SCHENECTADY — “Cabaret” initially set musical patrons unnerved with its unorthodox production elements back in 1966. That, notwithstanding, the political overtone of its story line, with the plot set during the rise of Nazi power in Germany before World War II.
Set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, this Broadway hit it is based in nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub, and revolves around young American writer Cliff Bradshaw and his relationship with the English cabaret performer Sally Bowles.
Now, more than 50 years later, the musical continues to set musical patrons unnerved, but for all too different of a reason.
The National tour of John Kander’s and Fred Ebb’s “Cabaret” first opened last January. All the while, the political landscape of America’s general election was taking shape. By November, actor Patrick Vaill noticed a change.
Vaill plays the role of Ernst Ludwig, a German who befriends Bradshaw, and takes him under his wing. Vaill’s character ultimately plays a role in a pivotal point of the musical. The audience’s reaction to the unfolding plot has been more “raw,” said Vaill.
“I would say that it’s sort of one of those hinge moments in history,” said Vaill, “where you have this one thing, you have this Kit Kat Klub, and it’s swinging towards something that’s completely unknown. No one is aware of it because it’s happening so fast. All of a sudden, you find yourself in this situation, that you didn’t know about.”
The Kit Kat Klub acts as a fun escape, a place for people to seek entertainment. Outside the club, however, the Nazis are rising rapidly into power, and creating sweeping changes to the way of life in Germany.
The musical is “exactly as it was” from when it was first performed. However, Vaill said he believes people are drawing comparisons — not to Nazi Germany — to singular acts today’s America is going through today.
“What has shifted, over the course of the run of this tour, has been the American political landscape. Where we see ourselves at this time,” said Vaill. “ I wouldn’t say the production has been made contemporary, but it has become very, very timely.”
Vaill said that if he was allowed to place a moral to the story of “Cabaret,” it would that a society needs to “pay attention.”
“As time has progressed, the reactions have become more raw,” said Vaill. “I think that people are shaken by this story. As they should be. It’s a horrible thing what happened in Germany. And, it’s a dangerous path. The show depicts people who are not paying attention.”
Last November’s general election results demonstrate a dramatic shift in political views in the United States. And, Vaill admits the divide between conservative and liberal often becomes evident in the world of theatre.
“I’m sorry,” Vaill said, admitting he didn’t want to be overtly political. This revival continues to retain the happy charms of previous productions. “But, Cabaret is political in nature.”
“Cabaret” is coming to Proctors with a production run from Tuesday, May 9 to Sunday, May 14.
For tickets and information call (518) 346-6204 or visit www.proctors.org.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.