Seedy Night Club Struggles Through Nazi Era Berlin in Musical “Cabaret”

Jun 6, 2014

Credit courtesy of Farmers Alley Theatre

Friday is opening night for the musical Cabaret at Farmers Alley Theatre in Kalamazoo. It takes place in a seedy night club during pre-Nazi era Berlin. 

Cabaret has been popular in theatres since it hit Broadway in 1966. In fact, our idea of what a "cabaret" is likely came from the musical itself.

Kathy Mulay is directing the production at Farmers Alley. She says Cabaret was the first “concept musical.”

“And what that term actually means is that the events that are happening at the time are really more important than the journey of the characters,” Mulay explains.

“The show is kind of in segments in the fact that we are watching the real life events and then we go into the cabaret which is kind of a comment on what was happening to those real lives. And it’s a very very unique and brilliant production.”

Mulay says each of the characters in the musical is like a segment of society in Berlin as the Nazis rose to power in the early 1930s. The Emcee, for example, represents the sexual freedom that the Nazi’s saw as a national threat.

“Part of their propaganda was blaming these cabaret clubs, many of whom were owned by Jewish men, as part of the reason they lost World War I," Mulay says. "And why Germany was in such shambles was because of the moral decay that was going on around.”

Because the audience sits on all sides of the stage, you’ll get to feel like you’re watching the show from inside the cabaret club. Of course, not everyone’s the night club type. Choreographer Melissa Sparks says you’re still going to see some skin, but the movements aren’t as racy as Cabaret productions in the past.

“Because you want to make it exciting for the audience, but at the same time you don’t want the audience to feel uncomfortable in what they’re seeing—and especially in this intimate space," says Sparks. "So one of the big things that we did is we tried to bring a little bit more spectacle into it. So you’re going to see dancers that are doing incredible things. High kicks and really exciting movements.”

One of the biggest parts of the Farmer’s Alley show will be the romance between Fraulein Schnieider who owns the local boarding house and Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor. Both characters are in their 60s.

Their relationship was cut out of the 1972 movie, but director Kathy Mulay says it’s really the heart of the story. Dirk Lumbard plays Schultz. 

“His people have been through so much that he believes it’s going to pass. You know, it’s government. There will be the next election and this idiot will be pushed out and what could happen? I’m German. I’m German also, what could they do to me?” says Lumbard.

“And he is naïve and stays there and probably ends up going to the concentration camps, but he tries to convince her that it’s going to be ok. We can get married and this thing will pass.” 

Barbara Marineau plays Schneider. 

“She’s one of those people that survival is all and stoic enough to give up happiness to be safe,” says Marineau of Fraulein Schnieider.

Marineau says this show is meant to be a slice of life in pre-Nazi Berlin. You’re not going to find happy endings or a lot of closure here. But Marineau says audiences might come away with something more.

“And I think they want to see what’s real, what is out there and to be educated and enlightened. Not to say that…this show is very entertaining, incredibly entertaining. But you will also leave feeling like you’ve been given something too. You won’t leave and forget the story.”