Fifty years after the musical "Cabaret" premiered on Broadway, the show finds itself as relevant as ever.
"What's amazing is that people think that we've updated the script, that we've added new dialogue to reflect the current circumstances in the United States and the world, but that's not the truth," says B.T. McNicholl, the director of the national tour coming to South Florida. "The show is as amazingly relevant without changing a word. It speaks to our current crises around the world."
The Manhattan-based Roundabout Theatre Company's production is based on its 1998 revival, which won four Tonys. It runs Jan. 10-22 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.
"I think one good thing about 'Cabaret' is that it's about so many things," says Joe Masteroff, the show's book writer. "It's about the Jewish problem, the Nazi problem, the pretty-girl problem. It's the story of a country and the world in pretty bad shape."
A Broadway smash in 1966 and an Oscar magnet in 1972, "Cabaret" story is centered on the Kit Kat Klub, a decadent nightspot in pre-World War II Berlin. As the Nazis begin their rise to power, politics creep into the lives of not only the nightclub performers, but also of their friends and neighbors.
Now, with anti-immigrant sentiment and nationalism on the rise in the United States and in Europe, McNicholl feels the musical speaks to a new generation.
"It was actually created by [producer] Hal Prince ... in the mid '60s as a response to racism and how it could happen here in the United States," McNicholl says. "The famous story is that on the first day of rehearsal, he held up a photo of a bunch of young guys with no shirts on, screaming at the camera, being very violent. He asked the cast where they thought this was. They said, 'Germany in the '30s and Aryan Nazi youth.' He said, 'This was shot in the United States here recently, in the South.' The point is that the show has always had a social conscious. It's always been about the danger of following political regimes and leaders and mindsets that allow these things to happen."
McNicholl says that in some cities on this tour, a line of dialogue in the middle of a song has frequently gotten applause. "It's where [the emcee of the Kit Kat Klub] says 'leben und leben lassen,' or 'live and let live.' It's wildly contemporary. It's as current as the headlines. It's amazing. It's a show that John Kander [half of the composing team] once said is current as long as there is racism in the world."
Masteroff ("She Loves Me" and "70, Girls, 70") adds, "These people were human beings, in spite of the terrible things they said and did. And they are people you live next door to today."
But McNicholl ("Spamalot" and "Billy Elliot: The Musical") is quick to mention that the score by Kander and the late Fred Ebb includes hit songs such as "Don't Tell Mama," "Mein Herr," "Money," "Maybe This Time," "Willkommen" and the title song.
"I don't want the audience to think it's a downer,' he says. "There's lots of show biz and lots of laughter. The score is a marvel … and along the way, it's also about something that is important. We like to leave the audience feeling like they have spent a great evening in the theater, with a capital T."
"Cabaret" runs Jan. 10-22 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays (6:30 p.m. Sundays), with 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays (and Wednesday, Jan. 18) and 1 p.m. matinees Sundays. Tickets cost $30-$175. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.