Like so many other people in the UK, I really miss the theatre. Musicals are joyous, camp and so fun 90% of the time, and anyone who says otherwise must be allergic to having a good time. As a result of the pandemic, the natural thing to do for me is undoubtedly try to get my musical fix from a good old-fashioned movie musical, and man, this was such a delight and a breath of fresh air despite it being almost fifty years old.
Everyone’s heard of Cabaret. Everyone knows that Liza Minnelli is the star. But the story?
For me, Cabaret was one of those musicals of which I knew every song… yet I had no idea what the actual story was. And what a joy it was to watch on a grey Friday morning. In short, it’s the story of a Berlin cabaret club in 1931, headlined by Sally Bowles (Minnelli) and a quirky emcee (Joel Grey). We’re introduced to its characters and their lives… all while the Nazi party is growing into the destructive force we know it as today.
As a former dancer, there’s only one place for me to begin with this one. Everything about Bob Fosse’s choreography and Kander and Ebb’s music is completely flawless and iconic. So innovative in its day, their influence has permeated throughout theatre and film ever since, even if you don’t realise it with an untrained eye. Cabaret is without doubt some of their best work – Fosse really proves himself as a director with this one, even more so than his previous 1969 outing Sweet Charity, which was also risqué and original in its own way at the time.
Whilst Joel Grey is undoubtedly one of the film’s shining stars, what would Cabaret be without the inimitable Liza Minnelli? Full of charisma and pizzazz, she lights up every scene she’s in with her quick wit and dazzling talent, cementing Sally Bowles into the legendary tier of musical leading ladies. Absolutely outstanding work on her behalf, and she may not have known it then, but her work as Bowles would go on to inspire so many young women to get into musical theatre.
The narrative itself isn’t all that complicated, but the way Germany’s descent into Nazism is integrated into the story is so well done and the main relationship is less annoying and superfluous than I thought it would be. (I had no idea there was even a central romance at all beforehand, so it’s clearly not one of the more memorable things about the movie.) Could some edits have been done to shorten the film adaptation? Sure. But overall it’s all so ahead of its time, tackling themes of homosexuality and abortion before it was socially acceptable to do so. A true trailblazer of a film that deserves to be seen by audiences for another fifty years.
Although it’s unmistakably seventies in aesthetic, Cabaret still stands up today and remains extremely watchable. It does not surprise me that it took home three Academy Awards. Now I can only pray that no one ever tries to remake it.
If you’re reading this, Ryan Murphy: STAY THE FUCK AWAY.
Cabaret is sadly not available on any streaming services in the UK, but it airs regularly on TalkingPicturesTV if you’re lucky enough to have access to it.
TQR Category Ratings:
Costume & Set Design:
Overall Rating: ½