Saturday, March 24, 2012

Stage vs. Screen: Cabaret

(note: in places where embedding has been disabled, I provide the link so you can click through to the video on youtube, which I strongly encourage you to do; believe me, it's worth it.)

I ought to preface this article with the statement that I like the movie adaptation of Cabaret far better than the stage show. If that happens to be a dealbreaker for you, feel free to read no further. If you’re open to the idea, read on and I’ll attempt to explain my view.

No revolution in the musical theater has burst, fully grown, from the ranks of its ancestors like Athena from the head of Zeus. We didn’t go directly from Ziegfeld to South Pacific, or from Promises, Promises to Sweeney Todd. Even the shows that have come to be recognized as milestones bear the hallmarks of their forbears. I like to think of these more as transitional shows than anything else, mature shows equipped with training wheels just to be safe. Pal Joey introduced one of the first antiheroes in the musical theater, but it still had to keep him somewhat likable by casting Gene Kelly in the part. Oklahoma introduced a new storytelling aesthetic, but had to keep the get-lose-get girl elements and jolly chorus numbers. West Side Story broached new subject matter and even killed a character onstage but had to insert a comedy number (“Gee, Officer Krupke”) into the second act in order to break up the unbearable dramatic tension (whatever its faults, the movie version did manage to fix this by swapping “Krupke” with “Cool” as lyricist Stephen Sondheim had originally wanted, but that’s for another day).

            All of which brings us to Cabaret, which wound up serving as a companion piece of sorts to West Side in terms of changing Broadway’s view of what was acceptable in terms of subject matter for the musical stage. However, like West Side, Cabaret also had to dilute its dramatic value in order to reach its audience. The muddy color of compromise is painted all over the show (read the rest after the jump).