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The Writing of Cabaret

Commentary and writing tips by Noel Katz

Cabaret is a very seductive musical with familiar-sounding and attractive songs. The first five notes of the title song are also the first five notes of "Put On a Happy Face," and while everybody seems to think this was literally unintended, the effect is certainly what the creators were after. 1930 Berlin is meant to feel recognizable to us, the typical American musical comedy audience. So, the songs are very conventional, even if the composer utilizes a certain amount of Kurt Weill-like flavor. In its insinuating way, Cabaret lures us into its world, until we find ourselves identifying with characters who, more or less, become responsible for the rise of Hitler.

The protagonist is a lot like us: American, totally naïve, and not at all conversant in the ins and outs of European politics. He is drawn to Sally Bowles and the glittering and sexy cabaret world like a moth to a flame. And so are we. In the score's richest song, he admits to being in a "euphoric state" and asks "When you're enchanted, why break the spell?" Our hearts agree with him while are heads say we should be cautious, because we know to fear the Nazis. Cabaret effectively dramatizes this conflict between heart and conscience.

Like many a traditional musical, Cabaret presents two couples: Cliff & Sally and the more comic subplot of the landlady and the Jewish grocer. Funny as the subplot is, we're well aware of the tragic implications: 1930 Berlin is a bad time and place to be Jewish. We want all the characters to escape from Germany so they and their love can live and grow, but, for various reasons, the characters aren't brave enough to escape. Our natural expectations that love will win out in a musical are subverted.

This was pretty bold stuff in the second decade after World War II; it must have seemed a pretty unlikely subject for a musical. Today, musical authors take on dark episodes from history all the time. But no musical tragedy since has had the same amount of truly entertaining comedy that can be found throughout Cabaret. Unfortunately, writers who imitate its bleakness forget that it's the laughter and glitzy showmanship that make such a message palatable to an audience. Read more about Kander and Ebb musicals...

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Cabaret DVD Cabaret (DVD) from Amazon.com 1972 Motion Picture starring Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey, and Michal York. Special Features include: 25th-Anniversary Documentary, "Cabaret: A Legend in the Making", Featurette: "The Recreation of An Era", "Kit Kat Klub Memory Gallery": The film's stars and creators reminisce about making movie musical history, Theatrical trailer

Cast Recordings

Cabaret Original Cast RecordingCabaret (Original Broadway Cast) from Amazon.com Featuring Joel Grey. Songs include: Willkommen, So What?, Don't Tell Mama, Telephone Song, Perfectly Marvelous, Two Ladies, It Couldn't Please Me More (A Pineapple), Tomorrow Belongs To Me, Why Should I Wake Up?, The Money Song (Sitting Pretty), Married, Meeskite, Entr'acte, If You Could See Her (The Gorilla Song), What Would You Do?, Cabaret, Finale, Berlin Songs Intro, I Don't Care Much, and Roommates Intro

Cabaret: Original Soundtrack Recording (1972 Film) from Amazon.com Songs include: Wilkommen, Mein Herr, Maybe This Time, Money , Money, Two Ladies, Sitting Pretty, Tomorrow Belongs To Me, Tiller Girls, Heiraten ( Married ), If You Could See Her, Cabaret, and Finale

Cabaret New Broadway Cast Recording album cover. Cabaret: The New Broadway Cast Recording (1998 Broadway Revival) from Amazon.com Roundabout Theater Company revival featuring Alan Cumming, Natasha Richardson, Mary Louise Wilson. Songs include: Willkommen, So What, Don't Tell Mama, Mein Herr, Perfectly Marvelous, Two Ladies, It Couldn't Please Me More, Tomorrow Belongs To Me, Maybe This Time, Money, Married, Tomorrow Belongs To Me (Reprise), Entr'Acte, Married (Reprise), If You Could See Her, What Would You Do?, I Don't Care Much, Cabaret, and Finale

Sheet Music and Reference Materials

"Cabaret" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Wilkommen" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

Cabaret Full Vocal Score Cabaret (Full Vocal Score) from Amazon.com

Making of CabaretThe Making of Cabaret from Amazon.com Keith Garebian's look into the behind the scenes work that goes into creating a great Broadway musical.

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