David White on Kander’s Cabaret

4th March 2021

David White is a Musical Supervisor/Musical Director/Orchestrator. Recent credits include: Fisherman’s Friends The Musical (2021 Truro); Cabaret (Gothenburg Opera 2020); Groundhog Day (Wermland Opera 2020); Man Of La Mancha (English National Opera 2019); Something Rotten (2018 Karlstad); The Assassination Of Katie Hopkins (Theatr Clwyd – Best Musical Production 2018 UK Theatre Awards), Fiddler On The Roof (2017 Chichester Festival Theatre); Les Miserables (new production Karlstad & Jönköping); Showboat, Crucible, Sheffield and West End (Best Musical Production 2016 UK Theatre Awards) ; Sunset Boulevard (Wermland Opera, Gothenburg Opera & English National Opera); Top Hat (Malmo Opera); Shrek, Crazy For You, & Candide (Wermland Opera, Sweden).

David was made a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music for his ‘contribution to the world of Musical Theatre’.

Cabaret – one of my all-time favourite musicals. Is it a particular favourite for you, as well?

Well yes, it’s such a famous score and it’s always fascinated me. I love the richness of the original piece but have never seen a full orchestral version. In my lifetime, the era defining productions were the Donmar Warehouse and the Broadway revivals. They were chamber versions set in the Kit Kat Club with reduced orchestral forces (six to eight musicians) so it was actually quite divorced from Kander’s original musical intentions. I had an opportunity to do it at Gothenburg Opera (it was supposed to open in July 2020) not only in the full glory of the original intentions of the score, but actually in an even larger version than that.

Gothenburg have a full opera orchestra and they like to use as much of it as possible. So I re-orchestrated the piece for their whole orchestra – it was amazing! There’s one studio recording with a similar size full symphony orchestra. It’s available on iTunes [National Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Owen Edwards, Cabaret – Complete Recording of the score (Original Studio Cast) remastered 2006]. When you hear the score in those terms it connects to the operatic, as well as the Vaudeville and all the different genres that are in the writing. The original version in 1966 had an onstage band of four but a large pit orchestra. The contrast in size between the club numbers on stage and the pit orchestra was huge, so that was one of the things that was uppermost in my mind when I got this opportunity.

When first lockdown happened I was actually conducting a production of Groundhog Day

Oh that’s apt.

(laughs) which was running in the middle of Sweden. We’d just opened, had given almost two weeks of performances when the call for lockdown in the UK happened, and I watched in horror as the number of flights returning back to the UK diminished in front of my eyes. I thankfully got myself a seat on a flight home. But then Gothenburg Opera decided to go ahead and rehearse in the summer – they put back opening to the beginning of September. So as a family we all moved to Sweden for the summer and worked gloriously in July and August in a socially distanced way. (It was a British creative team, with a wonderful director called James Grieve.) We were allowed to do that with a view to theoretically opening in September when they estimated that public performances would then recommence. But in actual fact it went the opposite way. We’d done an internal set of previews and dress rehearsals, thinking that any second we were going to get the permission to perform – but then it was denied. We went through an agonising autumn where we performed something like once a week to keep the show in that oven ready condition. Eventually sometime in October/November the Swedish government said it was not going to happen. So the opera closed and everybody went into furlough. In July and August, I think our production was the only one of any kind of live theatre happening anywhere in the world. It was like being on an island.

So strange.

I didn’t realise that a number of people had re-orchestrated it. Have you conducted smaller versions as well?

No, this was the first time I’d conducted Cabaret. My experience, probably like yours, had always been mostly listening to recordings or going to performances where it had much, much smaller forces. In fact the latter day performances that happened, particularly in the UK, tended to get rid of a lot of the songs that weren’t based in the Kit Kat Club and set it all in there. I’m not saying that’s not valid, because they’re absolutely incredible productions. Some of the performances were defining – it’s difficult to think of the piece without thinking of certain people playing the roles.

Interestingly enough, Jerome Robbins suggested to Hal Prince that he cut all the numbers and just set it in the club during previews of the original production in early 1966 when they were first trying it out in Washington (before bringing it to New York). But he resisted it. It’s interesting that this is an idea that people would return to later on. James Grieve and I really wanted to reinvestigate the original version because of our venue size. I don’t know if you know Gothenburg Opera as a venue, but it’s one of the largest opera houses in Europe. The stage is something like half of a football pitch – it’s absolutely massive. When the operachef asked us to consider doing this production, he knew it was an insane thing to ask us to do. Half of the piece is really quite intimate scenes. Is there a large-scale version of Cabaret that can also maintain the intimacy of the production? That was our brief.

So right from the start we were thinking about how to accommodate these two different worlds. My wife has designed virtually all of James Grieve’s productions, so I found myself working with her. It also meant that right from the beginning James, my wife and I had a year’s worth of bottles of wine and dinners where we were discussing the concept of the production before Day 1 of rehearsals! I think Lucy, my wife, had probably the hardest job – creating an environment that gave a bigger spectacle than Cabaret had ever had before, but while also providing us with the intimate scenes that the show needed. It was a massive challenge, but it was really, really good fun.

So how big was the cast/orchestra?

I think we ended up with a cast of thirty-two including two swings, which was quite a large ensemble. There are seven major principals (which is quite a lot) and for the Kit Kat Club ‘girls’ in our production we had a mixture of girls and boys (we had around fifteen as opposed to five). We also had a mixed children’s choir for ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ – I did a vocal arrangement for a children’s choir because in the 1930s the Nazis quite often used children to raise money for the party. They’d go along to a village square and an angelic group of Aryan children would sing songs about the fatherland. Nazis would go around with their tins rattling and people would give money. We wanted to recreate that within the stage setting, which was absolutely fantastic. It was so powerful, with about forty people on the stage (the whole cast including the children). I kept the onstage band the same size (four players) because I wanted to have this massive contrast between that and forty players in the pit. The original onstage band had a piano, sax, trombone and kit – I didn’t disturb that at all because I wanted that very rough sounding raucous 1920s jazz that was part of those club numbers.

Yes, that Berlin feel.

Yes. We decided to reflect the feel of Berlin in the 1920s by adopting a gender-neutral approach throughout the ensemble. We had boys playing girls parts and vice versa. We were also very lucky with our onstage band. There found one guy and three girls who were all very individual and outgoing. There was also a fantastic, very 1920/30s Berlin feel to the people in our production – they were a very political group.

One of the reasons why I’ve done musicals so often in the opera houses of Sweden is that the opera houses provide their orchestra and facilities, but the creative team and cast are all from Musical Theatre. A few times in the UK we’ve suffered a bit from having a mixture of Operatic and Musical Theatre singers who didn’t have the movements skills of a Broadway dancer/actor – and when you mix those worlds it becomes quite tricky to merge them into one whole. So we were spared that.

Gothenburg Opera is such a fantastic house. They have a great number of really fantastic actor/singers on contract to the house. Musical Theatre training generally in Sweden is very advanced – I was totally blown away by the standard, particularly of the singing (as a musician). They have three major Musical Theatre courses in Gothenburg alone, one that specialises in dance and the others that cover all the disciplines together. They have been there for thirty years and the level of teaching is amazing – that was a delightful surprise. So I’ve been going backwards and forwards to Scandinavia quite a lot. In Sweden I get the chance to conduct large orchestras (which was my training) with great casts of voices.

That’s brilliant. What about the size of the orchestra?

I had a small symphony orchestra worth of strings (12 violins, 8 violas, 4 cellos and 2 double basses). And then because opera woodwind players don’t double up (unlike Broadway players who sometimes play as many as five or six instruments)[1] all of those had to be expanded as in Noah’s Ark: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets and 2 bassoons, quite a large brass section plus percussion and some saxes. I think we had forty players for our in house premiere, it was like a very large studio orchestra and it sounded really magnificent. Kander brought out so many elements of style, and Kurt Weill was such a big influence on Cabaret. Fräulein Schneider’s numbers ‘So what?’ and ‘What would you do?’ could have been written by Kurt Weill (she was played by Weill’s wife Lotte Lenya in the original production) – they’re so sophisticated in their harmonic language. The orchestrations reflect that operatic nature, but you don’t get that effect if you hear them played by the six-piece cabaret club band. It was a very, very stark contrast hearing those Schneider numbers and then the Kit Kat Club numbers like ‘Don’t Tell Mama’ which are started off by just four players on stage. So it gave me lots of opportunities to contrast the size of ensembles. I could do a close up with only four players and then suddenly go widescreen and have forty-four at my disposal. It was really good fun.

Do you think it’s much more demanding on the conductor when you have huge contrasts like that?

I think with the preparation, yes. In order to cope with that problem I cast the onstage band from players who weren’t employed at Gothenburg Opera. I found these amazing freelance jazz musicians who’d never played there in their lives. They were so excited to suddenly come and play in this amazing posh building! They were such an interesting bunch of crazy people, and they brought with them their own lives and attitudes towards music.

They rehearsed mostly completely separately. I wanted to create musical glue between the onstage band and the orchestra so I added a bass that played with the onstage band but from the pit and I also doubled the drum kit occasionally as well. When I moved the sound from being on stage to being in the pit, the bass player remained constant between the two sound sources. To pass from the onstage drum kit to the other in the pit, the one in the pit would just play the kick drum for a while, and when the onstage snare drum stopped the drummer would start playing the snare drum in the pit. You literally did a pan from stage into the pit – it was like old-fashioned stereo – it broadened right in front of you and then sucked into the stage when it went back to being intimate again.

It was hard to do as a conductor with the huge stage, there was something like twenty metres between me on the podium and the little onstage quartet. If we hadn’t used clever modern technology, it would have been very, very challenging because it took about an eighth of a second for the onstage band sound to hit the pit. If everybody played on my beat, we would never have been together, so we had to conquer that in different ways.

With monitors?

Yes, with TV monitors and audio monitors. The onstage band had to develop a different way of reading my beat to the players in the pit. It meant the players in the pit had to play on the downbeat and quite close to my beat, and the onstage band learned to slightly anticipate everything I was doing, which was fascinating. The in-ear monitoring helped with that.

When I spoke to Gareth Valentine [see Issue 16] he said that in Chicago click tracks are used at various points. Was that the case in Cabaret?

No it wasn’t, actually. I took that decision very early on because of the varied nature of the music. If it was all jazz we would have probably solved it all with click tracks because you want the music in time without any sort of negotiation. But so much of the score is either Operatic in nature or classic Broadway style – those numbers don’t like being tied into a fixed tempo. They need a flexible approach so that it breathes with the phrases, breathes with the singers and slows down and speeds up according to the structures of the numbers. Cabaret sits within so many different styles so it felt like it was going to be too complicated to have a twenty-bar section of jazz that was on a click track, then onto something more flexible, and then back to the click track again etc. It would have been so difficult and fraught with technical problems. All it takes is for one click track to go wrong and you’re out of sequence – and you have no communication with four players who are twenty metres away. There were too many things that could go wrong. So I just thought we should try and use technology as little as we can. We solved most of the problems without it and only used technology when we found we couldn’t communicate with enough accuracy with each other.

Gareth also explained how Chicago is completely stage led – singers would never take cues from him (although they could see him on monitors above the audience). He said he would just have to follow them with dropbeats. Did you have to follow your singers/dancers in the same way?

It was genuinely a mixture of the two. There were large sections of dance music where you literally couldn’t take control as conductor, because once the sequence had started it has to be led by the action on stage. So sometimes I would have to catch things that happened on stage using dropbeats (to use Gareth’s term) as they were driving all the changes. But then with a lot of the solo numbers that are not dance related, a more traditional operatic set of rules would come into play. You breathe with the singer and they take cues from you in order to start the next phrase etc.

I’m slightly allergic to that old fashioned attitude of ‘the music stops and we all wait for the maestro to lift their hand before we go on’. That’s something I have always actively sought to avoid, so that we get something that’s organic. It might be that it’s dictated by an actor walking across the stage and reaching a certain point on the set, or someone sitting down and you raise your arm in order for your downbeat to coincide with their bottom hitting the chair, or somebody throwing something into the air… You get a lot of those sorts of cues where yes – it’s taken from the conductor from a technical point of view, but that upbeat has been generated from within the action of the play rather than a musical reason from the pit.

Yes. Were there any particular scenes or numbers in the Gothenburg production where
taking cues in that way was very difficult?

Well, I’ll tell you a really silly one. It was in the number ‘If You Could See Her’, which was originally about the Emcee and a gorilla having a love affair. It was an amazing idea to depict that kind of racism on stage in a way that is also funny. Our director and choreographer amplified that in our production – they gave us a whole team of gorillas, and the story was ‘which one is his lost love?’ There were about eight gorillas and the Emcee is trying to find the right one… which leads to all sorts of interesting things happening on stage.

At the very end there’s a little cadenza that I wrote for Emcee to sing, as if it was an opera. During that I popped my head down. When he reached the climax of the cadenza I re-emerged with a gorilla mask on. He would have to take the next cue from me because sometimes I wouldn’t be ready! The amusing thing about that was if I had a real problem with the mask then he was left singing the long note forever – it all depended on how much air he’d got in his lungs. That was a wonderful moment where the control went from the singer down to the conductor and then back up to the singer again.

Is that when he sings – ‘through my eyes’ right at the end?

Exactly, yes. It was about fifteen/twenty seconds long while I put my mask on – which is why I wrote a cadenza – and then I conducted as a gorilla until the end of the number. It was very silly.

(laughs) Obviously Cabaret is a mixture of spoken dialogue and songs. When I’ve spoken to conductors about operas of a similar nature, they talk about building the tension during the spoken dialogue (this is also applies to recitative) so that it feels natural that the character will then
burst into song.


That can be trickier than people realise. The conductor is involved in that lead up, even when there’s been no music for a long time. Are there are any difficult transitions in that respect in Cabaret?

That’s a really fascinating question and the answer is absolutely, yes. The way I always talk about it is ‘an ascent into music and a descent into dialogue’. Singing is like a heightened theatrical convention; the idea of people wondering around doing it is such a weird one. What’s unusual about Cabaret is that the reason that some characters sing is different to other characters. For example, the Emcee sings songs that are commenting on the atmosphere of Berlin and the world of the club. His or her songs were not part of the plot in a strict way.

But Fräulein Schneider’s songs grew out of the romantic story between her and Schulz. It was like a traditional romantic musical except with older people, which is what made it really interesting. With ‘So What?’ the last few lines of Fräulein Schneider’s dialogue begin to structurally have a little bit of rhythm within them. Then the orchestra starts articulating the rhythm, almost without you noticing it. The first eight bars don’t have pitches, it is speech spoken in rhythm. That is a perfect example of ascending into singing. The song only becomes sung from the line ‘when you’re as old as I’. So that’s a really interesting way of bringing the orchestra in underneath the end of the dialogue so that it goes into singing without you really noticing. But of course, you’ve got to catch that train, which is already moving, in order to join your orchestra at the right rhythm for the text.

Yes! I know that part. In a way Kander and Ebb are laying out how the transition will work.

They are.

So you’re not having to be as proactive in making sure it works. Oh they’re very good dramatists, those two…

Absolutely extraordinary. That’s one of the reasons why I have such admiration for John Kander: as a dramaturg musician he is incredible. He played a similar sort of trick with ‘Don’t Tell Mama’. You get this big intro ‘um tata um tata’ and then a piano starts playing and Sally speaks, ‘Mama thinks I’m living in a convent, a secluded little convent’. There are no pitches again. She doesn’t start singing in time until the third stanza ‘So please sir if you run into my mama’. But again, because the speaking is within bars and has rhythm to it, you’re in this in-between world without even realising that you haven’t even yet fully ascended into song. So that was one of their favourite tricks.

It’s interesting because some of the scenes were in silence. A lot of the scenes were underscored, so the use of silence in the production was a very deliberate one. That was another fascinating thing to explore in the rehearsal room. One of the other big issues was style. The difficulty in performing Mozart’s Figaro is not to do with complexity of the music. There’s nothing in 7/8 or 9/16, or people singing in triplets against others in 4s – it’s simple music in that sense. The art of it is in the style – the way they do the phrasing, and how to get the style absolutely right for the voice of that composer so it sounds beautifully like Mozart.

But John Kander is a chameleon. He can compose in so many different styles – from modern pop music at the time he was writing to 1920s jazz. In Cabaret you’ve got the pure 1920s jazz numbers in the Kit Kat Club, but also Circus and Vaudeville are imitated at the beginning of Act II in the ‘Kickline’ number, and the old world of the Music Hall in the two front cloth scenes[2] with the Emcee (‘Two Ladies’ and ‘If You Could See Her’). It’s a completely different style to the operetta he was copying when he wrote the duets between Schneider and Schulz (‘The Pineapple Song’ and ‘Married’). Those are beautiful, deliberately emotional, slightly cloying, sentimental operetta duets. Representing the world with different styles is something that I know was in Kander’s mind.

The amazing Broadway/Hollywood style dance numbers are very long. ‘Telephone Dance’ and ‘The Fruit Shop Dance’ were seven minutes long. These huge, amazing constructions were based around choreography, and the musical demands to create that style meant that you use every bit of the orchestra. They were massive filmic orchestrations as opposed to these tiny cabaret versions of songs that were in the club. Kurt Weill’s life was a journey that finished in America, with him writing pieces like Street Scene. He wanted to create American Opera as a genre. I think that’s what John Kander had in mind when he wrote ‘So What?’ and ‘What Would You Do?’ as they are so sophisticated and operatic in that Kurt Weill kind of way.

Yes, and you can’t really appreciate that with the smaller Donmar ensemble can you?

Exactly! That’s exactly right Hannah, you’ve knocked it on the head. That was why I was so excited to do the full orchestral version – you’re able to demonstrate in a very clear way the shifts from a four-piece band on stage to a massive operatic orchestra. They were very conscious of that change originally, and it was great to have the chance to reclaim it.

My cousin sang in Cabaret (it’s her favourite musical). When I asked her about her experience of it as a performer, she said it’s pretty easy to sight-read on the whole. But what people struggled with most were the key changes in the Finale, and also the counterpoint in ‘Money’.

Yes definitely. The ‘Finale Ultimo’ is actually bitonal – the music is in two keys at the same time. The singers come in in a different key to the orchestra so it’s very hard for them to pick up what notes they should start on. This weird choice of bitonal world was quite a sophisticated and risky thing to do in a Broadway musical, because it sounds so wrong. But that was very deliberate, as it reflects that danger and catastrophic world picture at the time when the Nazis came to power. The singers had to work for hours and hours – we were saying ‘no don’t trust your ears as you normally would because actually this is your first note, not that. That’s the orchestra key, the vocal key is different’. That was one of the hardest things to do.

They made a deliberate philosophical choice – Hal Prince wanted the ensemble singing to be very brutalist or ‘ultra real’. He didn’t want lots of ‘MGM harmony’ singing. So virtually all of the ensemble singing in the show is in unison (singing in different octaves) and there’s very little harmony. Except in the other number that you’re talking about. ‘Money’ was introduced for the film, it wasn’t in the original musical. They had a slightly different philosophical take in the film as it wasn’t the same creators as the stage version. They had more counter melodies and separate groups singing in a way that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the score. So it took ages, especially because it’s a highly choreographed dance and in our version it was incredibly exhausting. They are doing top-level singing (rhythmically) and top-level dancing at the same time. I think your cousin accurately recalls the two trickiest parts.

As the standard of dancing required was very high, it was quite a long and arduous casting process to find people that were good enough dancers but who could also sing and act. You really need what they affectionately call ‘triple threats’ in our industry. Artists who can sing, dance and act as well as each other don’t grow on trees, and our choreographer, Becky, really stretched the dancing to its full limits. It took them weeks and weeks of training to have the breath to be able to sing, because they were panting from the dancing that they had just done in the previous thirty-two bars. It was quite athletic.

As you arranged this, I presume you were working with a full score?

Well, you’ve opened a can of worms there! In New York, where the publishers reside, they say that in Europe (as opposed to London and New York) you’re only allowed to do the 1987 version. There are lots of different versions of Cabaret. The 1966 was the original, and 1987 was the date of a massive New York revival (the original team revived it). Some things were better, some things weren’t, as is always the case. The versions that you and I are used to, like the Donmar Warehouse production, are hybrids. Those powerful directors were allowed to pick and choose as if in a sweet shop and say ‘well I’ll have that from the original, I’ll have that from 1987 and there was that funny little version that happened in Alabama in 1973 and we’re going to have some of that’. They took what they wanted to create what they saw as the best version of the play and musical score.

We petitioned long and hard to be allowed to sing some of the numbers, particularly ‘Maybe this Time’, and ‘Mein Herr’ that were written for the film. Those two numbers are so famous. For us as a team, the idea of going to a performance of Cabaret and not hearing those would, frankly, be disappointing. You’d be looking forward to hearing what this Sally Bowles does with those amazing numbers (we were lucky to have an astonishing Sally Bowles – I would say one of the finest there has ever been). We tried every tactic you could imagine with the publishers in order to try and get them to agree to the insertion of these numbers into the score, but they would not do it. The reason was money – the film company owns the rights to ‘Mein Herr’ and ‘Maybe This Time’, and the royalties therefore become complicated because they would have to pay a certain amount to them. It’s something that you don’t have to face doing Shakespeare because everybody’s dead, and you can make artistic decisions for your vision of the best version of that piece. You can get permission to do those sorts of things in London and New York but because of the regional racism of the publishing world they won’t allow you to do that in Gothenburg, or in Berlin (ironically)… or in Paris.

What? Oh that’s ridiculous.

Hmm. But regarding the score, I had to put in all the orchestration by hand because weirdly in Musical Theatre there’s often no full score. That’s the case in Cabaret. So I had to go back to the trombone, oboe, flute and violin parts, and put them all into Sibelius software to create an orchestral score. It took three months and was extremely arduous – there were crossings out and all sorts of things from the original handwritten parts. Once I’d done all of that work I could start arranging it for my forces. I notated the original score note for note, created the original version so I now also have that. I have the only full score of Cabaret.


Then I created another score with a bigger orchestra for Gothenburg. It probably took about six months to arrange the whole piece. It was a labour of love, but it was worth it because the orchestra sounded magnificent. Gothenburg Opera orchestra are one of the finest in the world, and they played it with such finesse and beauty – it was breathtaking. So it was totally worth all that effort, and often moved me to tears. The first time we ever played those massive dance sequences like ‘The Telephone Song’, with the huge Hollywood studio sized orchestra, was amazing and it drew out some references that I kept in the orchestration from the original.

For example, there’s a deliberate reference to Stravinsky’s Petrushka in ‘The Telephone Dance’. In Petrushka there’s a famous little cornet solo, and in the trumpet part in Cabaret in ‘The Telephone Dance’ there’s this lovely little phrase – it’s only about three or four bars – but if you were musically minded back in 1966 that would be a reference you would have got and celebrated. It was really nice to be able to hear that, because you could never get that in the context of a six-piece band version in Cabaret.

There are no tempos written into the score (as with Chicago). Did you decide on those beforehand, or was it more of an organic process?

I made some bold decisions. I’ve known Cabaret all my life, and then lived with the music literally every day for a year (studying and then orchestrating it). So by the time I came to rehearsals I knew what tempos I wanted. Weirdly enough, because of Covid I had to leave various rooms in charge of different pianists at different times – we had to split up more than we would normally because of social distancing. So I actually notated all of my tempos for the whole piece into one master score, which was then copied for all the pianists. They used metronomes to make sure they were doing the right tempos, so I could travel around the building in my mask and hear the music being played at the right speed. Then, of course, there were times when the choreographer said to me, ‘I’m doing a dance step here – it would just be great if it was a little bit faster/slower’. So the dancing considerations would affect the tempo, but there were also acting considerations. For example, our Fräulein Schneider was principally an actress who sings, as opposed to a singer who acts. Because of that, her natural singing style was like sung speech, which often meant that she wanted to do it slightly faster to match the psychological speed of the text in her head. We changed a lot of those tempos in her music for that reason.


I would say it was definitely a very structured first bowl from me, but it became more organic and more of a discussion in the rehearsal room.

So they bounced off your original suggestions.

Exactly. That was very much something to do with the piece itself and the circumstances within which it was produced. Normally I would go into the rehearsal room with a much more open heart and say ‘what tempo do you feel this at? I feel it at this tempo, how is that for you?’ But because I was moving from room to room so much I had to have control over what my music staff were doing. There were three pianists working in different rooms, and I had to know that we were being consistent for the actors, otherwise it wouldn’t be fair. I probably had more direct control over the music than I have done in the past.

The ending of the 1993 Dunmar Warehouse production, when Alan Cumming takes off his leather jacket revealing the striped pyjamas underneath, is incredibly powerful.

Yeah I agree with you. Our big stage version of that finale included every single member of the cast, including some of the children coming out from the very darkness at the back of the stage. They emerged wearing those concentration camp uniforms and walked very slowly and without any expression on their faces singing that whole number. Eventually the whole cast was in one line on the Gothenburg stage, staring out at the audience, uplit from below. It was so powerful because it gave you some sense (in a theatrical way) of the scale of this lack of humanity. What was fantastic about the Donmar Production’s ending with Alan Cumming was to see that man of such life, vigour and sensuality suddenly there pathetically dressed in that way. But to see fifty like that also gave you that sense of how massive it was.

I’m getting shivers just thinking about it. It’s so difficult to understand how a culture that was so free, cosmopolitan, sexually experimental and open-minded had it all stripped away more and more over a number of years. In most respects these were people who had lives very much like ours, and it’s so hard to understand how this could have possibly happened.

I think you’ve just articulated the reason why Kander and Ebb wrote Cabaret. They were attracted by how timely it was in 1966, as it is right now, sadly, because of the direction of much of the politics in the world. In Cabaret you are confronted by a sense of that ability to whitewash and eradicate individual freedom. It demonstrates a culture where people could be genuinely free to be themselves. That was all happening in the Weimar Republic, it was an incredible moment in history. But what is terrifying was the success with which the Nazis eradicated it from history. Generally people now look back and are aware of Paris in the 1920s, but Berlin?

What was the Weimar Republic?

[1] In Musical Theatre it is common for woodwind/brass players to play a number of instruments, unlike in classical orchestras where for example, the clarinet may play the E flat or Bass clarinet but not the flute or oboe. See the interview from the last issue with Gareth Valentine on Chicago for a more detailed explanation.

[2] ‘Front Cloth’ scenes explained in David’s words: ‘in old fashioned theatre, when you had quick changes into a scene that was, for example, between two characters, they would drop in a cloth that was about six feet upstage from the front of the stage. That was called a ‘front cloth’. Then they’d bring on those characters and you’d be straight into the next scene and wouldn’t feel a thing. It gave you a kind of intimacy to those moments, and it was one of the really interesting challenges they had in 1966. When you look at the score there’s virtually no music from the end of a big production number to a spoken scene between two characters that might be very intimate. And that’s how they used to solve that problem – they’d either bring in something from the side of the stage to the front, like a room, or they’d drop the front cloth in and put the characters is front of that while they re-organised the stage behind the cloth, for the next big ensemble number. We were true to the front cloth scenes from the original Cabaret when we did it in Gothenburg. It’s fun because you can really transform what’s going on behind that curtain in the few moments of that scene and then reveal something amazing upstage afterwards’.