joel grey

‘Cabaret’: the darkness behind the razzle-dazzle

Unlike the current stage revival, Bob Fosse's film made evil real by making the political personal

Last week’s production in Portland conclusively demonstrates just what a work of dark genius Cabaret is.

No, not the popular Broadway road show that Broadway in Portland brought to Keller Auditorium last week. Sure, this third major incarnation of the venerable show, Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s Tony Award-winning production, boasts some catchy tunes, powerful source material, a still-fascinating concept — using the cabaret setting to both contrast with and comment on the rise of Nazism in inter-World War Germany. And given the alarming rise in neo-Nazi rhetoric and power (including one of the US President’s closest advisors and a significant part of his power base) and resurgent homophobia (anti-gay laws from Russia to Uganda to Arizona to murders in Orlando), it has renewed relevance.

But beset by shoddy casting, acting, and singing and a flawed book, if the current road show was the only version of the immortal Kander & Ebb musical you’d ever seen, you’d wonder why the show has lasted half a century.

Even the orchestra is beautiful in the current road show of ‘Cabaret.’

No, as renowned as the original musical and this long-running Mendes-Marshall revival (which upon its 1993 debut scored a huge financial success, snapped up its own slew of Tonys, and sparked several re-revivals including this one) were, it’s the second major version, the 1972 film version of Cabaret, directed by Bob Fosse, that will stand as one of the great artistic creations of the 20th century, one still relevant today. And the differences between what happened onstage last week at the Keller and what appeared onscreen 45 years ago reveal the kinds of tough artistic choices that transform a work of art from good to genius.

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