From Stage to Screen: Cabaret

Hannah Keefer

I'm a freelance writer, storytelling enthusiast, and aspiring high school drama teacher. I watch all the movies I can.

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2 Responses

  1. David Conrad says:

    The backstory of the 1939 short stories reminds me a bit of the deep textual history of South Pacific, which I really enjoy. Great authors observing a historical moment, seeing the strange figures who are drawn to a place in transition.

    It’s so rare for a film to get MORE ambiguous and edgy than its source material.

    “…people who dislike musicals for spontaneous songs.” I’ve never understood these people. Don’t they understand that, generally, those numbers in musicals can be taken as abstractions of the characters’ emotions? Like in Birdman: this stuff isn’t *really* happening, it’s just happening in his head. I’m guessing a lot of the people who gripe about spontaneous choreographed song and dance like Birdman. /grumble

    “I didn’t miss these numbers at all.” That said, yeah, I agree in the case of Cabaret. We’ve got a stage, and confining the MC and Liza’s singing to it makes sense. “Life is a cabaret” is a more interesting statement being sung on a stage, by characters who might understand its applicability to themselves less well than we do, than it would be if they were having the epiphany and singing it off the stage. And the fact that Michael York isn’t going to break into song or really be able to touch that part of her world also helps to separate his character from Liza’s.

    “…it undercuts the story’s theme by making her good at her job” I’ve never been bothered by that! I mean, it’s a musical, I want it to sound good. But interesting point. I guess it explains why in the movie, Liza and the MC are both stunning to me, but Liza really steals it with the title song. For the stage show, particularly with the most recent Alan Cumming run, the buzz around a new cast seems to focus almost exclusively on the MC. But I like the fact that the movie is Liza’s vehicle as much as Grey’s.

    For me the movie sits at 70 on my Flickchart. I really loved it, and what worked for me about Sally was the same thing that works for me about Holly Golightly. They ring true for me as damaged people putting themselves in harm’s way, but who believe internally that they are shining stars who ought to be on top. I like to think that they’re right.

    • I’m with you on the people who are bothered by spontaneous singing! I don’t get it, but I suspect that was part of why this movie did so well as the movie musical was starting to die out a bit.

      I do think that separating the world into cabaret/not cabaret with prop songs only was a smart choice. A piece of my article that ended up getting cut for space (I was at like 2500 words at one point and it was getting a little crazy) talked about how Mendes kept those book numbers in his revivals, and while that could have loosened the divide between “the real world” and the cabaret, Mendes compensates by making the cabaret numbers increasingly more dreamy, eerie, and unreal. It’s like a constant tug-of-war between “this is what is actually happening in the real world” and “there are no troubles here.” I still think the book numbers could be removed altogether (and it worked well in the movie) but I thought it was fascinating to see how the new version dealt with them.

      I also agree with you that the new versions seem almost to be the Emcee’s show in terms of buzz. In the show itself, they’re clearly sharing the limelight, but in the movie, it’s definitely Liza’s show (and she is marvelous to watch and hear). I don’t think I would have been bothered by Sally’s talent if I had seen the movie first. It was just one of those things that struck me as being just another beautifully cohesive moment in the show, and I *did* miss it in the movie, even if it mostly made it work.

      Thanks for sharing! I hoped somebody who really loved the movie would chime in on this one!