“Cabaret” in Putin’s antigay Russia

A production of the musical Cabaret is set to roll into Seattle shortly complete with a fascinating setting – that of modern-day Russia.

The Tony Award winning show is a favorite for those willing to explore the shadows of a culture butting heads with a political wave. Though the musical’s original setting takes place in Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, this production’s concept of setting the action in Putin’s current regime seems somehow apropos.  This production will feature an all-male cast and will combine theatre, drag, and short clips of actual vigilantes and neo-Nazis to comment, agitprop-style, on the tumultuous cultural climate there. 

drag

The Artistic Director of Arts on the Waterfront, the company producing this version, posits about the upcoming show:

“The whole point of the show is to draw connections between the beginning stages of the Holocaust in 1930s Germany and the current situation in Russia, with Putin’s antigay laws and the killing and torture of gay youth by the Russian neo-Nazis. But, to tell this story well, we need to completely seduce the audience in the first half of the play into thinking that this Cabaret is the most fabulous place they have ever seen, so we plan on striking a careful balance between modern Russian imagery and the musical’s German roots.

So many actual lines used by emcees in Berlin in the 1930s fit so nicely into our retelling. A great line from Werner Fink, who was emcee of Die Katakombe in Berlin, which we have incorporated into our show, is: “Yesterday we were closed, today we are open, if we are too open tomorrow we’ll be closed again the next day.” In our Cabaret, it’s said by our Emcee while he tears down the rainbow flag which, up until then, had been hanging with the Russian flag proudly across the room from it.

Another example of great pieces actually used by the emcees of 1930s Berlin is a song that we have given to Fräulein Schneider to the tune of Carmen‘s “Habanera.” The lyrics, by Friedrich Hollaender, a Jewish emcee of the time, originally went:

If it’s raining or if it’s hailing,
If there’s lightning, if it’s wet,
If it’s dark or if there’s thunder
If you freeze or if you sweat,
If it’s warm or if it’s cloudy,
If it thaws, if there’s a breeze,
If it drizzles, if it sizzles,
If you cough or if you sneeze:
It’s all the fault of all those Jews.
The Jews are all at fault for that.

But we have:

If it’s raining or if it’s hailing,
If there’s lightning, if it’s wet,
If it’s dark or if there’s thunder
If you freeze or if you sweat,
It’s all the fault of all those gays
The gays are all at fault for that
You ask me why the gays at fault
You just don’t get it, dear, they are at fault…
You disagree, then you’re at fault,
The gays are all at fault for that.

When the audience first hears the tune they go, “Oh, isn’t it funny?” or “Isn’t it sweet that they’re using the tune of that song we know?,” and then you hear the lyrics. So the song tricks you into not knowing whether to laugh and applaud or not.”

A thought-provoking take on the classic which will also soon be returning to Broadway with Alan Cumming in tow.


Alan Cumming in the 1998 Broadway revival of Cabaret

Image Source, Interview Source

Does the Modern Day Soulmate Exist?

How do you define a soulmate? An individual with whom your connection seems to transcend words or typical boundaries of time, someone who seems to fit you like never before, or perhaps a best friend.

For a truly memorable origin story on the notion of soulmates, look no further than Hedwig and the Angry Inch*. Hedwig’s story on the birth of love takes its cue from Plato’s Symposium (385 B.C.), a piece which remarks upon the absurdity of our romantic endeavors. The piece explains why people in love say they feel “whole” when they have found their love partner. It asserts that it is because:

“in primal times, people had doubled bodies, with faces and limbs turned away from one another. There were three sexes: the all male, the all female, and the “androgynous,” who was half male, half female. The creatures tried to scale the heights of heaven. Zeus thought about blasting them to death with thunderbolts, but did not want to deprive himself of their devotions and offerings, so he decided to cripple them by chopping them in half, in effect separating the two bodies.”

This clip’s deceptively simple illustrations speak to the idea of the human desire to find it’s match, no matter what the other half might be. And while you don’t have to buy into the idea that we were all once attached back to back to our ideal partner, I think the visual one is helpful when trying to explain to those who may be against letting certain individuals marry. The topics of soulmates, love and acceptance headlined a number of discussions with friends this weekend (promulgated by the long-awaited yet revelatory announcement from the president in favor of same sex marriage). Love is love, guys. Why keep anyone from the chance of finding and committing themselves to their twin soul.

*the cult favorite from John Cameron Mitchell that follows the heartbreaking life of a transgender musician traveling across East Germany. And because truth is often stranger than fiction, Mitchell was able to infuse a lot of himself into the role of Hedwig. The story draws on Mitchell’s life as the son of a U.S. Army Major General who once commanded the U.S. sector of occupied West Berlin.