Monday, February 11, 2013

“If In Your Emotion You Begin To Sway . . .”

On Friday evening, my parents, my middle brother, and Joshua and I went to Bloomington to see Bloomington Civic Theatre’s production of the Kander and Ebb musical, “Cabaret”.

A production of “Cabaret” will almost always get me in the door of a theater; “Cabaret” is one of the most durable and most pleasurable of musicals.

My middle brother and Josh and I last saw a production of “Cabaret” exactly four years ago, when we caught a production by New Repertory Theater Company of Watertown, Massachusetts, during one of my brother’s visits to Boston.

That Watertown production had been an acceptable one, but the Bloomington Civic Theatre production was finer. Bloomington Civic Theatre produces musicals to a very high standard—the company’s presentations of musicals are of professional quality—and the Bloomington “Cabaret” was fully in keeping with that standard. Great care—and money—had been lavished on the stage design, costume design and lighting design, all of which were admirable. A full orchestra was in use; the large cast was a good one.

Bloomington used the original 1966 version of the musical, less acidic and less abrasive and less cynical than the revised versions that have come about since the 1972 Bob Fosse film. The original “Cabaret” is seldom produced now, having been overtaken by the revised versions, and we were pleased to have a chance to see the 1966 original (and at last to see the now-generally-omitted “Telephone Song”).

Lehman Engel, one of the great authorities on The American Musical, categorized “Cabaret” as a “near-great” musical in his seminal book on the art form. Engel believed that 1943’s “Oklahoma” initiated the age of great musicals and that 1964’s “Fiddler On The Roof” concluded the age. That remarkable era, according to Engel, lasted only twenty-one years, and produced only fifteen or so “great” musicals. (Engel, now deceased, clearly had not been a Sondheim fan.)

In his book, Engel devoted special attention to “Cabaret”. “Cabaret” was the only musical that Engel placed in a special “near-great” category—Engel admired “Cabaret” enormously, and believed it was the one show for which he had to explain why it had been omitted from his list of “great” musicals—but, not having Engel’s book at hand to refresh my memory, I do not recall Engel’s specific (and quite reasonable) arguments for denying “greatness” to “Cabaret”.

“Cabaret”, in my view, is a faultless show. Each musical number is superb, the book has held up beautifully, and the show “plays” at a perfect pace. There are very few musicals of which such may be said.

Further, “Cabaret” has a timeless quality that assures its longevity. There is nothing that reeks of 1966 in the “Cabaret” score, lyrics or book, nothing that ties the work to the period of its creation. In that regard, “Cabaret” is a very rare work, atypical of musicals from the late 1960s.

Before the performance, we ate dinner at the restaurant of Sofitel, which we very much appreciated for its elegance and atmosphere. We ordered Provencale fish soup and Chilean sea bass, both recommended to us, and a dessert that was part apple gelée and part apple crisp. The food was excellent—better than anything we had in Paris.

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