The Making of Cabaret by Keith Garebian

The Making of Cabaret  by Keith Garebian ~ Completed February 6, 2015

The Making of Cabaret by Keith Garebian ~ Completed February 6, 2015

Weirdly enough, I'm not actually super fond of the movie Cabaret. I've seen it a few times, and even though it's got pretty good bisexual representation, it never grabbed me. I had somehow missed the fact that the play was pretty different.

I saw the musical at Theatre Aquarius last year and absolutely fell in love.

The play is actually fairly different from the movie. More so than Rocky Horror Show to Rocky Horror Picture Show. The whole bisexual love triangle of the movie was a creation for the movie, actually, and the film cuts out whole story lines. I was really excited to find this book - and written by a Canadian, no less! It starts with the play's roots in Isherwood's The Berlin Stories, takes the reader through the original play and revivals, to the movie adaptation, and then to the 1993 Mendes revival with Alan Cumming (which has influenced all versions since). 

Garebian doesn't just dryly outline the chronological events, but tries to get into the mindsets of the various adapters and their relationships to the story. For example, when describing John van Druten's I am a Camera (his adaptation of Isherwood's Berlin Stories), Garebian discusses van Druten's misunderstandings of Isherwood's works:

The writing is sometimes too casual, and van Druten misunderstands Isherwood’s method. As his title indicates, he takes the point of photography out of context. Van Druten’s Christopher compares himself to a camera that records what it sees: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.” In other words (as Isherwood noted in a souvenir program note for the play), “he is collecting mental photographs which he will later develop and fix as stories and novels.” Isherwood explains in ‘Christopher and His Kind,’ a memoir written to correct the deliberate falsifications in ‘Goodbye to Berlin:’ “Taken out of context, [the phrase ‘I am a camera’] was to label Christopher himself as one of those eternal outsiders who watch the passing parade of life lukewarm-bloodedly, with wistful impotence...” When Isherwood introduces the phrase, it is meant to suggest two things: his narrator’s self-consciousness in “playing to the gallery” and a kind of technical objectivity.
— The Making of Cabaret by Keith Garebian - Chapter 1 - Sally Bowles and Berlin (from the e-book)

When I saw the play last year, there was just...something...about it that stayed with me. I mean, the songs are super catchy - that's a given. It had this impending sense of dread - we know what's coming after Weimar Germany falls, and we know what's creeping into the lives of everyone at the Kit Kat Club. The movie loses that feeling, to be honest. Thinking back on it, the feeling evoked reminds me of how I described horror in my genre assignment. Nazism creeps its way into the sexual abandon of the Klub, and the lives of everyone that circle around it. This is explicitly stated in the ending (which was influenced by Mendes' take on the play) where the cast, dressed in simple white clothes, end up on stage for the last song and end up standing in what turns into a gas chamber. 

This book does a great job of chronicling how we could start with Isherwood and end up with Alan Cumming, via Liza Minelli. It took me back to the experience of watching one of my favourite musicals. And who knows, maybe I'll give the movie another chance.


Story (40%): I love that this is a story about a story (or series of stories). Especially with my own vastly different experiences with the various iterations of the narrative, I was invested in following the path of how Isherwood went to the stage which went to the big screen via Fosse and then back to stage again. Though not as compulsively page-turning as some other story-based works, I wanted to get to the end to see the big picture - see how all the pieces fit together in the mosaic that is the story of Cabaret.

Character (30%): The character appeal for me in this book was two-fold. First, I have fond memories of the characters I grew to love (and hate) in the play itself. Layered on top of this are the people involved in bringing those characters to live through books, movies, and plays. Not only did this work let me see the Emcee and Sally Bowles again, but also let me into the minds of the various people who brought them to life over the years.

Setting (30%): Weimar Germany is a time that is fascinating to me - decadent, wild, and yet also full of foreboding (as we know what comes after it once Hitler comes to power). This atmosphere is very perfectly embodied in the stage play itself. Garebian's work let me relive those feelings, as well as gain insight into the thoughts behind the various ways the world of Cabaret has been brought to life for us.

Language was not an appeal factor that came into play for me with this book.