The musical Cabaret depicts an era through song and dance. Music sets the stage and tells the story from the beginning of the film until the very last scene. The film takes place in pre World War II Germany, revolving around the life of a Cabaret performer and the effects of the rising Nazi power during that time. In the very first scene, the decadence of the Cabaret is reflected in the first score of the musical. Throughout the film, its loud music and provocative dance represents the frivolous lifestyle during 1930’s Germany.
The purpose of a musical is often times to illustrate a certain period of time through the lives of the characters. In this particular musical, the reckless lifestyle of the Germans during the time was shown through the scenes at the Cabaret. However, as the Nazi party began to gain power, its effects were portrayed through the musical routines performed at the Cabaret. The costumes, as well as the subject of the songs, helped to tell the story by symbolizing this era. The director, Bob Fosse commonly used flash blacks and foreshadowing to make the connection clear to the audience.
Fosse’s vision as a musical director was far ahead of his time. The use of an emcee in the musical numbers gave the musical its direction. As the story unfolds, the main character Sally Bowles takes the stage at the Cabaret, and her own personal life mirrors the musical numbers performed. Sally starts off as a free spirit Bohemian, living the life of a Cabaret performer. As her life becomes more complicated, the musical numbers reflect this change. The song “Maybe this Time” reflects her newfound love with Brian Roberts, an English writer living in Germany.
Another powerful scene is during the song “Money Money”, when she is choosing between true love and her desire for money. As the movie progresses, the control of the Nazi party strengthens. The director does a fantastic job of implementing a musical score during a scene in which Brian and his friend Max find themselves at a Nazi rally. In this scene, a young Nazi singing a very political song performs the musical number. This song represents a change in the tone of the musical, as it was more serious and sung outside of the Cabaret.
Another scene at the Cabaret is a musical number that shows the women, as well as the emcee, dressed as Nazi soldiers. This change is a big difference from the outfits worn in the earlier scores. Another important song “If You Could See Her” is full of symbolism. This number includes the Emcee expressing his love to a gorilla, making a statement about not having prejudice. The gorilla symbolizes the Jews in Germany during the time and the hatred that the Nazis were displaying. The final score “Life is a Cabaret” summarizes the end of the Cabaret as it once was.
The final image seen in the movie is of a swastika, representing what is to become of Germany. I found this musical to be incredibly ahead of its time, with its clever directing, as well as its outstanding choreography and musical numbers. I also enjoyed the unique and wild personality that Liza Minnelli portrayed in the film. Her honest and vulnerable character is one of the most distinctive roles I have ever seen in a musical. Cabaret did an incredible job depicting pre WWII Germany through the times at the Cabaret.