Cabaret is a musical with a book by Joe Masteroff, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and music by John Kander. The 1966 Broadway production became a hit and spawned an acclaimed 1972 film as well as numerous subsequent productions.
Originally entitled Welcome to Berlin, it is based on John Van Druten's play I Am a Camera, which in turn was adapted from the novel Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood. Set in 1931 Berlin on the eve of the Nazis' rise to power, it focuses on nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub and revolves around the 19-year-old English cabaret performer Sally Bowles and her relationship with young American writer Cliff Bradshaw.
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 Emcee, who presides as master of ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub and serves as a constant metaphor for the current state of society in Weimar Germany throughout the show.
This production featured a number of notable replacements later in the run: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joely Fisher, Gina Gershon, Deborah Gibson, Teri Hatcher, Melina Kanakaredes, Jane Leeves, Molly Ringwald, Brooke Shields, and Lea Thompson as Sally; Michael C. Hall, Raúl Esparza, Neil Patrick Harris, Adam Pascal, Jon Secada, and John Stamos as the Emcee; Boyd Gaines as Cliff; Tom Bosley, Dick Latessa, Hal Linden, Laurence Luckinbill, and Tony Roberts as Herr Schultz; and Blair Brown, Polly Bergen, Mariette Hartley, and Carole Shelley as Fräulein Schneider.
Mendes' conception differed greatly from the original. Possibly the most significant change was in the character of the Emcee. The role was initially played by Joel Grey as an androgynous, stiff, marionette-like character in a tuxedo with rouged cheeks, but Cumming's portrayal was highly sexualized, wearing suspenders around his crotch and red paint on his nipples. The cabaret number "Two Ladies" was staged with the Emcee, a cabaret girl, and a cabaret boy in drag and included a shadow play simulating various sexual positions. The score was entirely re-orchestrated, utilizing synthesizer effects and expanding the stage band, with all the instruments now being played by the cabaret girls and boys. "Sitting Pretty" was eliminated entirely and replaced with "Money"; "I Don't Care Much," which was cut from the original production, was reinstated; and "Mein Herr" and "Maybe This Time," written for the film adaptation, were added to the score. Staging details differed as well; instead of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" being performed by a male choir, the Emcee plays a recording of a boy soprano singing it. Most dramatic of all was in the final scene in which the Emcee removes his outer clothes to reveal a striped suit of the type worn by the internees in concentration camps on which were pinned a yellow Star of David (identifying a Jewish prisoner) and a pink triangle (denoting a homosexual).
Several subsequent productions of the play have followed the Mendes version fairly closely, including a 2006 production staged in French at the Folies Bergère in Paris, and a 2008 production at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario.
Cliff arrives at the boardinghouse, run by Fräulein Schneider. She charges Cliff one hundred marks for the room; he can only pay fifty. After a brief argument, she relents and lets Cliff live there for fifty marks. Fräulein Schneider then says that she has learned to take whatever life offers ("So What?"). Afterward, Cliff remembers that Ernst mentioned a cabaret—the Kit Kat Klub— and decides to visit it.
At the Klub, the Emcee introduces a British singer, Sally Bowles, who then performs for the cabaret's audience ("Don't Tell Mama"). Afterward, she calls Cliff on the table-to-table phone and talks to him. She asks him to recite poetry for her; he recites Casey at the Bat. Cliff offers to take Sally home, but she says that her boyfriend Max (the club's owner) is too jealous. The cabaret ensemble then performs a song and dance, calling each other on inter-table phones and inviting each other for dances and drinks ("The Telephone Song").
The next day, the scene is at Cliff's room. Cliff has just finished giving Ernst an English lesson when Sally arrives; she tells him that Max has fired her and thrown her out, and now she has no place to live, asking him if she can live in his room. At first he resists, saying she would be "much too distracting," but she convinces him (and Fräulein Schneider) to take her in ("Perfectly Marvelous"). Directly after this scene, the Emcee and two female companions sing a song ("Two Ladies") that comments on Cliff and Sally's unusual living conditions.
The action moves to Fräulein Schneider's apartment. Herr Schultz, an elderly Jewish fruit-shop owner who lives in the boardinghouse, has given Fräulein Schneider a pineapple as a gift ("It Couldn't Please Me More"). This scene is the beginning of Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz's romance.
The next scene takes place in the Kit Kat Klub. A young waiter begins singing a hymn to the Fatherland ("Tomorrow Belongs to Me") a cappella, with others joining him, including the Emcee (at the last line).
Months later, Cliff and Sally are still living together and have fallen in love. Cliff knows that he is in a "dream," ignoring the reality of life on the outside, but he enjoys living with Sally too much to come to his senses ("Why Should I Wake Up?"). Sally reveals that she is pregnant, but she does not know with whose child. She reluctantly decides to get an abortion, though she dreads going back to "that greedy doctor." Cliff reminds her that it could be his child, and convinces her to have the baby. Ernst then enters and offers Cliff a job—picking up a suitcase in Paris and delivering it to his "client" in Berlin—which Cliff accepts; he thinks it is easy money. The Emcee and the cabaret girls comment on this with a song praising money ("Sitting Pretty", or in later versions "Money") and a dance routine based on the currencies of different countries.
Meanwhile, Fräulein Schneider has caught one of her boarders, Fräulein Kost, bringing sailors into her room. Fräulein Schneider forbids her from doing it again, but Fräulein Kost threatens to leave. She also mentions that she has seen Fräulein Schneider with Herr Schultz in her room. Herr Schultz saves Fräulein Schneider's reputation by telling Fräulein Kost that he and Fräulein Schneider are to be married in three weeks. After Kost leaves, Fräulein Schneider thanks Herr Schultz for lying to Kost. Herr Schultz, however, says that he was serious, and proposes to Fräulein Schneider ("Married").
The next scene is Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz's engagement party, at Herr Schultz's fruit shop. After Cliff arrives and delivers the suitcase to Ernst, Herr Schultz (after having had a few more schnapps than he should have had) sings "Meeskite" (Meeskite, he explains, is Yiddish for ugly or funny-looking) a song with a moral ("Though you're not a beauty it is nevertheless quite true,/there may be beautiful things in you..."). Afterward, looking for revenge on Fräulein Schneider, Fräulein Kost tells Ernst, who now sports a Nazi armband, that Herr Schultz is a Jew. Ernst warns Fräulein Schneider that marrying a Jew may not be wise. The act ends with a reprisal of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," led by Fräulein Kost and sung by the whole cast (this time with disturbing Nazi overtones) save Cliff, Sally, Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, while the Emcee looks on with a sinister smile.
Fräulein Schneider expresses her concerns about her union to Herr Schultz, who assures her that everything will be all right. They then reprise "Married", but the song is interrupted by the crash of a brick being thrown through the window of Herr Schultz's fruit shop. Fräulein Schneider is afraid that the gesture might represent malicious intent, but Schultz assures her that it is just children making trouble ... an assurance it is sadly obvious that Fraulein Schneider doesn't believe.
Back at the Kit Kat Klub, the Emcee performs an upbeat song-and-dance routine with a girl in a gorilla suit ("If You Could See Her") and sings of how their love has been met with universal disapproval. Encouraging the audience to be more open-minded, he defends his ape-woman, concluding with, "if you could see her through my eyes... she wouldn't look Jewish at all."
Fräulein Schneider then goes to Cliff and Sally's room and returns their engagement present, explaining that her marriage has been called off. When Cliff protests, saying that she can't just give up this way, she asks him what other choice she has ("What Would You Do?").
After Fraulein Schneider leaves, Cliff informs Sally that he is taking her back to his home in America so that they can raise their baby together. When Sally protests, declaring how wonderful their life in Berlin is, Cliff angrily tells her to "wake up" and take notice of the growing unrest around them, to which Sally retorts that politics have nothing to do with them or their affairs. Following their heated argument, Sally returns to the club. Cliff follows her, only to be accosted by Ernst who has another delivery job for him. Cliff tries to brush him off, but when Ernst asks if Cliff's attitude towards him is because of "that Jew at the party", Cliff attacks him - only to be badly beaten up by Ernst and his Nazi bodyguards and dragged out of the club. The Emcee introduces Sally, who enters to perform again, this time singing the song "Cabaret", which, though often performed as a show-stopping number, is imbued in its original context with a heavy irony and desperation bordering on hysteria. As Sally finishes the song, she breaks down and hurls her microphone to the ground.
The next morning, the bruised Cliff is packing when he is visited by Herr Schultz, who tells him that he is moving to another boardinghouse, but he is confident that the bad times will soon pass because he understands the German people ... after all, he is a German too. When Sally returns, Cliff asks where her fur coat is. She answers, evasively, that she left it at the doctor's. He asks her if she's sick, but she says she is not— and then mentions how much she hates "that greedy doctor": She has had an abortion. Cliff slaps her. Sally, devastated, says that she had hoped their relationship wouldn't end like this, because it is the first time she has really cared about anyone. Cliff says that he is leaving for Paris today, still hoping that she will join him. But Sally says that she's "always hated Paris" and hopes that when Cliff finally writes his novel, he will dedicate it to her. Cliff leaves, heartbroken.
The next scene switches to Cliff on the train to Paris. After having his passport examined by the German Passport Control Officer (in most recent productions played by the Emcee), he begins to write his novel, reflecting on his experiences: "There was a cabaret, and there was a master of ceremonies ...and there was a city called Berlin, in a country called Germany. It was the end of the world, and I was dancing with Sally Bowles ... and we were both fast asleep." He then begins to sing "Willkommen". The Emcee joins him and then overtakes him, as the scene shifts from the train car to the Kit Kat Klub. The Emcee continues the song, but the scene is now lit more darkly and it is revealed that the Emcee is dressed in Nazi regalia. The cabaret ensemble reprises the tune as before, but it is now harsh and violent instead of extroverted and sleazy. "Willkommen" is interrupted three times by other songs from the show— first a ghostly "Meeskite", as Herr Schultz's reassuring comments from before ("I know I am right, because I understand the Germans. After all, what am I? A German.") echo and fade, then "So What", in which Fräulein Schneider rationalizes her breakup with Herr Schultz ("I must be sensible. If the Nazis come, what choice have I?"), and finally "Cabaret," as Sally appears beside the Emcee ("It'll all work out. It's only politics, and what has that got to do with us?"). However, her song soon fades away as well. The Emcee slowly sings, "Auf Wiedersehen ... à bientôt ...", then the spotlight on him irises in and the lights go out, while the "Cabaret" sign lights up.
°Writen for the 1972 film, included in the 1998 revival Notes on the music Of the prologue of songs originally planned, only "Willkommen" remained. One of the dropped numbers, "I Don't Care Much," was eventually restored to the 1998 production. "Roommates" was replaced by "Perfectly Marvelous", but largely serves the same purpose, for Sally to convince Cliff to let her move in with him. "Good Time Charlie" was to be sung by Sally to Cliff while they are on their way to Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz's engagement party, with Sally mocking the overly dour and pessimistic Cliff with the lines "You're such a Good Time Charlie/What'll we do with you?/You're such a Good Time Charlie/frolicking all the time..."). "It'll All Blow Over" was planned for the end of the first act: Fräulein Schneider is concerned that marrying a Jew might not be wise, and Cliff is concerned about the city's growing Nazism. In the song, Sally tells them both that they have nothing to worry about and that all will turn out well in the end. She eventually convinces Cliff and Fräulein Schneider to sing the song with her. (Both this song and "Roommates" are occasionally underscored by the ostinato rhythm of the piece.) These three deleted songs were recorded by Kander and Ebb, and the sheet music for the songs was included in The Complete Cabaret Collection, a book of vocal selections from the musical.
The 1972 movie soundtrack with Liza Minnelli is perhaps the best-known of the recordings, although the movie is much re-written and eliminates all but six of the original songs from the stage production.
The original London cast recording (1968) was released in the U.K. and reissued on the CBS Embassy label in 1973. Both the 1986 London and 1998 Broadway revival casts were recorded.
A 1999 two-CD studio recording contains more or less the entire score, including songs written for the movie or for later productions, and many incidentals and instrumentals not usually recorded. This recording features Jonathan Pryce as the Emcee, Maria Friedman as Sally, Gregg Edelman as Cliff, Judi Dench as Fräulein Schneider, and Fred Ebb as Herr Schultz.
In addition to these recordings, cast albums for the French, Spanish, Greek, Israeli, Italian, Austrian, Dutch, and two German productions have been released.