Start by admitting, from cradle to grave
It isn’t that long a stay.
Life is a cabaret, old chum,
And I love a cabaret.
Fosse might have had a background in musical theater but that didn’t make him adapt the stage musical Cabaret to the screen with any more latitude than most other directors. Cutting the song score down by around two-thirds, by deleting every number that didn’t take place inside the Kit Kat Klub, except for Tomorrow Belongs to Me (yeah, great choice there, Bob), Fosse then opened the door for new music to showcase his stars, Minnelli and Grey.
The reason this album works, and it does work, has a lot to do with its incredible veracity. There’s very little pointless winking at the audience; for the most part, this sounds very authentic, by which I mean, it’s exactly the kind of music you might actually have heard in a cabaret in the first half of the century.
There’s a real energy here and though you wouldn’t think Grey’s snarky delivery would work particularly, it does, to great effect. Wilkommen is pure genius and his duet with Minelli, Money, is pure high energy. And he manages the almost unthinkable with If You Could See Her: he actually delivers the emotion, a poignant melancholy that he really sells.
And Minelli, still in her thirty second credible period, delivers the goods too. Mein Herr is just a show stopper (a show stopper two tracks into an album?) and her work on the title track is her best work by about a thousand miles.
There are missteps here, sure. Tomorrow Belongs To Me doesn’t have much punch out of context and it sounds out of place next to the hot jazz of the tracks that surround it. And Tiller Girls and Finale both also lose face taken out of context. But then, what soundtrack album doesn’t have at least a couple of tracks that seem weak taken out of context?
Worth mentioning as indicative of the genius here are Sitting Pretty, a hopping jazz instrumental that has the orchestra (a beautiful orchestra, just like Grey says) working like pros, and Heiraten, probably the most authentic piece on the album, a gorgeous piece of music, sung in German. If you’ve heard recordings from this period from Europe (oddly, I have . . . how’d that happen?), you can’t help but be impressed by the exactness of this. All it needs is vinyl scratches and it would be perfect.
High energy, occasionally poignant, loads of fun. This isn’t really authentic; it is a pastiche. But as a pastiche it reaches about as high as any pastiche ever can; namely, we occasionally forget that isn’t the real stuff.
4 out of 5 stars.