Understudies! The American Musical and Life After "Cabaret"

by Natasha Vargas-Cooper


With this introduction, we begin a brief series on the recent life of the American musical. No, for real! The hideous, hilarious, wonderful, big-business of musical theater. This series is guest-edited by our own Natasha Vargas-Cooper.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper: Julie! Are musicals, as a genre, dead?

Julie Klausner: You startled me! What are you doing in my home? Wearing my favorite shirt-dress!

Natasha: Nobody expects the musical inquisition.

Julie: As long as there is music, there will be musicals.

Natasha: Some would argue differently.

Julie: Despite this years morbid Tony award telecast, and the feeble state of the music industry, there will always be both things. Who would dare argue with me?

Natasha: Have they been ‘ruined’ by the Shreks? And the ‘Addams Families’?

Julie: Look, it’s been a bad year for Broadway. But look at “Glee”-look at all the theater fags prancing about. LOOK AT THEM! I RUB YOUR FACE IN YOUR OWN DIRT, DOG! YOU’LL DO IT BEFORE YOU MESS IN YOUR CRATE AGAIN!

Natasha: I feel like musicals as a GENRE have had a LOT of dirt kicked in their face for a very long time now.

Julie: Based on the mid-70’s barometer of popular culture right now, meaning that the stuff that’s on network might as well be on network in the 70’s in any country — “Dancing with the Stars,” “Amazing Race”… Who is anyone to turn their nose on ANYTHING set to music and written down by somebody who isn’t called a story consultant?

Natasha: True. But people who perhaps would have been raised with a fine love of orchestrated song bursts and boxsteps chafe at this VERY IMPORTANT genre.

Julie: So tell me more at the mouth-breathing chodes that still kick dust in an easy target’s eyeballs.

Natasha: Oh these people.

Julie: Bullies.

Natasha: THE CHODES.

Julie: Comic-conners.

Natasha: SOULLESS.

Julie: Well, it’s like saying “I hate movies!”

Natasha: The suspension of disbelief is TOO GREAT for them. Because, you know, people don’t burst into song IRL.

Julie: Right. People don’t burst into song. Meanwhile, these are people who see movies about teenagers who can shoot spider webs from their wrists. Grown men.


Julie: But what about you where do you think the musical is going? Or where is it now? On stage? On screen?


Natasha: I feel good about the musical right now because it is soooo in the gutter. It’s like a Fosse whore before her big solo. But it needs to stay in the theater.

Natasha: She’s just beaten up by all the Hollywood tourists who have stamped all over her, used by the old Broadway hacks who just pump her for ticket money, scorned by all the theater fags for being too campy in the karaoke bars.

Julie: In other words, we need a new “Cabaret”? Because you know how pre-”Cabaret,” musicals were in the shitter. They were so out of touch with the popular culture.


Julie: Because like Pauline Kael OUR HERO says, “’Cabaret’ violates the wholesome approach of big musicals…it violates the pseudo-naturalistic tradition …which requires that the songs appear to grow organically out of the story”.

Julie: You know, with songs by Kander and Ebb, who may as well have been fucking David Bowie compared to what came before it-”George M.!”?

If you play the score of “George M.!,” you can hear musical theater’s death rattle.

Good times for a change

Natasha: GOOD LORD I feel like I just watched a grave robber in action.

Julie: (crossing myself) It’s like Kander, Ebb, Liza, Fosse all said, “Okay, let’s start from here. let’s be Picasso. Even though this will look like Schiele.”

Natasha: Well let’s start with THE MOOD of “Cabaret.”

Julie: Yes — mood.

Natasha: I’d say that “Cabaret” is actually one of the best artistic narratives about WW2 and uh, the ‘CAUST, without ever really mentioning politics

Julie: The “Cooper” in your last name lets gets you away with that, gurl. Yes. well, it’s art being political. Meaning REALLY GOOD.

Natasha: It’s also ‘IMPORTANT’ unlike, say, “Cats,” because there is a huge urgency there.


Julie: Weimar Berlin put out the hottest shit ever, and it wasn’t a coincidence that those hos were working in the time and place they were. So yes, urgency!

Natasha: It’s all diminution, right?

Julie: James Ensor, George Grosz, I mean the dark shit. Decay.

Natasha: COLLAPSE.

Julie: Evil. Evil just, real encroaching evil; suffocating and perverse.

Natasha: Broken city =broken people.

Julie: The last shot of the distorted Nazis.

Natasha: And they said, LETS SET A MUSICAL HERE.

Julie: My favorite part in “Cabaret,” the movie — and you know how I feel about Fosse, he’s the most underapperciated film director-


Julie: So, Sally Bowles has an abortion and she’s singing her heart out to an empty room at the Kit Kat Club. Liza and Fosse had a big fight about it. She said, it was okay for her to shine like she did as long as nobody was there. AND SHE WON.

Natasha: Omg! Tell me about that moment.

Julie: So Brian, her lovah, tells Sally he’d marry her and take her to Cambridge but Sally’s like bitch, pls. Then he goes back to England and she’s wrecked. Yet, still, she goes on. Right before she goes on stage… Her face is so fallen..

Natasha: My heart is hurting!

Julie: And then right after the emcee intros her and the curtain opens, you can see her brighten.

Natasha: She’s electric!


Julie: BUT before she starts singing. Fosse does it in a medium shot. There’s no close up, no frying pan over the head.

Natasha: GASP! Oh you can see that transition

Julie: I like that Pauline said “she’d grown claws.”

Natasha: And this, Julie, is why I want musicals to stay in the theater! Look I’m all pleased with “Glee,” that people are singing stuff from “Dreamgirls.”

Julie: I’m just glad Jane Lynch is getting network salary.

Julie: It was better on “Cop Rock” though.

Natasha: BUT could you imagine seeing that moment when Liza grows claws?

Julie: Yes.

Natasha: GENIUS TALONS! In person and how theater gives you this ability to connect with art, like you create this third being.

Julie: Well, the intensity and intimacy of live theater is unparalleled because that’s how people fall in love, face to to face. And when you add music, it’s like bringing the romanticism of the artificial into the equation so, boom.

Julie Klausner will sing again. Also, she is drowning in pretzel chips.