Review: “Cabaret” is more relevant than ever

Photo courtesy of Jon Crispin

Photo courtesy of Jon Crispin


The Mount Holyoke theatre arts department’s spring season continues with a bang with the production of Masteroff’s “Cabaret,” directed by Noah Tuleja. The musical, set in 1931 Berlin, explores the lives of patrons of the Kit Kat Klub before the rise of the Nazis.

The musical’s protagonist is young American writer Cliff Bradshaw, who arrives in Germany to finish his first novel. There, he is swept up in the excitement of the club and his relationship with an English lounge singer named Sally Bowles, played by Amy Welch ’18. Bradshaw, played by Collins Hilton ’17, slowly begins to see his paradise become political.

Miranda Wheeler ’19, the show’s publicity manager, said that this is one of the largest productions ever put on by the department. The production crew was made up of a music director, live band and choreographer in addition to the regular director, lighting designer, sound designer and costume department. The production team’s effort is apparent in every song and costume stitch.

The talented and diverse cast put on a great show. Emilee Aguerrebere ’20, who had never heard of “Cabaret” before, attended not knowing what to expect and was dazzled by the quality of the production and acting. “The energy on stage was alluring and radiant ... it deserves all the attention it can possibly get,” she said.

In our current political climate, in which difference and tolerance seem up for debate, the show’s message is more important than ever. The show’s understated references to Nazism allow its message to remain universal. The character of the Emcee simultaneously embodies the Nazi Party’s prejudice and some identities that the Nazis oppressed. Sally is the personification of the German public who complacently watched the rise of Nazism in

Germany. In short, the show is dazzling from the celebratory beginning until the harrowing jolt of the musical’s end.

The diversity of the cast is also something that makes Cabaret a showstopper. With players belonging to many different identities — including LGBTQ, Jewish, Black, Asian and disabled — there was something for every audience member to relate to.

University of Massachusetts, Amherst Senior Meredith Aleigha Wells, who played the iconic Emcee, has dysautonomia and uses a wheelchair. She thinks that the casting of a differently-abled person as the Emcee is a profound choice. “In Germany in the late 1920’s, there was a secret operation code-named T4 that euthanized individuals with chronic diseases and disabilities. This operation served as a rehearsal for Nazi Germany’s broader genocidal policies,” said Wells.

“I think the Emcee is a character but also serves as a metaphor for the show. She is an embodiment of everything the Nazis are against, so making her disabled makes so much sense.”

Grace Brunson ’18, who played Fräulein Kost, said that the choice of show was prescient, as it was selected in the summer, before the election.

“Having a cast of diverse actors who put heart and soul into their characters is a statement on its own, proclaiming that we — whether that we is Jews, disabled people, LGBT+ people, immigrants, Muslims or anyone who doesn’t fit the arbitrary standards of society — are here and still able to warn against our own erasure,” she said.

Wheeler said she could not have been happier with the outcome. “Seeing something on paper and every detail meticulously discussed and debated, [and] then to be an audience member watching it play out — it’s just a wonderful experience,” she said. “The abilities of our performers not just to act but to sing beautifully and master the choreography and really deliver, really sell it, was so impressive to me.”

According to Wheeler, the play was meant to speak for itself — and it does. She believes that “everyone who sees it will find their own unique way into that conversation. I hope they do though — it’s worth talking about.”

In a 2012 interview with the LA Times, Liza Minelli (who originated the movie role of Sally Bowles) said “People hear ‘Cabaret’ and they think, ‘Oh Christ, it’s a musi- cal about happiness.’ It’s not about that at all. It’s about opinions and politics and survival.”

See the musical at the Rooke Theater for its last shows April 6-8 at 7:30 p.m. and April 9 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $8 for students and $15 for guests, available online and at the box office.