believe in that he will truly bring our country to glory. The problem is, that nationalism can often exclude people who look or act outside the expected mold. Cabaret then spurs us to analyze rhetoric, rather than take it for granted, regardless of how beautiful and inspiring it may seem.

At one point in the show, Cliff and Sally get into a large fight about the situation in Germany, with Sally claiming that “it’s only politics…and what does that have to do with us.” Cliff and Sally aren’t in danger by staying in the country. They may be foreigners, but they’re white and presumably Christian, so they’d generally remain safe from the Nazi party. This leads Sally to apathy towards the situation, feeling it isn’t her problem, whereas it leads Cliff to take a stand against the Nazis, even at the risk of himself.

Many of us are like Cliff and Sally, protected by the system because of our skin color or religion. We don’t have to worry about our rights being taken away. However, we cannot be like Sally in these times, when others are in danger. We use our power as safe individuals to help protect those who aren’t: POC, Muslims, refugees, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and the disabled. We must take a stand. We must support those who cannot support themselves.

Finally, one of the famous numbers, “If You Could See Her,” involves a man dancing with and explaining his love for a gorilla. The song, while catchy, makes most people laugh or causes confusion. Then, at the end, there’s a gut-wrenching line which points out how easily the audience accepts prejudice. This shows that we need to be ever vigilant to keep from absorbing lies and falsehoods aimed to ostracize others.

Cabaret encourages us to keep a watchful eye on the discourse going on in America right now, lest it becomes more sinister. If this sounds like your kind of show, please come and see the performance, which runs from March 24-26 and March 31-April 2.

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