Come to the Cabaret
Good art inspires...and I'm so happy that I was inspired to drive out I drove out to my alma mater (Cedar Crest College) on Sunday afternoon with my son to see the musical, Cabaret.
Many years ago, I was very active in the school's theater program. I minored in theater. (I should have double majored...I was so close...but I didn't and I DO regret that.) I was on stage and behind stage. Seeing and learning from all angles gave me an appreciation for theater. Since my son is showing some interest in theater, I've been wanting to expose him to more, but on a budget. (Yes, I'd love to take him to see a slew of Broadway shows, but that's out of my price range.) I want him to appreciate everything that makes (or can make) theater so exciting. It's not just the performers; it's the details that make the experience: sets, lights, costumes, sound...when it all falls into place you get an experience like no other.
Cabaret is a musical that I had not seen as a stage show. While I have seen the movie, I had not seen the show and was aware that there were quite a few differences between the two. I felt that the show, set in 1930s Berlin (for those of you who don't know) has parallels to what is going on in our world (and our country) today. An "adult" musical, it was something I felt my teen son was ready to experience and hopefully learn from. (This was something that I really thought about. I knew he was mature enough to handle the subject matter; not every child, tween or teen would be. I also figured there might be things he might not catch or understand. Again, I was hoping that this would bring about conversation between the two of us on our drive home.)
What I write is not a review of the show; I wish it was because I would encourage you (if you lived in the Lehigh Valley) to go see it. Unfortunately, it's too late for that...the show ran only 4 performances and we saw the last one (Sunday matinee). But that doesn't mean I won't give praise to all those involved. As I said, I was part of the theater company when I was a student and I have on occasion gone back to see some shows, but none have blown me away as much as this one. There was not a weak link to be found. All of the actors were strong, confident and brave. I can't imagine it was easy to expose yourself (not quite literally, but almost). And yet, each and every cast member did so without self-consciousness (or so it seemed).
Of course a show is not just actors on a stage (and this is something I wanted to make my son aware of), it is set, lights, costumes, and sound. It is also all the people behind the scenes who make those things work. For this production, everything fell into place beautifully. (If I had one compliant, it was that the pre-recorded music was at time too overpowering and a bit "fuzzy.") I encouraged my son to observe not just the performers, but these "secondary" things as well as see how they related to the overall show.
Following the show there was a discussion with the cast, but unfortunately we were unable to attend. (Had to drive back home and get ready to the week!) I really would have liked to have heard what these talented performers AND those behind the scenes had to say, but...
However, when a show is done well, it stays with you. A show like Cabaret (particularly this production in how chose to present itself), can (and should?) be thought provoking and encourage conversation. Obviously it had that impact on me as I am still thinking (and writing) about it several days after the fact. (I wish I had been able to put all my thoughts onto "paper" as I walked out of the theater. If I lived on or close to campus, I would have run back home and started writing immediately!) It was not one particular thing that stays with me (although I have to say that the conclusion of the show will haunt me for a long time), but all of the pieces that were so carefully put together.
My son is NOT a talkative kid. (Are any teen boys talkative? I don't know what's more difficult...trying to lose weight to trying to pull a sentence out of my teen?!) On our drive home, I did not turn the radio on. I purposely kept the car quiet for a while, in the hopes that he was thinking about the show. Finally, after about 20 or more minutes, I asked him if he liked the show. He said he did, but it was not what he was used to. Which is very true. For the most part the shows/musicals he has seen have been light and upbeat (such as local high school productions of Shrek and Legally Blonde). The productions he has been a part of (High School Musical, Camp Rock, Wizard of Oz) have been pared down and were very basic. (This is not a criticism; when you have a group of kids from age 4 -16 and have less than week to put something together it has to be this way.) He said this was much darker and more adult.
I was able to take this opening and ask him what he observed about the set, lights and customs that set the tone of the show. He did notice that the set itself was dark (which sets the tone for the show right away) and the use of the color red in the lighting (which lent itself to me teaching him the phase "red light district"). We were able to discuss how as the show became darker in the second act, so did the costumes and that the costumes became less revealing. How the sailors in the first act who were dressed in white, were now brown shirt soldiers.
This lead me to ask what he thought might have happened to the characters after the show. My son is clearly more optimistic than I am. We both knew what was coming, but he chose to believe that most of the characters would survive. We did both agree that Sally Bowles (the female lead for those who might not know the show), would probably die young, perhaps of drugs or alcohol.
Finally I asked him if he thought that there were any parallels to what happened in Berlin in the 1930 to what is going on in our world today. While he replied that there is prejudice; there is nothing like the persecution that happened then. I begged to differ; and I hope that I gave him something to think about. I know the show did.
I don't know if he will chose to be involved with theater as he enters high school next year, although I know it's something he is considering. What I do hope he took away from the school is: "What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play." Good or bad, light or dark; life is to be experienced. As his mother, I want him to be part of AND enjoy the cabaret.