A few weeks ago the opportunity to accompany two days of Cabaret
auditions fell into my lap. I took the gig, triumphed (on the spot transposing, anyone?), and am now playing for rehearsals once a week. One aspect of working with high school
students (vs. a professional company) is that in between pounding out voice parts and designating who-sings-what-when, I have enough mental downtime to quietly ponder some of the material at hand. This past Wednesday, for example, it struck me that the general idea of cabaret (with a small "c") is completely married to a particular time, place, and social-political climate, and even to a particular type of performer and patron. The culture of the early twentieth century, of the bohemian bourgeoisie in pre-war Europe (specifically, in cities like Berlin, Paris, and Vienna) exists in our romanticized vision of the past and continues to define cabaret. The old model lives like an historical snapshot and haunts the new. I have often referred to my own creative musical duo, Sidecar Syndicate
, as a "neo-cabaret" of sorts, and I have often been reprimanded by friends who've seen me perform, "you're not cabaret at all! Cabaret is..." (at which point they offer a whole litany of definitions.)
So in the coming weeks, as I fall under the spell of perhaps the most familiar version of Cabaret
(Kander & Ebb's), I shall try to investigate some of the following questions. With what exactly do we associate cabaret? Why a particular time, place, personnel? More pressingly, who or what is cabaret today? Can we crack the definition open to include more than the boa-wrapped chanteuse singing from the Great American Songbook down at the Plush Room
? Where does cabaret fit alongside the current classical, popular, and avant-garde music scenes? Is cabaret, by virtue of being defined by its historical associations, dead? Just a dirty word we sling around with misconceptions?