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The challenges behind ‘Cabaret’

On New Year’s Eve 1929, American writer Cliff Bradshaw arrives in Germany seeking inspiration and a cheap place to stay. He winds up at the seedy, seductive Kit Kat Klub, where he meets Sally Bowles, a down-on-her-luck British singer. The next day, Sally beguiles and bullies her way into his apartment—and into his life.

Their whirlwind acquaintance soon blossoms into an unconventional partnership; meanwhile, the avant-garde decadence of Berlin is crumbling in the face of a rising totalitarian regime. Despite the danger and uncertainty that creep closer each day, Cliff and Sally cling to their dreams and each other. Tomorrow may belong to someone else, but for tonight, life is beautiful.


Jess Hirsh, cultural specialist for the Department of Theatre's production of "Cabaret."

In the decades since it opened on Broadway, “Cabaret” has come to be regarded as a classic in the musical theatre canon. However, the 1966 musical stands apart from its “Golden Age” predecessors. While musicals from the 1940s and 1950s were characterized by predictable plotlines and happy endings, “Cabaret” broke these conventions, presenting a darker, more decadent, and controversial exploration of human nature, and tackling taboo subjects such as sexuality and the politics of pre-World War II Germany.

“Cabaret”’s popularity has led to multiple revivals and revisions, most recently in 1998, when Sam Mendes brought his successful West End production to Broadway. However, although the Department of Theatre’s production is based on the latest revision, the impact of the script remains the same. Its effectiveness relies in part on its ability to accurately reflect the biases and events of the time period. Some of the material can be difficult for artists to perform and for audiences to watch—particularly the implications of the Nazi Party’s rise to power, which include instances of antisemitic language and behavior.

With this in mind, the Department of Theatre hired cultural specialist Jess Hirsh, who has been providing guidance and support for the cast, creative team and production team of “Cabaret” since last fall. Earlier this month, the department’s Aaron Swenson spoke with Hirsh about her work as a cultural specialist.

Q&A with Jess Hirsh

Tickets and information


April 7-16 | Babcock Theatre
Buy tickets here or call (801) 581-7100.
Free admission for University of Utah students with Arts Pass.

Directed by David Eggers
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Book by Joe Masteroff
Based on the play “I Am a Camera” by John Van Druten
Adapted from the novel “Goodbye to Berlin” by Christopher Isherwood