Bernie Anderson
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Life Outside of the Kit-Kat Club is Never a Cabaret

It was as inappropriate, bawdy, racy and raunchy as I expected.

Last year I purchased season tickets to the "Broadway Series" at the local performing arts center here in Greenville, SC, as an anniversary gift for Reneé. We've enjoyed it, even though I was only able to get us into the cheap seats (think very high up in rafters).

One of the shows this year was "Cabaret" — which old(er) people will remember as a film in the 1970s starring Liza Minelli. This particular story takes place in a seedy Berlin nightclub in the 1930s. An American novelist with a past shows up to find Germanic inspiration for his next great unwritten work. He ends up at the "Kit-Kat Club" and gets involved with a dancer (ah, the writer's life...)

The first 20 minutes of the performance (maybe even the first half of the performance) is ... well ... inappropriate, bawdy, racy and raunchy. The "Emcee" character (who is the raunchiest and the bawdiest and most inappropriate of them all) is more or less omnipresent throughout the production, announcing performances at the Kit-Kat, while also intertwining, dreamlike, with the lives of the other characters, even outside of the club.

"Life is a Cabaret" is the message until a bout half-way through. The tone changes during a peculiar and eerie scene in which the Emcee is spotlighted alone on the stage with a phonograph. It'd playing a vinal of a child singing an a cappella rendition of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me." This turns out to be a bit of foreshadowing, where a few minutes later nationalism oozes when a crowded room of Germans sing the line, "Oh Fatherland, Fatherland, show us the sign. Your children have waited to see! The morning will come when the world is mine! Tomorrow belongs to ME!" - while a now ostracized German Jewish shop-keeper watches from the outside.

The performance darkens, as the storm clouds of Nazi Germany brew in the background. The significance of the performance is driven home swiftly and uncomfortably.

We can sing "Life is a Cabaret" to our hearts content, but the fact remains that it's really not. Burying pain in pleasure and fantasy in our hedonistic society is not going to hide the harsh realities of the dark side of human experience: violence, genocide, hatred, racism.

Malnutrition clinic in Burundi. Kids are facing this the dangers of malnutrition all over Africa and the Middle East. 

Right now the genocide of religious minorities is happening in the Middle East. The tiny nation of Burundi is facing its own perilous future. The Democratic Republic of Congo is a failed, lawless state where rape is a weapon and militia groups roam the countryside, seeking whatever they may devour. Yemen faces self-destruction, and the people who suffer are her most vulnerable residents, with food and water shortages along with a growing health care crisis. Southern Africa is now experiencing drought, with over 29 million people facing unprecedented food scarcity.

Meanwhile, in America, life is, apparently, a cabaret.

"Does it really matter, as long as we're having fun?"

News outlets and social media entertain us. Even something that ought to be as significant as electing a president becomes a brouhaha. Comparing trophy wives on Twitter and penis sizes in nationally televised "debates," we prepare to elect our own tyrant.

Let the world burn. We're busy. Busy amusing ourselves to death.

Toward the end of the performance, Sally (debatably, the female lead) sings a second rendition of the show's theme song.

"Life is a cabaret, Ole' chum, life is a cabaret..."

But now her voice is trembling and filled with an eerie uncertainty and even disdain. Her own personal calamities wrap themselves around global tragedies, and she's forever changed.

The performance ends with the Emcee himself in the dreaded "striped pajamas," bearing the tell-tale yellow star. "...even the orchestra is beautiful." But as the curtain draws for the last time, there's no orchestra to be seen.

The musical ends in an other-worldly, chilling silence.

Cabaret is not for everybody. It's inappropriate, bawdy, racy and raunchy.

And the end is prophetically disturbing — a weighty story with uncanny relevance to the America in which we find ourselves living.

My hope and my prayer is that the church will overcome the "life is a cabaret" mentality is America's current experience (actually, that's kind of what my current job entails). And overcome, we must.

The world is burning, while we're dancing like fools. It's time to step outside of the Kit-Kat Club and at the very least, inhale the smoke; because there are surely bigger and more important things in this life than to simply stay distracted and amused.

Bernie AndersonComment