Cabaret’s timely take on 1930s Berlin & today

Queen’s Musical Theatre confronts audience with dangers of ignorance

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Stepping into a nightclub may provide an escape from social justice issues, but only for a moment. 

From April 5 to 14, in the tiny Rotunda theatre in the basement of Theological Hall, Queen’s Musical Theatre presents Cabaret, a bold performance that manipulates this moment and confronts its audience with the dangers of ignorance.

Cabaret narrates a desperate romance between Cliff, a poor American novelist played by Jacob Leonard, and Maddy Palmer’s Sally Bowles, a beautiful dancer from the Kit Kat Klub who refuses to give up a love of gin and a devastating desire for stardom. 

Set in the risqué nightlife of 1930s Berlin, Cabaret appears to have all the glamour of a Great Gatsby love affair. Despite the allure of the cabaret girls and boys decked out in red and black lingerie, Cabaret isn’t intended as light entertainment.

Nor is it a history lesson about the dangers of anti-Semitism in pre-Nazi Germany. 

“This is not a historical musical,” assistant director Alisha Grech, ArtSci ‘19, told The Journal. “This is something that is still happening today.” 

Underneath all the glamour, subtle hints of anti-Semitism creep into the set and the lives of the characters.

Arranged in huge red letters on the overhanging balcony, the Kit Kat Klub dazzles in a nod to classic Hollywood charm. Meanwhile, a live band takes over the centre of the small stage space, recreating the intimacy of a nightclub.

But beneath the brilliant lights and energetic music, Director Lizzie Moffatt, ArtSci‘18, told The Journal there’s a “darkness” to the scene. In a dark corner of the stage, cast members strategically add Nazi propaganda posters to moving brick throughout the musical while elaborate dance numbers distract the audience.

As the power of the Nazi party infiltrates the lives of the characters, the set piece creeps closer to the centre of the stage before a brutal confrontation at the end of the musical, when the brick wall is spun around to reveal a giant mirror. 

To immerse the audience, cast members linger on the sidelines and infiltrate the audience when they aren’t on stage, removing a separation between the stage and the spectator. 

The audience area is always lit, never allowing them to truly escape from their own lives into the narrative. 

“You’re in the seedy nightclub, and you can’t escape the issues put in front of you,” production manager Julia Raftery, Film ‘19, told The Journal. She added, “you don’t geto leave [social issues] at the door.” 

To strengthen the musical’s confrontational nature, Moffatt and Grech use the Rotunda’s balcony to their advantage. 

In a haunting scene at the end of the production, both the victims and perpetrators of anti-Semitism gaze down from the balcony in silence, a chilling omnipresence to the empty cheer of previously entertaining show tunes. 

Moffatt and Grech don’t let the confrontation stop there. As audience members leave, they’re forced to walk through a display of images from the Holocaust.

The duo’s careful directing also extends to casting. They give the role of the Emcee, traditionally played by a man, to Carolyn Bayley, demonstrating how Cabaret’s opposition to ignorance transcends time. 

“In my four years of being in the drama department, there have been so many amazing opportunities, but often I find that a lot of plays that we pick, or shows that go up, are geared towards male-oriented opportunities in terms of what type of cast and roles are available,” Moffatt said. 

“We really wanted to create a message of equality,” Grech added. She emphasized the female-dominated creative and production teams. 

The show’s excellent choreography and devotion to authenticity, which included a dialect coach to assist with the actors’ German, English and American accents and a consultation with Queen’s Hillel to create the Holocaust display, distinguishes Cabaret as an inspiring triumph. 

 

Corrections

The spelling of Lizzie Moffatt's name has been updated.

The Journal regrets the error.

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