More than 50 years after its Broadway debut, “Cabaret” is still delighting audiences with its bawdy and gaudy spectacle of a group of talented entertainers, including femme-fatale Sally and the ghoulish all-knowing Emcee, performing at the infamous Kit Kat Klub in Berlin during the 1930s. But the good times to be had aren’t enough to allay the ever-growing influence of fascism as Nazi ideals rise to power the city and, eventually, seep into the club itself.
Gee, does that sound frighteningly familiar and hauntingly relevant these days?
Jon Peterson, who plays Emcee in the production, seems to think so.
“Well, one doesn’t like to get political when one is offstage, but yes! Completely,” he said. “It’s very relevant now with this administration. It’s all looking very suspicious. We could be wrong, but then again that’s what they said in 1930. Now we have the benefit of social media, which is a curse and also a blessing. At least it’s harder for them to change the views of people and only the least intelligent of us will be able to be indoctrinated by this lot. Thank God for social media. The truth is easier to come by now. But then again, fake news is too. But at least we can try and find the truth.”
Some iconic stage and screen actors have played the roles of Sally and Emcee. Peterson said he doesn’t pay much attention to those portrayals.
“I’m trying to completely ignore what people have done with the role even though it’s the same moves and the same lines,” he said. “As far as performance goes, I don’t watch the show any more than I have to because I’m me and I absolutely don’t want to emulate a single moment of someone else’s show. Some of the big shows like ‘Wicked’ will insist that you replicate the opening-night performance of the first cast. That’s what they go for because it works. With ‘Cabaret,’ there’s a lot more freedom to just tell the story and leave it up to the actors to inject their own sincerity into it.”
Besides the obvious cultural references in ‘Cabaret’ that seem to be all the more timely in light of recent historical events, Peterson believes the show owes its half-century of success to its timeless message — one that presumably will continue to resonate and connect with audiences.
“It’s such a wonderful piece,” he said. “There is not a word out of place. It’s so beautifully written. I think in 300 years it will still be around. Because of the subject matter, it will always be relevant. World War II was the great exclamation mark of humanity and human history. It was like, ‘Stop, wait, take stock.’ It was something absolutely brilliant and perfect. The tragedy of the concentration camps and all this will always hit home for one generation to the next.”
Catch “Cabaret” April 4-9 at The Kimmel Center’s Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St. For more information or tickets, call 215-893-1999 or visit https://www.kimmelcenter.org/pdp-pages/201617/broadway-philadelphia/cabaret/.