In 1966, the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical Cabaret opened on Broadway. Based on Christopher Isherwood's novel Goodbye to Berlin, Cabaret -- about the last throes of the Weimar Republic, and two innocents caught up in the nightmare -- recalls a time when, as George Kaufmann once said, musical comedy was turning into musical serious. There is, for instance, the genuine threat of Nazism (best exemplified by the song "Tomorrow Belongs to Me"). Yet Cabaret continually bumps up against the standard, and somewhat worn, Broadway musical conventions of the '60s; here we have, among others, a truly loopy tune about the joys of fresh fruit.
Thanks to Kander and Ebb's engaging score, the show had a respectable run. But, in truth, because of its subpar schematic, it would have otherwise disappeared.
The "otherwise" being Bob Fosse. Unconnected with the original Broadway production, Fosse directed the 1972 film, which not only won eight Academy Awards but has the distinction of being the only film musical better than its stage version. Fosse threw out most of the book, ignored the teeth-rattlingly cute characters, added new numbers and created this gritty, bleak, hugely entertaining masterpiece.
Since then, whenever anyone's revived Cabaret, it is, understandably, the film they're trying to revive. Most successful was the 1998 version, co-directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, radically retooled and dripping with a Weimar decadence and sexuality that Fosse could only have dreamt about.
Curiously, the Pittsburgh Public Theatre's Cabaret isn't the original version and isn't the Mendes/Marshall version. Director Ted Pappas is using a 1987 revival which replaced some of the songs from the original with numbers from the movie (though they kept that stupid pineapple tune), yet retained most of the creaky book. This revival met with a very lukewarm reception in 1987, and it's not difficult to see why: The inherent schizophrenia of the show is only compounded by continual references to its far better movie cousin. I'm actually not crazy about the Mendes/Marshall take, but it is, at least, its own vision, not a Xerox of someone else's.
Even more curious is that the focus here is on Fraulein Schneider. And while Brooks Almy couldn't be better in the role, nobody goes to Cabaret for Fraulein Schneider. We wanna see Sally Bowles, sung here with plenty of brass and guts by Tari Kelly, and the character of the depraved and twisted Emcee. Harris Doran, playing the part, is just about as huggably adorable as is possible ... in a role requiring the exact opposite.Cabaret continues through Feb. 25. Pittsburgh Public Theatre, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-316-1600