“Cabaret” is a cautionary story about how a gullible observer can misinterpret bigotry as national pride. Currently, Sunnyvale Community Players is showing this musical, set in 1930s Berlin shortly before the Holocaust. The propaganda posters from this time in history were not up yet during the show’s Oct. 25 dress rehearsal. Nonetheless, the show is expected to have these posters as stage props during its Nov. 3 – 18 run.
“We show propaganda and visuals on the stage to influence characters in the show, whether it’s for the good or the bad,” said Raissa Marchetti-Kozlov, show director. “It reminds us as an audience that this kind of influence is still present in our world today, and it’s our choice how we perceive and receive that information.”
In the story, shortly after Ernst (James Schott) flaunted his swastika armband, many cabaret performers from the Kit Kat Club followed suit and became Nazi supporters. As the Nazi Party gained power, Fraulein Schneider (Terri Weitze) broke up with her devoted beau Herr Schultz (Chris Fernandez), who was Jewish. Cliff Bradshaw (Tyler Savin) stood up against bigotry and got a beating for it.
While alarmed by the Nazi propaganda, the Emcee, played by Chloe Angst, refused to accommodate the Nazi agenda. At the beginning of the musical, the Emcee gleefully introduced the cabaret performers in “Willkommen.” At the end of the musical, the Emcee sadly entered a gas chamber.
“I’m portraying a transgender man,” Angst said. “My character is a biological woman who would’ve rather been born a man. Seeing the propaganda built up just made my character feel unwelcome. As my character, I didn’t want to change who I was. I wasn’t going to pretend to agree with the Nazi propaganda.”
According to Angst, during the actual show, the propaganda posters on stage increase by each scene until the final scene when these posters swarm the stage.
“The images on the propaganda are of blonde, blue-eyed children. They’re creepy,” Angst said. “There’s one of a blonde girl with a can of soup. It looks like just an advertisement. But there’s a swastika on the soup.”
Jessica Ellithorpe portrayed Sally Bowles as a cabaret performer who enjoyed seducing men. Ellithrope’s vibrant rendition of the iconic “Cabaret” illustrated Bowles’ desire to live freely. Nonetheless, Bowles’ lack of a reaction to the Nazi propaganda evidenced her naivety.
“Sally is every person who didn’t see the Holocaust coming,” Ellithorpe said. “There were a lot of people in the show who were aware that something bad was coming. But Sally wasn’t one of them. Sally is a person who is trying to escape from the world around her. She is often under the influence of drugs and alcohol. She is in denial that anything bad could happen in the world and in her own life.”
Like Angst, Ellithorpe also noted the propaganda posters on the set.
“Knowing they’re supposed to be Nazi posters, it’s creepy looking at them,” Ellithorpe said. “They don’t look blatantly hateful. The posters look like they could be about patriotism and doing your duty.”