‘Cabaret’ offers dark portrayal of ’30s Berlin

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‘Cabaret’ offers dark portrayal of ’30s Berlin

When the landmark Broadway musical “Cabaret” opens in Seoul tomorrow, it will feature a cast from New York, rather than the local troupe that staged the performance here last year.
The Seensee Musical Company decided to put forward the quintessential show, with all the trimmings, after realizing that their 2002 performance was only a partial success for not being provocative enough. In an exceptional move, the company held a fresh audition in New York, hiring a whole new troupe of actors. Also unlike most foreign musicals, which stop in Korea after their headline performances in Japan, “Cabaret’s” main run is here.
Since debuting on Broadway in 1966, “Cabaret” has been performed more than 8,000 times. Made into a successful 1972 movie with Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, its most recent rebirth on Broadway was the work of Sam Mendes, the Oscar-winning director of the film “American Beauty.” In fact, it was his reimagining of the musical that opened the door for Mendes to direct that movie, after one of the production’s fans, Steven Spielberg, recommended him.
Mendes’s talents shine through again, for he’s put great effort into visual spectacle, creating as authentic an atmosphere as possible. The costuming and makeup can best be described as grotesque, rather than beautiful. Case in point: unshaven nightclub dancers. Mendes’s sense and sensibility in orchestrating colors, music and choreography remain intact in the Seoul show, organizers say.
Set in a 1930s Berlin nightclub, “Cabaret” introduces the audience to a multifarious array of individuals who are swept up in the commotion of the times, in an environment where decadence rules. Amid the confusion of a city about to be overtaken by the Nazis in the period leading up to World War II, enter Cliff, an American writer who frequents the cheap Kit Kat Klub and soon falls in love with a singer, Sally Bowles.
Next enters the Emcee, another key character, whose dress suggests a vague sexual identity. As the king of the club, he offers the lowdown on what’s happening to the people around him and sneers at the absurdity of the world. Nevertheless, he is only part of the powerless crowd caught up in the torrent of the times.
Things get complicated when some habitues of the club join the Nazi party, creating a chasm between themselves and the Jewish habitues of the Kit Kat.
The musical not only addresses the growing wave of anti-Semitism, but touches on delicate issues such as homosexuality. A sense of social awareness, which is precisely what the original producer and composer wanted, is what sets this musical apart from many others.
The songwriters, John Kander and Fred Ebb, are known for having collaborated on another big Broadway hit, “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Their motto has been that a musical’s got to offer something more than mere entertainment. Thus was born “Cabaret,” which is both entertaining and socially rich.
Performances in Seoul run through July 16, followed by Daegu from July 20 to 25 and Busan from July 27 to August 1.


by Chun Su-jin

The Sejong Center for Performing Arts in central Seoul is best reached by taking subway line No. 5 to Gwanghwamun station, exit 1 or 8. Tickets start at 30,000 won ($25) and go up to 130,000 won for “VIP” seats. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, at 4 and 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and 3 and 7 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. For more information, visit www.sejongpac.or.kr and for ticket reservation, call 1588-7890 or 1544-1555.
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