|Alan Cumming in the 1998 production of Cabaret.|
Indulge me in serving up what might appear as an improbable conceit: that the current New York production of Sam Mendes’s Cabaret, that (as I write) is in previews on Broadway, could have been included in the Degenerate Art Exhibition of avant-garde paintings and sculptures on display uptown at the Neue Galerie. The Mendes production is a revival of his own 1998 reinterpretation of the 1966 Harold Prince Broadway blockbuster and the 1972 celebrated Bob Fosse film, all of which are loosely based on Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories and his experiences in Berlin during the early 1930s when he befriended a cabaret singer who became the inspiration for Sally Bowles. If Prince and, to a greater extent, Fosse’s glossy sheen and honky-tonk gaiety were inspired by the garishly-coloured and provocative subject matter depicted in the paintings of George Grosz, Otto Dix, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Max Beckmann, Mendes offers a grungier, economically desperate and grimmer look. Both the characters and the set – the Kit Kat Klub alternates with a dowdy rooming house without any evidence of conspicuous wealth – communicate a sense of impending danger, false hope, resignation and the threat of radical change that will forever alter their lives and designate the cabaret as degenerate just like the modernist artworks that provided some of the cinematographic cornucopia in the Fosse film.