Something To Think About: “Would You Pay The Price? What Would You Do?”

The above lines come from the 1966 American musical Cabaret based on writings of Christopher Isherwood and John Van Druten.  The musical focuses on the lives of a few people and their reactions to the growing Nazi threat in 1930s Berlin.  The musical was unusual in that it did not have a happy ending and Americans are used to happy endings.  Thomas Hischak offers his own description of Cabaret in his The Oxford Companion to the American Musical:  “Arguably the most innovative, hard-hitting, and uncompromising musical of the 1960s,…”  What makes this musical so innovative?  It introduces us to decadent Berlin through an MC of the Kit Kat Club, himself a mixture of playfulness, immorality, and darkness.  As the show progresses, the political overtones become ever more ominous and threatening.  The title, which also serves as one of the main songs in the musical, is a celebration of irresponsibility and seediness.  Sally Bowles, one of the chief entertainers at the Kit Kat Club and the girlfriend of Clifford Bradshaw, an American writer, sings the song as a tribute to her late girlfriend Elsie.  Sally’s friend was a prostitute, drug addict and alcoholic who died from too much of the latter.  Sally sings of Elsie’s death, “… But when I saw her laid out like a queen, she was the happiest corpse I’d ever seen.”  Elsie’s memory motivates Sally to return to the cabaret where she will probably end up like Elsie.

A sub-plot concerns the romance between Cliff’s landlady, Fraulein Schneider and the Jewish fruit seller, Herr Schultz.  After she accepts Herr Schultz’s proposal of marriage, pressure is put on her by Nazi smuggler, Ernst Ludwig, who had introduced Cliff to Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house, to break off the marriage to avoid the repercussions of marrying a Jew.  She decides to comply with Ernst’s demand.  Cliff and Sally are shocked to learn of her decision, so she asks them, “What would you do?”  Although, she emphasizes her status as an old woman, the song that follows could be sung by anyone who is confronted with a despicable regime and the consequences of doing what is ethically right.

In London in 1993, Sara Kestelman gave an intense, harrowing interpretation of the role of Fraulein Schneider for which she won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance in a  Supporting Role in a Musical.  What follows is her version of the song, What Would You Do? My thanks to lluluss for posting this song on youtube.https://youtu.be/dQ3b3JzctWE

About Robert M. Weiss
From an early age, I've taken great pleasure in reading. Also, I learned to play my 78 player when I was quite young, and enjoyed listening to musicals and classical music. I remember sitting on the floor, and following the text and pictures of record readers, which were popular in the 1940s and 50s. My favorites were the Bozo and Disney albums. I also enjoyed watching the slow spinning of 16s as they spun out tales of adventure. I have always been attracted by rivers, and I love to sit on a boulder with my feet in the water, gazing into the mysteries of swirling currents. I especially like inner tubing on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Since my early youth, I've been interested in collecting minerals, which have taught me about the wonderful possibilities in colors and forms. Sometimes I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks must have felt when they began to discover physical laws in nature. I also remember that I had a special passion for numbers, and used to construct them out of stones. After teaching Russian for several years, I became a writer, interviewer, editor, and translator. I continue to delight in form, and am a problem solver at heart.

2 Responses to Something To Think About: “Would You Pay The Price? What Would You Do?”

  1. berlioz1935 says:

    An interesting and important question, especially for me as an ex-Berliner. In those days many people, probably millions, had to make a decision that would have decided their fate and other’s. The Nazis did not leave any grey areas. We can only answer the question when we are asked under the same circumstances.

    You might be interested in this article
    http://www.npr.org/2011/07/29/138820598/walking-isherwoods-neighborhood-in-berlin

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