Renewed Relevance for 'CABARET' in the age of Trump

Feb 23, 2017

It’s the third longest running revival in Broadway history. This week, Cabaret’s national tour is in residency at the Wharton Center. WKAR’s Jamie Paisley spoke with two members of the cast after Tuesday’s opening night, Jon Peterson (Emcee) and Mary Gordon Murray (Frau Schneider).


In the beginning of the second act of Cabaret, there is a seemingly sweet song called “If You Could See Her Through My Eyes.” Well, it is a sweet song until the Emcee, played in this national tour by Jon Peterson, spits out the final line which forces the audience confront the rise of anti-semitism in Germany of 1929.

[Music from the finale to "If You Could See Her Through My Eyes" … with the final line "She wouldn't look Jewish at all!"]

There would be nervous laughter. There would be almost racist laughter - Cabaret's Jon Peterson (Emcee)

"I don't necessarily see it, because there's a spotlight." explains Peterson about that turning point moment in the musical. "But I really feel it. I feel this wave of energy. There would be nervous laughter. There would be almost racist laughter, like, that's a little worrying. I don't even know if it's audible, I just feel this energy come across. And then for the final part of the number with the exit, it instills in me a variety of emotions, which I'm feeling right now as I say it. Yeah."

This national tour of Cabaret resumes after a few months away from the stage with their last performance in North Carolina, before the  2016 presidential election. And with this week’s opening at the Wharton Center coming at a time when the news cycle has been dominated with President Trump facing public pressure to condemn Anti-Semitic violence. It means a renewed relevance to this musical that examines what happened in the Berlin of 1929 when prejudices and anti-semitic violence were left to fester.

"And the audience is clearly very, very resonant." - Mary Gordon Murray on how modern politics has morphed Cabaret's meaning

"It plays so interestingly right now." says Mary Gordon Murray, the Tony-Nominated actress who plays the kind elderly landlady Fraulein Schneider. "Peoples reactions, it's a quantum leap. References that suddenly have a whole other meaning now. And the audience is clearly very, very resonant."

[Selection from Frau Schneider's song 'What Would You Do?' from the 1998 Broadway Cabaret revival]

"The director, B.T. [McNichol] talked to Sam Mendes, of the original production in Britain" continues Murray. "and he was saying 'We're getting these amazing reactions. We should run this show for the next 4 years'" says Murray.
"If they let us." interjects Peterson.
"If they let us, right?" agrees Murray. "They were saying, 'cause it's just playing, in this country, to just play this all over because the audiences are just going 'WHAT?!' It's a whole other meaning of this show."

This historic revival of Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret, showing at the Wharton Center this week, has been around since 1993 and as Mary Gordon Murray said, was originally conceived by Sam Mendes, who has since gone on to also be an Oscar-winning director and helmed the last two James Bond films. But for the famous role of Cabaret’s Emcee, does Jon Peterson think it is actor-proof? That emulating either of the iconic portrays made by Joel Gray or Alan Cumming is enough for Cabaret’s flamboyant tour guide?

"No, it's not actor-proof, at all." says Peterson. "You have to [have] a certain sensibility as a human being. I don't know what it is. It's something almost ineffable about the character. He's almost not human. Well, he is *very* human. So there's something about him, you have to be a questioning soul to play the Emcee. And to properly disintegrate, you have to have disintegrated in real life at some point."

But as for Mary Gordon Murray’s Fraulein Schneider? "I would say my role IS kinda actor-proof. In the sense that you have to really be terrible to not be good at Fraulein Schneider. Because it's so on the page. It's glorious music. It's such a relatable role.

Jon Peterson and Mary Gordon Murray appear this week at the Wharton Center in the Roundabout Theater’s national tour of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret. Tickets and more information at WhartonCenter.com