“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

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World’s A Stage: Spotlight on Russia

What do a bare-chested Vladimir Putin stroking the backside of an Olympic gymnast, a Botox overdose, and a partial brain transplant all have to do with each other? They can all be seen in a sold-out, groundbreaking new staging of a play in Moscow. This is what happens when politics and theatre collide in Russia.

The play, titled “Berlusputin,” premiered ahead of the March 4 polls for presidency (Putin has now won back the presidency). The show draws inspiration from the incendiary internet gossip swirling around the election and breaks almost every remaining taboo about the Russian leader’s personal life. The text is an adaption of “L’anomalo Bicefalo,” a work by an Italian playwright.

A glimpse into this unique and enchanting evening of theatre:

  • This production imagines what might happen if half of former Italian prime minister and Putin buddy Silvio Berlusconi’s brain was transplanted into Putin’s head after an accident.
  • The show performs in the ground-breaking Teatr.doc house, an intense black box space in the middle of Moscow renowned for its hard-hitting political plays
  • The actor playing Putin wears foam muscles strapped to his chest; the actress playing opposite him devoutly dons a headscarf to portray his wife Lyudmila, who got a little too close to her spiritual advisor at a monastery.
  • Putin tries a little too hard not to look his age and the resulting Botox overdose turns Putin into Dobby the house elf from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. (Putin was  reportedly offended by widespread comments on his resemblance to Dobby when the the film depiction came out back in 2003.)

The Internet rumors of Putin’s Botox use, the mucky situtation with his estranged wife, and his hardcore crush on Olympic rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabayeva all were fodder for the play – much to the demise of the state, and much to the delight of almost everyone else in the country. The director has promised that they will continue to do the play as long as Putin is in power.

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