Let’s just say it: the best thing going in director Bob Fosse’s tour de force is Joel Grey. As Master of Ceremonies at the infamous Berlin Kit-Kat club, Grey steals every scene he’s in and makes us hope for more. His visage speaks volumes, his voice commands attention (spoken or sung) and he oozes his way through the dance routines with zest and panache. Who could ask for anything more?
Revisited some 36 years after its release, the music stands the test of time (notably the title song and ever-infectious “Willkommen”)—done up to a tee by the Village Stompers in their Greatest Hits album) but the storyline (Joe Masteroff’s book adapted for the stage by John van Druten, a sprinkling of stories by Christopher Isherwood all tied up into a screenplay thanks to Jay Allen’s continuity/editing skills) comes across a tad melodramatic (the rise of the Nazis and their persecution of Jews) and near silly as Brian (Michael York) gamely struggles with his sexuality. Happy to bed men or women and pining for parenthood now rings false even as California rescinds its gay marriage ban. Still, his close-ups are most welcome.
Liza Minnelli’s portrayal of Sally Bowles is always engaging if not entirely pitch perfect—she’s the ideal wandering-lover/fag hag combination. Helmut Griem as more-money-than-brains Max is deliciously suave and also happy to improve his odds for conquest by sleeping on both sides of Gender Street.
In 1931 the world was hurtling along the twin paths of anything-goes decadence and heinous persecution: both knew no bounds or shame. Timeless musicals like Cabaret serve as both a welcome tonic to life’s dull moments and a reality check as to the world’s current state of collective tolerance. JWR