Cabaret Captivates Campus


During the last days of January, Middlebury actors partnered with the Town Hall Theatre to put on the annual J-term musical. From the 26th to the 29th, actors performed “Cabaret”, an alternately joyous and tragic look at life in Germany just before the Nazi rise to power. Prior to the three weeks of intensive preparation as part of the J-term course “Music 103: The American Musical in Production,” students began their rehearsals during the fall.

“Three weeks in January is really not enough time to learn vocal music, lines, blocking and choreography,” said Carol Christensen, the musical director. “I start working with the singers in the fall, rehearsing ensemble and leads usually twice per week… by the end of the term, the singers are well on their way to having all the vo- cal music memorized, which is necessary for the rst day of J-term.”

“Cabaret” brings its audience to Berlin circa 1930, just before the Nazis seized control of Germany and thrust the world into bloody conflict. The musical unfolds through three major storylines: the perspective of the ebullient Emcee (played by Michael Koutelos ’20), the doomed romance between Clifford Bradshaw and Sally Bowles (Zach Varricchione ’21 and Ashley Fink ’18.5 respectively), and the tragic relationship between the landlady Fräulein Schneider (Madeline Ciocci ’20) and her lover Herr Schultz (Jonah Edelman ’20.5). Each of these roles was wonderfully act- ed and shone at different moments throughout. The most memorable for myself was Frl.

Schneider’s introductory song, “So What?” which captured the pain of a life that has failed to live up to lofty expectations. Another highlight was introductory solo “Willkommen”, sung by the Emcee, the story’s supposed narrator and part owner of the Kit Kat Club, our eponymous cabaret. Multiple accents used throughout the song created a captivating performance that captured the audience’s attention from the start and made us eager to follow this unfolding story. More praise can be given to the acting in the forefront, but the supporting role of the pit band in the back also proved invaluable in bringing the sounds of “Cabaret” to life.

The major motif of “Cabaret” is the subtle elect that encroaching Nazism has on the seemingly oblivious people of Berlin, especially those who lose themselves in the decadence of the lifestyle that cabarets such as the Kit Kat Club offer. No one symbolized this better than the Emcee, whose transformation from the lavish and seductive club performer to a downcast and condemned victim of the Holocaust left the audience with a blunt image of the rapid brutality with which Nazism changed German life. Lives like the Emcee’s, who was once so free, were quickly reduced to despair. The rise of Nazism in Germany was not a time for idealists or free-spirits. In “Cabaret,” these are the people who are unable to foresee the terror on the horizon. This was represented by the character Sally Bowles, a character who fled from her native England in search of a freer life in Germany. When she becomes pregnant in the play, she is given the choice to return to a life of responsibility and reason, an option she conflates with imprisonment and lifelessness. She chooses to abort the child so that she can return to her life as a star performer at the Kit Kat Club, a life away from poverty, responsibility, and repugnant reality.

Perhaps the most poignant relationship in the play is the failed marriage between Herr Schultz and Frl. Scheider. Both of these characters were designed to be lovable and they were portrayed with great pathos onstage. Herr Schultz does not believe that the Nazis will do anything to harm him.

He is an idealist and thinks that he is just as German as his neighbors, despite his Jewish heritage. But Frl. Schneider is nothing if not a realist. In an effort to protect the both of them from the wrath of the Nazis, she refuses Herr Schultz’s marriage request, despite her overwhelming loneliness and love for him, one of the musical’s greatest tragedies. Frl. Schneider gives up love to survive, but her future holds only war and blood- shed that will destroy her home.

“The warning to be politically aware is a big theme in the show,” Christensen said. “Sally Bowles’ line ‘Politics? But what has that to do with us?’ is telling. When I do this show, I am struck by the loss that is central in the narrative-extremely special irreplaceable human relationships that were lost due to the rise of anti-Semitism and intolerance. It is saddening and sobering.”

In an era where right-wing nationalism has once again been in amed worldwide, this musical, though rst adapted and performed in 1966, re- mains sobering but deeply necessary.