Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome: Adaptation and Cabaret

Cabaret is one of my favorite movies. As someone who has always been a big fan of both film and musical theater, the way that Cabaret tackles both so cleverly has always impressed me.

One notable thing about this story and these songs is how many different forms Cabaret has taken in its journey from stage to film, then back to stage again. Under the direction of a number of great artists from the last century, Cabaret is in a way a testament to the malleability of text. It has kept what has always been at its core–a tale of the seedy underbelly pre-WWII Germany, and the group of people trying to make the best out of the freedom they’re about to lose, etc–but with different directors, revivals, and adaptations, different aspects of the way the show have been presented in markedly different ways.

When Cabaret was first introduced on stage in 1966 it was directed by Harold Prince, who had previously either produced or directed classics like West Side Story, Damn Yankees and The Pajama Game. Classic musicals that helped to define Broadway for decades to come.

The show was next turned into the film we saw yesterday and discussed in class today. It was directed by Bob Fosse, with much of the musical action taking place within the space of the stage in the Kit Kat Club cabaret. It made Liza Minelli a star, the lush, sensual colors highlighting her gigantic brown eyes, while the dark colors surrounding all this highlighted the unsavory nature of both the club and what was about to take place in that country.

In 1998, the show was revived for a second time (the first revival having been in 1987, again directed by Harold Prince). This time Cabaret was directed by Sam Mendes (Films: American Beauty, Away We Go, Revolutionary Road; Stage: Company, The Glass Menagerie, Assassins, Gypsy), who took the production in a much grittier direction than its original stage direction, with the raunch level immediately going through the roof. It suddenly became much more evident why the Kit Kat Club was considered an unsavory sub-culture. One of the biggest changes Mendes made was the role of the Emcee; whereas he had previously been a largely aswexual, malevolent character, Mendes’ interpretation (played by Alan Cumming) was highly sexualized, with suspenders around his crotch and red paint on his nipples.

I would argue that Fosse’s 1972 film falls somewhere between the original stage production and Mendes’ interpretation on the grittiness scale, but is completely in its own realm in terms of how it takes advantage of its change in medium.

For some perspective, here are a few different versions of the same songs in different productions of Cabaret:

Sam Mendes\’ \”Two Ladies\” with Alan C

Stagedoor Manor \”Two Ladies\”

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