By David J. Chernobylsky
Recently, I had the delightful pleasure of sitting down to watch a theater production that I knew nearly nothing about before I arrived. Perhaps it is due to my generation’s fascination with superheroes and celebrities, but somehow my entire life I never knew that such a powerful production existed. The show, Cabaret the Musical.
It happens—quite rarely—when one goes to a show under such pretenses only to find oneself leaving that show with a heart full of pride and delightful sense of appreciation. And to think, it was brought on by such a simple concept: understanding. Specifically, the understanding of the Jewish—and Zionist—position in the history of the world; one in which the Jew is an outsider even when he or she is ‘technically’ not. I will explain shortly.
Cabaret the Musical—the show that I had the wonderful opportunity to see at the Crown Co. Theater—is a show that I was able to connect with both on a creatively aesthetic level and on a more personal one, too. It conveyed to me the convoluted concept of Jewish identity across the world and the real value of citizenship for Jews.
Without giving away much of the plot, this show takes place during the eve of the Nazi election into power. Note that it was the Nazi “election”—through a “modern”, democratic process that they were elected into majority rule—and not a hostile takeover as logic would have us, “modern” and “rational” people assume. This is a very important point because it shows the grounding of the Nazi ideals in the individuals that made up the German culture of the time. The party would have been nothing if not for the people backing it and supporting its rise to power. This begs the question of just how modern is the modern world.
Another aspect of the musical that struck me as particularly pertinent to society today was the show’s proper use of Adolf Hitler’s infamous book, Mein Kamp. When the American protagonist in the play wishes to learn about German culture, he get himself a copy of the book. But what about its pertinence today? One only needs to remember Mein Kamp’s recent best-selling nod in Amazon’s 2014 sales. Yet, what’s far worse was the simple-shrug response with which people brushed off the news. In Adam Kirsh’s article in New Republican, he writes, “At this point in history, no one is going to be converted to Nazism or anti-Semitism by reading Hitler.” My question to Adam is a simple one: what make our point in history today any different from the “modern”-1920’s Germany?
It is my honest belief that literature always has and always will have the power to instill new ideas inside people’s mind, or resurface subdued ideas that were previously believed to be unfit for the society of the time. Words have amazing power that should never be overlooked or disregarded. They can always have the potential to lead to actions; sometime great actions, or sometimes unbelievably horrific ones.
Therefore, this point with Mein Kamp is clearly a distinct one. Yet, there is also the romantic point. In the play, the Jewish fruit-stand owner’s relationship with the affectionate German landlord is at the center of this point. It is their engagement and later, breaking-off of that engagement that paints a realistic portrayal of just how pervasive and quick the Nazi ideals permeating through the German society and individuals as a whole, at that time. When viewed through the Jewish lens, the dialogue of the show becomes even more poignant.
As a Jew—and a Zionist—I am aware of my place in this world and that anything can change in an instant. That is why this year I began this online magazine platform—The Zionist Narrative: to ascertain an awareness about Jews and Israel today, and to vocalize—on the individual level—the beliefs that are real, and represent my identity as a Jew living in the modern world today.
I can only hope and believe in the pervasive ideology of the freedom present in this country and reassure myself that it is deeply rooted in the souls of the people of this land. Musicals and productions such as what I saw last night give me precisely that hope in this land: that there is an understanding—both in terms of the awareness of what has happened, as well as a presence in knowing that such history is not impossible to repeat!
Cabaret the Musical that I saw last night is based on the historically-famous movie from 1972. Yet, I had no idea such a movie even existed before I saw this musical. That is why everyone who participated in this fantastic production—the directors, writers, actors, music designers and lighting designers—deserve so much well-deserved credit. They have brought something that was forgotten in generations gone past (or rather, just one generation, sadly) and translated it to a modern audience who can receive it, understand it and process it through a lens that is solely their own. Cabaret the Musical plays on Friday nights at the Crown Co. City Theater. Be sure to check out the show for yourselves and apply your own lens through which you see the world.