The night that Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court was bitterly cold outside. Early October — too early to dig out your winter jacket, but too late for thin windbreakers. As I was leaving a restaurant with my friend, I glanced up at the TV screen set on CNN news: “Breaking News: Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to U.S. Supreme Court.”
The hundreds of sexual abuse victims stepping forward to tell their stories had shattered my spirit over and over again this year, but this seemed like the icing on the cake. Then my friend asked, “Who’s Brett Kavanaugh?”
The terrible thing about ignorance is that it’s so easy. It takes no effort at all to push away the world around you and focus on more pressing things, such as exams or what you’re doing Friday night. That’s why, when I saw MUSKET’s production of “Cabaret” at the Power Center this past weekend, I knew it was vital to our times.
MUSKET, the largest student-run musical theatre organization at the University, puts on one Broadway-style production per semester. “Cabaret” was their latest musical venture, set in 1929 Berlin — the most liberal city in Germany with a vibrant, sultry nightlife that openly embraced homosexuality — four years before Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor of Germany. The story follows the relationship between Clifford Bradshaw, a visiting American novelist played by LSA Fifth Year Casey Board, and Sally Bowles, a cabaret singer played by SMTD Sophomore Caroline Glazier. “Cabaret,” based on the play by John Van Druten, was directed by SMTD and LSA Junior Isabel K. Olson and choreographed by SMTD Sophomore Johanna Kepler.
“Cabaret” opened in a burst of energy with “Willkommen,” which welcomed audiences to the seedy Berlin Kit Kat Klub. Emcee Wilson Plonk (SMTD Junior) deserves special mention for his excellent, exuberant performance. Plonk skillfully embodied the overwhelming passion of Berlin in the 1920s while simultaneously keeping the audience at ease with the flamboyant backdrop of the production.
MUSKET did a wonderful job of giving the audience glimpses at the underlying fascist regime while maintaining that, on the surface, life still contained parties and wild entertainment. “Money,” a number evolving from embracing the grandeur of wealth to desperation at not having it, was the performance’s first look at the dichotomy of Germany in the 1920s. After using the first half of the production to establish relationships and set the scene, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” directly before intermission, stunned the audience with its sudden display of the hidden Nazi culture in Berlin. Clifford’s friend revealed an armband emblazoned with a black swastika and the cheerful, sultry dancing changed to dark, ominous stomping.
As a character, Sally Bowles chose to ignore the hints of Hitler’s rise even when blatantly obvious. Glazier’s rendition of “Maybe This Time,” reflecting her happiness at finally being in a stable relationship with Clifford, was artfully done and did justice to her character. Sally stays in-denial, singing: “Life is a cabaret old chum,” until the very end. The simplicity of detachment is written all over her face, but the audience senses the danger in remaining idle, a message incredibly relevant to our current political climate.
The second half of “Cabaret” included the memorable “What Would You Do?” performed by Fraulein Schneider (SMTD Sophomore Samantha Buyers), a poor landlord in love with a Jewish fruit-seller Herr Schultz (SMTD Junior Aaron Robinson). Fraulein Schneider ends her engagement to Herr Schultz in the wake of the Nazis’ rise to power, but Herr Schultz firmly believes that “it will pass,” even after bricks are thrown through his window in an effort to drive him out of town.
Denial can only persevere for so long. The last scene shows a spotlight shining on a missing orchestra, with instruments lying haphazardly across the floor and music stands upended, but music continued to play. We see the Emcee rip off his suit to reveal an inmate’s concentration camp uniform with a bullet hole in his chest, while other members of the cast, wearing white, stare at a bright light in the middle of the stage. Strobe lights flash on and off and we see the cast contort, as if being shot, before finally collapsing, lifeless. Everyone is taken in the end — the orchestra, the cast, even the audience. Seeing intricately developed characters die is heartbreaking, reminding us of the full consequences of Hitler’s power and how the current sociopolitical divide in the U.S. seems to be converging on the same path.
A musical as relevant as “Cabaret” was a wonderful selection, but I would have liked to see more explicit connections to our times. “Cabaret” is a wake-up call for its audience, but still largely sticks to the original script. Deviations to move from the past to the present would have allowed the audience to resonate more with the message.
“Cabaret” shows us how easily one can focus on the beauty of the world and ignore the reality. This country currently hosts a president who openly shames women, racial minorities and the queer community. How long can we keep up this complacency? Letting our minds become numb to atrocities is as good as joining the perpetrator.