Slideshow: Director shines light on shady world of 'Cabaret'

From the decadence of 1930’s Berlin to relevant messages today, UW-Green Bay Prof. Laura Riddle shared the history and sociopolitical undertones of the groundbreaking musical Cabaret during the April 10 session of the University’s After Thoughts series of programs.

This final After Thoughts installment of the year served as an exciting prelude to the biggest UW-Green Bay Theatre and Music event in more than a decade, the April 20-21 performance of Cabaret on the Weidner Center mainstage.

Riddle took attendees on a journey from the play’s origins — the Berlin experience of American author Christopher Isherwood, upon whom the play’s protagonist Clifford Bradshaw would later be based — through film and theatre versions that culminated in the 1998 script UW-Green Bay is using to stage its show.

Riddle has been talking about staging Cabaret at the Weidner for about three years, and working in earnest on the large-scale production for at least one. She immersed herself in research about the cabaret world of Weimar Berlin, an anything-goes environment bereft of censorship that served as a sort of haven for young adventure-seekers from abroad.

“(Berlin) quickly became known as the Babylon of the 1920s,” Riddle told the audience, gathered in the Weidner Center’s Grand Foyer. “It was the sex capital of Europe.”

Pausing briefly, she added, “that was the fun part of the research.” Her audience laughed in appreciation.

But for all the decadence and indulgence of the cabarets, the threat of the rising Nazi party lurks throughout the musical, Riddle told the crowd, a dangerous undertone that stands in stark contrast to the ostensible carefree life in these popular clubs.

It was against this backdrop, and amid another kind of social and political struggle, that the 1966 Broadway version of Cabaret was staged. Director and producer Hal Prince hoped audiences would see the parallels between 1930s Berlin and the Civil Rights movement in the United States, Riddle said.

“Audiences were literally forced to look at themselves in distorted mirrors,” she said, “and asked, ‘what would you do?’ The current version again asks us to open up our eyes to social injustice, to stand up for the disenfranchised as Isherwood asked, and to make ourselves and our government accountable.”

Ultimately, Riddle said, Cabaret is a concept musical in which the cabaret is a metaphor for life — its performers hide behind a veneer, and members of the cabaret watch the sad lives and stories of the main characters for entertainment.

“Seemed to me a lot like reality TV,” Riddle said.

Riddle has infused her research about Cabaret and its influences into her directing, she told the After Thoughts audience. Preparing for the show has been an intense effort involving students, faculty, staff and alumni — but it will all pay off on opening night.

“The students are excited beyond belief,” Riddle said, “to be standing on that stage next week.”

For more information or to purchase tickets, click here. For more on the After Thoughts series, click here.

Click thumbnails to enter slideshow view.

Photos by Eric Miller, Marketing and University Communication

You may also like...