2013-2014 Season

Michelle Williams Extends Role Through November 9

Posted on: July 22nd, 2014 by Roundabout


We are pleased to announce that 3-time Academy Award nominee & Golden Globe winner, Michelle Williams has extended her acclaimed run as "Sally Bowles" in Cabaret on Broadway through November 9, 2014.

The New Yorker says, “Michelle Williams’ Sally Bowles is fascinating! She lifts the production to a level that can’t be explained” and Associated Press declares “Williams is supurb, roaring into the role of Sally Bowles.”

Cabaret is playing a limited run through January 4, 2015. The cast also features 2014 Tony nominee Linda Emond as Fraulein Schneider, 2014 Tony nominee Danny Burstein as Herr Schultz, Bill Heck as Cliff, Aaron Krohn as Ernst, and Gayle Rankin as Fraulein Kost.

Tickets are available to see Alan Cumming & Michelle Williams together in Cabaret through November 9, 2014. For more information, please visit our website.

Michelle Williams and the Kit Kat Girls. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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2013-2014 Season, Cabaret, Roundabout News

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Germany at the Time of Cabaret

Posted on: July 18th, 2014 by Roundabout


Cabaret is set in 1930s Berlin, just around the time the Nazi Party began rising to power in Germany. The Emcee, Sally Bowles and a raucous ensemble take the stage at the Kit Kat Klub nightly to tantalize the crowd, and to leave their troubles outside. But as life in pre-WWII Germany grows more and more uncertain, the club, a metaphor for the threatening state of the late Weimar Germany begins to fall apart.

The Trials of the German Economy

At the start of World War I, Germany was a rising power. Bolstered by a strong economy, a widening system of international trade, and a growing military, the country had ambitions of European expansion and control. But four years of battle took a huge toll on the cultural, political, and economic future of the nation. Germany suffered a greater loss of life than any other Allied or Central power, with over 1.7 million men killed among the war’s 8.5 million death total. Including soldiers wounded, missing, or imprisoned, the German casualty count rose to 7,142,558, just under 65% of the 11 million soldiers deployed in battle.

Such a shattering loss of life had a major economic impact on the nation. In the post-war years, the government faced an overwhelming demand for pensions (from surviving soldiers) and compensation (for war widows). These needs, combined with the material costs of war, paved a daunting road to recovery for every European nation. But Germany also faced a different set of challenges: the stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles. The document, which laid out the terms of peace, placed the responsibility for War squarely on Germany’s shoulders and ensured that the price of the nation’s recovery would not be confined to its own borders.

German delegates in Versailles

The treaty dictated that Germany would be tasked with paying heavy reparations (in money and resources) to the victorious Allied powers. Essentially, the document laid out a prolonged punishment for Germany and established a narrative that held Germany accountable for all of the damages of war. The Treaty was both economically and psychologically devastating for the nation, combining insurmountable costs with a humiliating public defeat.

Prior to the War, Germany had a gold-backed currency, but they lost the gold standard in the four years of combat. Now indebted to other nations (to the final tune of $31.5 billion), the government simply did not have enough money, neither to pay its debts nor to pay its workers. So the Central Bank printed more money, leading to a period of inflation in which German currency completely lost its value. By 1923, the peak of German hyperinflation, money was essentially meaningless.

A long line of people waiting outside a pawnshop to trade in their belongings for cash

In the years after the war, the international community realized that Germany simply would not be able to pay the reparation costs they demanded. The United States, in particular, was frustrated by the fact that countries waiting for reparation payments from Germany couldn’t reimburse the U.S. for war loans. So the U.S. Reparations Committee offered a potential solution: the Dawes Plan. Adopted in 1924, the Plan laid out a course of action to help Germany reestablish economic stability. By 1928, aided by the institution of the plan and by U.S. loans, the German economy was booming.

But after the stock market crash of 1929, the U.S. could no longer loan money to Germany, and the entire international community suffered from decreased monetary resources (and, thus, decreased trade). Once again, German savings lost their value, and unemployment skyrocketed (from 3 million in 1929 to 6 million, or 1 in 3 Germans, in 1932). After a dramatic rise to prosperity in the mid-to-late 1920s, Germany was now firmly back on the bottom, and the national unrest from the post-war years was poised to make a violent recurrence.

The Rise of the Nazi Party

Economically strapped and left in the diplomatic cold, German citizens were looking for someone to blame. Many of them turned to the Social Democratic Party, the majority party of the Reichstag, or German parliament. The Reichstag and the entire government, the Weimar Republic, were obvious scapegoats for the poor quality of German life. The parliament democracy had been established in the wake of war, and its leaders had been instrumental in peace talks that led to the hated Treaty of Versailles. And the legend of their perceived betrayal became known as the "stab-in-the-back myth," or Dolchstosslegende, a narrative that sparked a polarization of German politics and spawned a number of radical right-wing parties.

Nazi members of the Reichstag in uniform, 1932

As the authority of the Weimar Republic flailed and the power of right-wing parties grew, a radical right-wing activist by the name of Adolf Hitler began to attract attention. He was an inspiring speaker, vocal in his hatred of the Weimar government and firm in his belief that Germany could return to its prestigious past. In 1919, he joined the newly-formed German Workers’ Party, a group united by a deep nationalistic pride and a pronounced anti-Semitism. In 1920, the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazi, for short. In 1921, Hitler became their leader and began to spread his notion of “pure” German-blooded dominance.

The party was divisive but a relatively small player in German politics until after the Crash of 1929. Hitler, however, attracted national attention in the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, an attempted overthrow of local authorities in Munich. The armed rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful, and Hitler was tried and jailed for high treason (he served one year of his five year sentence). But his 24-day trial promoted his cause, giving him a public stage on which to proclaim his anti-Weimar and anti-Semitic beliefs. By the end of his testimony, he had become a national figure and, in some quarters, had gained support for his political cause. Though the Nazis were not yet a government majority (they received only 3% of the 1924 Reichstag vote), the German people were eager for a savior—and Hitler was primed for the role. When he was released from prison in 1925, Hitler began rebuilding the Nazi party. The party’s ranks swelled quickly, from 27,000 members in 1925 to 108,000 members in 1929, the year of the Wall Street Crash.

A large crowd waiting to hear Hitler speak

With the parliament system so weakened, the struggling Weimar Republic reached the brink of collapse just as the Nazi party was rising to power. In 1930, the party received 18.3% of the vote, making it the second-largest party in the Reichstag. In 1932, though Hitler lost the presidential election to the incumbent von Hindenburg, the Nazi party garnered an impressive percentage of the July parliament elections (37%), which made them the largest party in the Reichstag. In the November elections of the same year, the party faltered slightly, attaining only 33% of the votes. Hitler, in a series of backroom negotiations, sought to attain greater personal power in the government through an appointment to the position of Chancellor. At first, President von Hindenburg, annoyed by Hitler’s power plays, refused to consider the appointment. But continual pressure and instability in the government forced his hand, and he finally appointed Hitler as Chancellor in January of 1933, hoping that the position might check his quest for dominance.

But Hitler’s rise to power was only beginning. Because of various political pressures in March of 1933, the Reichstag transferred its legislative power to Hitler’s cabinet, thus finalizing the demise of the Weimar government’s parliamentary democracy. In April of 1933, the cabinet passed the Law for the Restoration of Professional Civil Service, which abolished trade unions and removed Jews (and other non-Aryan citizens) from government and state positions. The Law was one of the first anti-Semitic legislative acts of the newly unchecked government. Over the following six years, Reich legislation would boom to include some 400 decrees, laws, and regulations inhibiting the rights of non-Aryan Germans. By mid-July of 1933, the Nazi party was the only political party remaining in Germany; all others had been outlawed or had dissolved under police pressure.

When the elderly President von Hindenburg died in August of 1934, Hitler assumed the powers of Presidency, in addition to those of the Chancellorship. He granted himself the title Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Imperial Chancellor) and established the Führerprinzip, or Leader Principle, which equated his will with the future of the German people. With no figure above Hitler's jurisdiction and no government process to check his power, the course was set for the genocide and war to come.



This article features in our Upstage playgoer guide for Cabaret.

Cabaret plays at Studio 54 through January 4, 2015. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2013-2014 Season, Cabaret, Education @ Roundabout, Upstage

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History of Physical Comedy

Posted on: July 16th, 2014 by Roundabout


Jim Dale got his big break at an audition after getting a big laugh from a big fall. From that moment on, he would use his physicality for laughs, making him part of a long line of artists unafraid of falling down on the job.

The art of physical comedy as we recognize it now has its roots in Italian Commedia Dell’arte, which translates to “Comedy of Art” and is defined by its improvisatory style, stock characters, and comedic interludes. Popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Commedia tradition laid the foundation for the acrobatics and pantomimes that we still see in comedy today. These are some people who have exemplified the ever-changing role of the body in comedy:

Marcel Marceau - Mime

The mime is perhaps one of the oldest and most recognizable characters of physical comedy, and it has an important defining element: silence. Since gesture is universal, pantomime shows could travel around to the courts of Europe with ease, with performers using only their bodies to express themselves. The mime tradition that we know today first took hold in France. Gaspard Deburau took the Pierrot character of Commedia tradition and brought him back to popularity, costumed in the black- and-white colors and white face paint that we still associate with this style. Thanks to the students of Deburau, mime would continue into the 20th century, with Paris as its hub. It was there that Marcel Marceau would train and eventually develop his own school and style, which some refer to as “corporeal mime.” This practice was characterized by taking mime beyond the same stock expressions and moves and instead making use of the entire body. His influence can be seen in modern day silent clowns like Bill Irwin and David Shiner, who not only perform physically demanding comedic bits without words, but who also bring great humanity into the relationship between their clowns and the audience.

Buster Keaton - Silent Film

Photo source IMDb.

In the early days of filmmaking, movies might be accompanied by a musical score played live by a pianist, but dialogue was restricted to the occasional title card. Thanks to these limitations, the earliest film stars were comedians who specialized in the physical, with Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, and Harold Lloyd among them. But perhaps the greatest was Buster Keaton, whose famously odd and expressive face said more to the camera in its deadpan silence than pages of words could ever hope to convey. Keaton performed some of the riskiest and most thrilling stunts of any actor of his day in films like The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Donald O'Connor - Musical Comedy/Dance

Photo source IMDb.

As the American musical became popular, the form took hold on both stage and screen, allowing musical comedy performers to find many roles. Vaudeville peaked in popularity in 1928 but was already on the decline by the mid-1930s. Actors who were trained in the singing, dancing, and physical comedy of that tradition found themselves shifting over to film and musical theatre. Perhaps one number in one film best exemplifies how music and dance can enhance physical comedy: “Make ‘Em Laugh” as performed by Donald O’Connor in the 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain. In this number, O’Connor explains the self- sacrificing attitude of the comedic performer (in song) while sacrificing his own body at the same time. He climbs a wall, does a backflip, fights a dummy, and morphs his pliable face into every expression possible. It’s exhausting to watch and an exhilarating example of the heights to which musical comedy can climb.

Melissa McCarthy - Modern Slapstick

Photo source IMDb.

If we’ve learned anything from the long-running television series “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or from the popularity of YouTube clips of people falling, getting hit, or hurting themselves in other ways, our modern sense of humor is not so different from that of the Italians who came up with Commedia Dell’arte. Apparently, some things never get old, and comedic violence is one of them. Actress Melissa McCarthy has become a prime performer of this modern slapstick comedy, using her physicality to create indelibly funny moments in films like Bridesmaids and Identity Thief. She is one of the most recent women to take on physical comedy after men seemed to have a lock on slapstick in film. As long as we as an audience are primed to know that no one is really getting hurt, we’re happy to laugh at the performers’ pain.



Just Jim Dale plays at the Laura Pels Theatre May 15 through August 10. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.


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2013-2014 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Just Jim Dale, Upstage