Monday, September 19, 2016

Musical Monday - Mein Herr by Liza Minnelli

Set in the last days of the Weimar Republic against the backdrop of the rise of the Nazi Party, the 1972 movie Cabaret depicts how easily a nation can slip into fascism while no one is paying attention. This seems like an appropriate theme to be exploring right now.

The song Mein Herr was composed especially for the movie adaptation of Cabaret, it didn't appear in the stage play the preceded the film. In the movie, this isn't the first time Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) appears on screen, but this is the first real performance she gives. Cabaret is, in some ways, a long downhill slide, from the the opening songs which are full of bawdy, albeit somewhat forced, humor. This song also shows Sally at her most snarky, independent, and sexually liberated, from her dismissive goodbye to the titular "Mein Herr" of "toodoloo", to her statement that she will travel Europe "man by man". The song is punctuated by Bob Fosse's brilliant choreography, twisting the bodies of the dancers into shapes that are just slightly too off-kilter to be truly suggestive, but still manage to keep the atmosphere sultry.

Though the songs in the Kit Kat Klub are cabaret performances, and not part of the narrative of the story as in most musicals, they do serve as a guides to the developments in the story. Mein Herr presages Sally's somewhat complicated romantic relationships with both Brian Roberts (Michael York) and Max von Heune (Helmut Griem), which will figure prominently in the plot to come in the movie. But the darkness that lurks in this movie waits just behind this performance. While Sally and her audience are focused on love songs, we who know our history and know what is to come can see that there is a storm brewing outside their door that will change everything about their lives, and will probably kill many of them. While they dance and sing, fascism is creeping up on them, and the new regime won't look kindly on sexually liberated women, or openly bisexual men, or really any of what goes on in the Kit Kat Klub. They were blind to the onrush of history that would sweep them all under. The real question is, can we learn from their ignorance. There is a tide of fascism sweeping across the United States. Right now, Sally Bowles is singing our era's Mein Herr. Will we be able to reverse the drift to fascism as she and her contemporaries could not?

Previous Musical Monday: Wilkommen by Joel Grey
Subsequent Musical Monday: Two Ladies by Joel Grey

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