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Culture

Berlin Welcomes "Cabaret" Homecoming

Berlin celebrates the decadent and seamy glamour of the Golden Twenties with the opening of an ambitious new production of the hit musical "Cabaret" at a small, intimate venue in the German capital.

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Anna Loos-Liefers (left) as the charismatic Sally Bowles

Inspired by the writings of British author Christopher Isherwood, who lived in Berlin from 1929 to 1933, the musical "Cabaret" captures the German capital's frenzied quest for pleasure and sexual freedom against a backdrop of economic turmoil and Hitler's rise to power.

Musical Cabaret am Broadway

Lotte Lenya (right) in the role of Fraulein Schneider and Peg Murray as Fraulein Kost are shown in the original Broadway musical "Cabaret" at the Broadhurst Theater in New York City in Nov. 1966.

Isherwood's portrayal of Berlin as a sinful, hedonistic metropolis in The Berlin Stories was turned into the hit film musical "Cabaret" in 1972 starring Liza Minelli as the sad and flighty cabaret singer Sally Bowles. The original Broadway version of "Cabaret" premiered in 1966 and became an instant success.

Turbulent time sets the scene

Decades on, the famous musical has returned to the city that inspired it. On Saturday, the show directed by renowned American choreographer Vincent Paterson, premiered at Bar Jeder Vernunft, a small cabaret in western Berlin, just a few streets away from the boarding house where Isherwood once lived in the district of Schöneberg.

Berlin in the 1920s was all about economic uncertainty and inflation, sexual liberation and excessive nightlife. Drugs, drink and prostitution were rife, as people did their best to drown out the horrors of World War I and stave off the next one.

Cabaret in der Bar jeder Vernunft

Anna Loos-Liefers as Sally Bowles during the premiere of cabaret in Berlin

This chaotic atmosphere forms the background for the love story between a young American writer, Clifford Bradshaw, and the chanteuse of the louche KitKat nightclub, Sally Bowles.

Starring Anna Loos-Liefers as Sally Bowles, Angela Winkler as landlady Fräulein Schneider and Guido Kleineidam as Clifford Bradshaw, the show recreates the sleazy glamour of the notorious 1920s venue.

"Amazing, interesting city"

Peterson, who has choreographed stage shows for Madonna and Michael Jackson and worked with directors like Steven Spielberg and Lars von Trier, said he was fascinated by Weimar-era Berlin.

"From all the research I have done it was an amazing interesting city," Peterson told DW-TV. "It was like the Sodom and Gomorra of the world, in between one period and another. Sometimes when life is very difficult, morality is released and people have to express themselves in different ways."

Peterson said the political message of the play was still relevant today. "I want to make this message more important than a historical revisiting," he said. "The politics of prejudice and the politics of racism exist today -- as powerfully as they existed in 1930s and 1940s here in Germany."

Cabaret in der Bar jeder Vernunft

The Cabaret premiere in Berlin

The $743,000 (€582,000) production is financed by celebrities and Cabaret enthusiasts who have campaigned for years for the show to be staged in Berlin.

British newspaper the Daily Telegraph reported that the musical's organizers are keen to attract some of the 130,000 British tourists who visit the German capital every year, many of whom come in search of Isherwood's Berlin.

Not enough oomph?

Critics and media in Germany have largely welcomed the staging of the production, hailing the venue as the ideal location to set off the gaudy glamour of the time.

At the same time, many have lamented the lack of oomph and passion in the show. "The production doesn't crackle, it doesn't have any wicked ambiguity about it," the Berliner Zeitung newspaper wrote. "It's so nice and clean, just like its main star Anna Loos-Liefers -- she and her partner Guido Kleineidam fast descend into woodenly delivered dialogue."

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