The Making of Cabaret

Cygnet Theatre's acclaimed production closes this weekend. Word has it that the show has grown a good deal. How the musical grew is a story in itself.

Joe Masteroff planed a simple, ultimately sad book musical: a love story between Sally Bowles and Cliff Bradshaw, backed by a secondary romance (Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz). In the initial stages, Masteroff never consulted with John Kander (music) or Fred Ebb (lyrics): "They just took the scenes and found what turned them on."

What did that was German cabaret and popular music of 1930 (they deliberately avoided any trace of Kurt Weill). They wrote two scores, book songs, and cabaret songs -- an estimated 47 in all. Some of the cabaret songs began commenting on the book.

The process also included sitting in a room with director Hal Prince and Masteroff. Prince would play "what if?" What if, for example, the cabaret songs grew more menacing? In effect, a second musical grew alongside the first: raw, outsized, decadent. An Emcee hosted, who, under Prince's "concept," linked both parts.

"It never occurred to me that when you put the shows together, you would have a new kind of musical," said Masteroff, "but Hal knew." Cabaret became the first of the "concept" musicals where something other than the plot moves the piece. Kander confessed that he and Ebb "didn't have the idea of a concept musical in mind." They were too busy creating "Willkommen," "So What?" and "The Money Song."


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