On musicals as social barometers and a publicity call

Bertolt Brecht „The victory of the reason can only win the sensiblesImage via Wikipedia

I did a radio interview this morning, part of the groundswell of publicity for Cabaret as we count down to the season’s opening next week. It was quite a relaxed 10 minutes or so in the late morning and on the national broadcaster ABC, but pitched to a more local, regional audience. These would be people with the time or inclination to listen to radio. Probably those not at work, but I wouldn’t begin to imagine the demographic! Hopefully they were also interested in theatre.

Anyhow, it was about musicals … how thrilling the experience is, how many I’d been in, and my favourite (Godspell for Queensland Theatre Company many moons ago). I was asked what would be different, and without really meaning to, I launched into my take on the power of musicals not only to entertain and to get the emotional juices flowing, but also to stir up the mud over various social issues. I hope I wasn’t lecturing!

Because of course, Showboat, generally considered the first modern musical stopped Broadway in its tracks in 1927 when it dealt with miscegenation. Many more in the same vein have followed, like South Pacific (racism) and Chicago (crime and the corruption of the legal system). Perhaps not as politically and socially conscious as others, there have been been musicals about the dark as well as the light side of the human condition: A Chorus Line and the agony for an artist of an anonymous line backing the star … Rent and AIDS … and yes, you can deal with these matters head-on vigorously and joyously … that’s the licence and the power of music theatre. Bertolt Brecht, the genius 20th century man of the theatre knew how to do it; spass (fun) first and then go for the jugular.

Cabaret has always (but especially in this production) focussed on responsibility … personal and societal. It’s set in Berlin over several months in 1930; the tide is turning and the Nazis are on the flood. The big question for the audience in this production is ‘What would you do?’ It’s a big question with no easy answer; I’ve had to step into the shoes of a character who is faced with a moral dilemma. Go with the flow, be swept along with the inevitable and survive, or risk being destroyed. It’s an old and a hard reminder: The only thing that allows evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing. And oh, the cost whichever you choose! Life really … it’s a Cabaret.

Author: Kate Wilson

Actor, director, teacher, dabbler with paint, serial traveller.