Emcee threats: Musical recalls the rise of Nazis in Berlin

Emcee threats: Musical recalls the rise of Nazis in Berlin
Alice Teeple

Maybe it can happen here.

A Park Slope theater company will present a timely take on a musical set in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis. This version of “Cabaret,” opening Sept. 7 at Gallery Players, uses the tale of a nightclub’s denizens dealing with the rise of fascism in Europe to warn today’s audience about hateful ideologies that are on the rise in the United States, according to its director.

“We were trying to draw a correlation from the 1920s and 1930s Berlin to 2019 in our own country,” said David Cronin. “It feels like these same issues are still around: homophobia, racism, transphobia, terrorism.”

The musical, which launched on Broadway in 1966, is set at the Kit Kat Club, a seedy Berlin nightclub during the Weimar Republic, when the capital city’s nightlife offered a tolerant refuge for people on society’s margins, whether because of their gender, sexuality, religion, or race. Previous iterations of the show often glossed over the club’s diverse character by employing casts that were predominantly male, white, and straight, according to Cronin.

“The thing that gets blown over in usual productions is that the Weimar Republic was very queer and inclusive,” Cronin said.

The director has expanded the story arcs of some minor characters, while keeping the script largely the same. The cast in this show also features several gender-non-conforming actors and cross-gender casting.

“We tried to make it so that the actors on stage are like the people you see on the street,” he said.

The show’s sleazy nocturnal frolic foreshadows German society’s descent into the darkness of the Holocaust, showing how many people ignored its horrors until it affected them directly, said Cronin. He drew parallels between Germany’s hateful politics and the encroaching policies of the Trump administration, including the transgender military ban and putting migrant children in cages.

“It can shift so quickly,” he said. “I think that maybe even I ignored it, and within two years it was, ‘What country do I live in?’ ”

Watching the topical show might not be easy, but the director believes that he has a responsibility to truly represent how quickly a liberal society can fall for hate. He hopes the production will ignite discussion and reflection among the audience.

“The show is a lot to swallow, and we’re certainly not downplaying the raw emotions — it’s going to be uncomfortable,” he said. “My goal is that people leave the theater and have discussions about what’s happening today.”

“Cabaret” at Gallery Players [199 14th St., between Third and Fourth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 595–0547, www.galleryplayers.com]. Opens Sept. 7 at 8 p.m., then Thu–Fri at 8 p.m.; Sat at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sun at 3 p.m. through Sept. 29. $30.

Talkback after the Sunday, Sept. 15 performance.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kdugg[email protected]glocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.