FORM REFORMULATED

Loosely defined, Bob Fosse’s Cabaret is like an oratorio in the process of mutation; the composition reveres as well as enhances Christopher Isherwood’s hallowed stories as timepiece, using the musical’s raunchy songs on the Kit Kat stage to be expressively commentarial on the foreboding depravity. Though Fosse previously made a mess of Sweet Charity—a terrible mix of Shirley MacLaine, story antiquation, displacing editing, noxious male casting, all made worse by having been expected to make a PG musical about prosties—this time out he wouldn’t allow himself to be forced to dilute the savory malignance because of pressures from the suits. To ensure the required raunch, he revised the original book, centered the vocals on Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, and brought in Geoffrey Unsworth as cinematographer. About Liza, that deep creep John Simon wrote most cruelly: “Plain, ludicrously rather than pathetically plain, is what she is. That turnipy nose overhanging a forward-gaping mouth and hastily retreating chin, that bulbous cranium with eyes as big and as inexpressive as saucers; those are the appurtenances of a clown...And given a matching figure—desperately uplifted breasts, waist indistinguishable from hips—you cannot play Sally Bowles. Especially if you have no talent.” Isherwood would claim the opposite, that Liza was “too talented” to play amateur Sally. Well, it is debatable if Liza has real talent, and it’s also a given she isn’t Sally as Isherwood describes, but it is her gamine green nails grotesquery, her weepy clownishness, her fag-haggishness that work for her here, subtext to at least two of her four marriages in real life. The three gents—Michael York, Helmut Griem and Fritz Wepper—look so much alike they could be different versions of themselves. They remind us of the smoothies in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

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