Sunday, October 07, 2007

My Calling

It is with great pleasure that I announce that after over thirty years on this earth, I have finally realized what my true calling! After seeing Chicago, Spamalot, and Cabaret over the past few months, I realize that God wants me to devote my life to theater-going. That is why I have been given a sign via the holy gift of incredible parking karma! Let us take an inventory of my recent parking history:

Chicago: If my parking spot had been any closer to the door, it would have been in the lobby.

Spamalot: Ample parking and not even a block away.

And the crowning glory of my parking karma - Cabaret: Not only was my awe inspiring Matrix holder only a half a block away, but it was directly in front of a paid parking lot! I even used their entry way to turn around, so I could back into it. Take that, SmartPark! (Well, actually, I don't think it really was a SmartPark, but "Take that, SmartPark!" sounds far superior to "Take that, parking lot of indeterminate ownership!"

Dramatic license aside, the above examples illustrate more than adequately that the universe is indeed conspiring to encourage my regular participation as a member of the musical theater going public! Test results are still out on whether my celestial mandate extends to regular theater too, but I have a gut feeling that it does. I will be sure to report as I collect more evidence to support my theory.

Meanwhile, can I just tell you how fabulous the Portland Center Stage production of Cabaret is? So much better than Broadway Across America's offering ofChicago, starring Lisa Rinna and Luke Duke. Now I'm not one for violence, but I am convinced that in a Murderous Jazz Baby/Whoring Cabaretist Smackdown, Storm Large would kick Lisa Rinna's ass, then wipe up the floor with those big lips of hers! If I wasn't the biggest Storm Large fan when she was on Rockstar, I am totally converted now. The girl has a great voice (and that is even measured against my all-time favorite Ute Lemper performance of Mein Lieber Herr, which is still my favorite, but got a good run for it's money last night).

And Wade McCollum! How can anyone not love him? He has done such great work in Portland Musical theater - Hedwig, Batboy (I heart batboy, in case I've never mentioned it before!), and now as the Emcee in Cabaret. After Alan Cumming's take on the role, it seems like it would be difficult not to allow a new performance to become too derivative, but McCollum's version had it's own character. The Emcee is probably my favorite character in the play, because it is through him that we see what is "real". He is the one in charge of the curtain, deciding whether the undercurrents of Nazism and denial remain relegated to the shadows or brought out into the light. Through him, we see how thin the walls are between the decadence of the cabaret and the real world. Life at that time really wasn't beautiful. Plus, the whole theme of denial just has so many parallels to what the people of this country have allowed the Bush administration to do to our foreign policy in the wake of 9/11 that it's also a topical offering.

One of the things that I love about Cabaret is that, unlike like other musicals that create this world of beautiful mornings and corn as high as an elephant's eye, Cabaret is gritty. In the US, people think of cabaret as nude dancing (German - at least since the 50's - actually makes a distinction between Cabaret and Kabarett, which more about political and social satire), but the cabaret of the Weimar Republic was quite different. Certainly, some of the performances were racy, but it was also an environment that merged the creative and the political. A big part of cabaret was satire and that satire was often targeted at political and social norms. It was also one of the reasons that cabarets were targeted by the Nationalsozialisten, who wanted to replace the "negative" satire of the Weimar era with a more "positive" modern verison.

Suffice it to say that the real world of Berlin cabaret was more than just nude girls shaking their money makers. It's development incorporated a lot of influences. To really look at the history of cabaret, while nude dancing is an undeniable part, you have to look at the influences of theater, vaudeville, music, popular culture of the time. Peter Jelavich did a great study of cabaret in Berlin in the earlier part of the 20th century in his book Berlin Cabaret.

Meanwhile, if you want some impetus to read it (or even if you don't), I can highly recommend going to see Portland Center Stage's production. One of the great things about Cabaret is that despite being a musical, it has some really chilling moments. I think that is one of the things that makes the play so enduring. The grit lends it a realness that keeps it from becoming kitschy and dated in the way that a lot of other musicals of its time have. (Not that there's not something utterly charming about kitschy and dated, but you know what I mean.)

I've always thought that the use of the use of the typical sounding German Volkslied in the composition of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" was brilliant - chilling, but brilliant. The melody reminds me so much of the sorts of songs I grew up with. And the play has so many great touches - like the use of Brechtian techniques like breaking the fourth wall (Brecht did not write for the cabaret, but his work has some overlap), which would have been avant garde at the time in which the play is set.

More than that, though, the play evokes real emotion. There is a sad and enduring sweetness in the secondary plot line concerning the ill fated love story of Fraeulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Even though it is not the main focus of the script, the Schneider-Schultz romance is poignant in a way that is lacking in the decadence of the main storyline. And the use of a recording of Hitler speaking to a cheering crowd at the house lights faded to black really did send a chill down my spine.

So, my point is, even if you don't have my parking karma (not everyone can...), it's well worth the price of a ticket to go see the show. Meanwhile, I'll be scanning the theater section of the paper to see where I can further enjoy my newly found spiritual gift of awesome parking.


Anne said...

I went to a presentation of German cabaret pieces and I thought there was a creepy Brecht one. It was quite a few years ago at this point, though, so I could be wrong that it was Brecht. Nonetheless, it was a fascinating show- and what a difference it makes when you see something live rather than on tv or in the movies. I love going to the theater. I'm glad you are having such signs to keep going!

Martina said...

I always thought he did too, but then I thought I read in that Jelavich book that he didn't write for cabaret. Of course, it's possible that he didn't write for whatever fits that particular guy's definition too. It's an interesting book, I think you'd like it.

I love going to the theater too! I found out yesterday that a friend who has connections with the opera here is looking into the group rate for Jesus Christ Superstar tickets this December, which would be exciting. I've never seen that one before and she got us great seats for Spamalot.

Sonya said...

I wanted to see Spamalot soooo bad! But, alas, I am poor.

Martina said...

Oh, Sonya! It was SO good! I almost didn't go, because of the ticket price, but then decided to splurge and got tickets for my mom's birthday (with the help of a friend with connections, who got a good group rate). I haven't had so much fun at a show in a long time. It was brilliant and had me laughing for days after!

Tim said...

Since you enjoyed PCS and are reading Ken Kesey, I thought you might like to know that PCS will be mounting a production of Kesey's landmark Oregon novel (acknowledged by many to be THE Oregon novel) "Sometimes A Great Notion." Epic.

We'll save you a parking spot.

Martina said...

TdR -

Thanks for the tip on PCS and Kesey! That definitely sounds like something of interest to me (and not only for the purpose of researching whether my cosmic parking good fortune extends to drama either!) It's funny. I love lit and have always meant to read Kesey, but this reading of "Cuckoo's Nest" is my first go at him. It disturbs me in some ways more than I'd anticipated. It's a pretty powerful novel. Anyway, thank you for stopping by!