The distinct style of classic of German cabaret in the early 20th century is best-remembered by modern audiences from the 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret. The era of that musical and its distinctive atmosphere lives-on in Schmutziges Deutsche Kabarett--a show with a long history that includes performances in Los Angeles. The “dirty German cabaret,” makes its way to The Best Place Tavern this month. Local performer/choreographer Amanda Marquardt stages the next Milwaukee-based performance of the show in the most appropriate venue in town. Marquardt took some time to answer a few questions about the show for The Small Stage.
It’s a retro-inspired show fashioned after a Weimar-era German cabaret. There was a lot of wild energy in those shows as I understand it. What can audiences expect from Kabarett? Obviously there will be dancing, but what about the dark humor and political humor that characterized the era? What else can we expect?
Schmutziges Deutsche Kabarett was spurred from the question: What would it be like if you could go to the Cabaret inside the musical “Cabaret”? In the musical, the audience sees a handful of songs that take place in the Kit-Kat Club, but certainly not enough to fill a whole evening of entertainment. For most folks (myself included), that is the best part of the musical, so I thought how can I make more of that?! The audience shouldn't expect to see what the Kit Kat club would present, we don't specifically have a Sally Bowles, a male emcee, etc.
Besides book-ending the show with bits and bobs from the musical itself...what lands in the rest of the spaces? Often after the show I get the comment how people love that I took songs like “Just a Gigolo” and “Mack the Knife” and made them sound old. Those songs are in fact older than their swinging counterparts made popular by Louis Prima and Bobby Darrin, respectively. Schoner Gigolo is an Austrian song that predates WWII and is a sad tale of soldiers coming home after WWI and receiving little support as they work themselves back into their daily lives. They have nothing but their uniforms and medals, and turn to what some may deem less than desirable means to make ends meet. Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (which evolved into the swinging standard Mack the Knife) is of course a dark ballad from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. So, enough of the nerdy bookish references.
You’d mentioned doing this show over the years. It’s evidently been nominated for Multiple Los Angeles Weekly Awards. The Best Place is pretty far from L.A. What’s the history of the show?
One of the LAWeekly nominations we received was for Best Comedic Performance by a talented and tiny (4'10") actress named Jonica Patella. She performed a captivating and hilarious striptease as the Fuhrer to a Nazi march. This political aspect is no longer in the show, as it is an act that was built very specifically for her. I flew her out the first time I produced the Kabarett in Wisconsin, but it couldn’t be worked out this time. The other awards we were nominated for were Best Director of a Musical and Best Musical Ensemble. I’m quite proud of our nominations. We were a scrappy little show that got an honorable nod. We were also featured on the cover of the LAWeekly the week of the awards, and that’s pretty darn cool. I got to see my dancers and my face strewn across that sprawling city for a whole week.
The political thing. We have quite the political situation currently in our country, and a deep divide. I toyed with the idea of popping in some current political humor, but upon reflection decided I would rather give the audience a brief reprieve from it, and left pointed political commentary out of it. “Leave your troubles outside,” etc…
The show has been performed in small theatres, comedy clubs, night clubs, an underground ale house, the Scottish Rite Center here in Milwaukee and once even in front of a garage at a big house owned by an Angeleno friend of mine. I’m not sure how many performances over the years…one day I should count. I’ve had an army of lovely dancers. Myself included we have had four songbirds, and four hosts. I switch off between the roles, and have even danced in my own chorus as a Kabarett girl. This time around, the lead female vocalist shoes are filled by my theatrical muse, Miss Kate Sarner. I've had the pleasure of creating with her for the last 4 years, but this will be the first time we share the stage. Expect piles of fun and tangible energy. She's a hoot, not to mention her golden pipes! Each incarnation of the show is different, but still embodies the spirit of playful sassiness. There are a few songs that are always included in the show, for example Lili Marlene, (which I always dedicate to my late sister), but it's never the same show twice.
The show is referred to as being “Weimar-inspired.” Presumably this means that you’re not doing specific Kabaret bits that had actually been performed in Germany in the early 20th century. How much is the show inspired by the era and how much is it a departure from that era?
I call the show “Weimar-Inspired” because I obviously have not seen a true Weimer era cabaret (if only I could go back in time) and can only glean so much from research. Over the years the content of the show has changed a bit in terms of which songs and jokes are used, but it always lands in the realm of German, old-timey, and a little bit saucy. The show may be "schmutzig" but I would be proud to play it in front of anyone's grandma!
Sunday night is an interesting time to be diving into a wild mood...right before the traditional work week. Are there further performances planned in the near future?
Sunday worked for the venue, myself and my songbird. There's also always a lot going on Friday and Saturday nights and I'm hoping that having the show on a Sunday evening we can expect to see more of our theatre and musician friends in the audience, as they are less likely to have their own shows or gigs. It seems like Best Place will be a perfect for for us, and if all things go well I hope to bring it back here again!
Schmutziges Deutsche Kabarett will be staged on Sunday, Aug. 20 at The Best Place Tavern on 901 W. Juneau Ave. For ticket reservations and more, visit the show’s Facebook Events Page.