Honorable mentions: “Two Ladies,” “Mein Herr”
(I promise, that’s the only time Donald Trump’s name appear near this post.)
Q: “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”? Isn’t this the Nazi song from Cabaret?
A: Sure is.
Q: You picked that instead of any of the other songs from this musical? Like the title number, for example?
A: Boring. So boring. Almost ruins the whole thing, if I’m honest. It definitely doesn’t measure up to “Maybe This Time” (which is only in the revivals because of the movie, I know), and it’s not even as interesting as “Mein Herr.”
A: “Mein Herr” does a fabulous job of introducing the simplistic wannabe star Sally wants to be; we get it from dialogue earlier, but she would be allowed to be hedonistic and clueless if she were really talented. “Mein Herr” is a song where talent is practically superfluous.
Q: Do you think it’s weird that a bunch of musicals make a point of throwing in a character who’s supposed to be significantly less talented than s/he thinks he is?
A: It’s an easy way to get the audience against the character, for sure. No one likes someone who pretends to be what they’re not, and people are particularly impatient with someone who thinks they’re all that when they are, in fact, not. It makes us a little skeptical of Sally from the get-go, and of course she deserves that kind of skepticism. And that’s certainly the principle behind Carlotta in Phantom, and to some extent it keeps us from genuinely feeling bad for Magaldi in Evita. What’s interesting about Sally in this show, especially after Liza Minnelli played her on film, is that she keeps getting solos. The joke stops being a joke for all three of those people, but the joke stops for someone like Carlotta or Magaldi because there’s only so many times you can tell it, not because the continuity is a little bit lost.
Q: Magaldi should have known better, man.
A: Durn skippy.
Q: So Sally’s out.
A: And the Emcee. That breaks my heart a little. I know this isn’t supposed to be about the movie versions of these shows, but can I talk about Joel Grey?
Q: He was in the original Broadway cast. We’ll allow it.
A: Okay, so Grey won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor at the 45th Academy Awards. It’s a well-deserved win, but what’s fascinating is who he beat.
Q: Would that be Pacino, Caan, and Duvall? In The Godfather?
A: Yep! Grey beat all three of them.
Q: Ah, but who was the other actor Grey topped in that category?
A: …I have no idea.
Q: Eddie Albert, for The Heartbreak Kid.
A: I can honestly say I have no idea what either of those things are.
Q: That wasn’t all you had to say about Joel Grey, was it?
A: No, that was supposed to be a statement about how awesome Joel Grey is, even though he’s been getting trotted out for every old man role on Broadway since the turn of the century. Apologies to Alan Cumming, who has more or less made that role his since…the ’80s, wow…but I enjoy the Grey Emcee more, the one who is not most of the way to being a Nazi victim but halfway to being a Nazi sympathizer. In the skinny, lithe body of a second-rate nightclub employee lies an incredible danger, expressed in precise, clipped speech. He’s terrifying, and funny, and you can’t take your eyes off him.
Q: All that and no love for “Wilkommen” or “Two Ladies” or “Money, Money” or “If You Could See Her”? You don’t think that all of those are really the lifeblood of the musical?
A: Here’s the thing about all of those, and each of those songs is a great personal favorite, but none of them are as scary as “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” Each one of those songs is technically impressive, and sticks to your head like a tangled knot of hair, but there’s not a particularly strong emotional burst that goes with any one of them. Only one song from Cabaret has ever given me the chills before.
Q: There’s something at least a little creepy about “If You Could See Her,” though, right?
A: I mean, yeah, but it has more to do with the costume than the twist.
Q: So that’s your rationale for the Nazi song? It’s creepy? Gave you some goosesteps – gooseflesh, sorry – before?
A: Part of it goes back to the songwriting. There’s a lot going on, and almost all of it is deceptively simple. The song is repetitive, and it’s got an extremely boring tune, sort of like “The Reason” except faster and not about nothing.
Q: Hoobastank? Now?
A: Hush. This song is one crescendo. It repeats the line “Tomorrow belongs to me” over and over again, especially towards the end. And, of course, everyone joins in – and here’s the thing, because Cabaret is otherwise the very rare musical that doesn’t indulge in singing outside the contexts where it wouldn’t happen in real life – never hearing the song before. The song is supposed to sweep you up, supposed to make an entire beer garden stand and get about thirty seconds away from recreating the orgy scene from Brave New World but just shouting “Heil Hitler!” instead.
Q: That’s specific. So this is one you favor for some abstract reason, not because the song itself is terribly special. It’s one of those.
A: That’s more or less the case; I don’t think that’s a bad thing either, by the way. Eventually we’re going to be swimming in, “Oh, me wuv this song because it give me good feels,” so cherish the “abstract thought” business while you can get it. At any rate, most of the non-Emcee songs in this musical are impressive because of individual performances rather than anything that Kander and Ebb are up to, but I’m willing to believe that they wanted to make form follow function in their music.