CABARET.PARIS AND ZURICH
AGITPROP IN THE USSR
GERMAN CABARET IN EXILE AND AFTER THE WAR
Friedrich Hollaender, one of the most prolific composers of songs in the Weimar era, noted that cabaret was "engendered in dissolute passion by theater, vaudeville, and the political tribunal." Combining high and low performance art with political engagement, cabaret reached its apogee in Germany and the Soviet Union during the 1920s, before the regimes of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin put an end to its innovative, critical, and entertaining spirit.
Born in Paris in 1881, the cabaret artistique spread throughout Europe in the ensuing three decades. With its combination of short numbers—song, dance, monologue, skit—and its satirical tone, the genre parodied the fads and fashions of the day, as well as current events. When war broke out in 1914, this critical spirit dissipated as cabarets adopted the chauvinist and belligerent tones that engulfed all forms of popular entertainment. Those entertainers who would not bark with the dogs of war fell silent—or went to Switzerland. Zurich in particular saw a growing colony of antiwar artists and writers from all corners of Europe, and it was there that the Cabaret Voltaire opened in February 1916. Launched by Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings, who had emigrated from Munich, its participants included Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco from Romania, Jean (Hans) Arp from Alsace, and Richard Huelsenbeck from Berlin. They gave the name Dada to the radically avantgarde movement that was born on the small stage of the Cabaret Voltaire.
Dada itself was an ambiguous word: Did it mean "father"? "Yes-yes" (from the Russian word "da")? "Hobbyhorse" ("dada" in French)? Or was it derived from pure nonsense syllables? Such absurdity characterized many of the performances, which evoked the absurdity of the European continent, the self-proclaimed epitome of civilization, which was tearing itself apart in a war of unprecedented barbarity. When Janco and Huelsenbeck discordantly declaimed their "simultaneous poems" in English, French, and German, the cacophany replicated not just the jingoism of the day but the breakdown of language itself. The logical outcome was "bruitistic poetry"—a litany of meaningless sounds, first performed by Ball in the form of a "text" that began: "Gadji beri bimba." He did so in a cubist costume, consisting of various cylindrical shapes, designed by Janco.
The Cabaret Voltaire itself lasted a mere six months, but Dada proved to be one of the most innovative and influential artistic movements of the twentieth century. Huelsenbeck brought the Dada spirit to Berlin when he returned in late 1916 and it was quickly adopted by artists such as George Grosz and John Heartfield, who had independently been developing critical graphics and photomontages to express their antiwar attitude. Grosz and Heartfield contributed their designs to a political puppet play at Berlin's first major postwar cabaret, Schall und Rauch (Sound and Smoke), which opened in December 1919. Sound and Smoke's repertory consisted mainly of songs, with lyrics by Walter Mehring, an outstanding dadaist poet, and Kurt Tucholsky, the premier satirist of the Weimar era, while much of the music was composed by Friedrich Hollaender.
Mehring, Tucholsky, and Hollaender were to become stalwarts of Weimar cabaret, as they offered their services to changing venues; the financial insecurity of the genre and the times ensured that cabarets rarely survived more than two years. Two of the most famous cabarets of the early Weimar years were managed by chanteuses: Rosa Valetti's Cabaret Grössenwahn (Megalomania) and Trude Hesterberg's Wilde Bühne (Wild Stage). Like Sound and Smoke, they offered a variety of numbers that sometimes took aim at the crisisridden politics and disastrous economic conditions of the time, but most of the pieces dealt with sexual and social foibles and commercial fads—more amusing topics, and ones less likely to alienate potential customers. Songs dealing with Berlin, sung in the local argot, were especially popular. Despite their vivacity, none of these ventures survived the hyperinflation that climaxed in 1923.
The stabilization of the German economy after 1924 allowed more spectacular genres of cabaretstyle performance to flourish, which ranged from the topical cabaret-revues of Friedrich Hollaender or the team of Marcellus Schiffer and Mischa Spoliansky to the glitzy revues of Eric Charell or Hermann Haller, which featured the famous kickline of Tiller Girls. Of the more traditional cabarets, only one—the Kabarett der Komiker (Cabaret of Comedians), directed by Kurt Robitschek—had any longevity. But despite the limited success of individual ventures, cabaret had an impact on a variety of media during the Weimar era. Its format and attitude were reflected in such collaborations of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill as The Threepenny Opera (1928); in the theatrical productions of such leftist directors as Erwin Piscator; and in such early sound films as The Blue Angel (1930), where Marlene Dietrich, who had performed in the Schiffer-Spoliansky revues, made her screen debut singing chansons by Hollaender.
Many cabarets and revues folded after the onset of the Depression in 1929. Simultaneously, mounting political polarization led to a further development of the form on the far left, as the German Communist Party spread its ideas via agitprop (agitation-propaganda) troupes, which were inspired by developments in Russian popular performance. During the three years of civil war that engulfed Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, numerous impromptu troupes were organized in Russia to spread communist values to workers, peasants, and soldiers. With the consolidation of Bolshevik rule, these ventures acquired more stable backing from institutions like the Komsomol (Communist Youth League), which supported TRAM (Theater of Working-Class Youth) groups, or the trade unions, which sponsored the Blue Blouses, the first of which had been formed at Moscow's Institute of Journalism in 1923. The interest of journalists was appropriate, since one of the major innovations of the agitprop troupes was the performance of "living newspapers"—skits and songs that dramatized current events. Although these numbers were purely political, the performances were leavened with elements of "red cabaret," less overtly political inserts that employed more vaudevillian styles of entertainment; agitprop troupes were well aware that too much propaganda, laid on too thickly, would bore the audience.
In the first years of communist rule, agitprop themes were explicitly economic and political, as the troupes encouraged workers and peasants to increase their output, to support socialization of the means of production, and to join the Red Army. With the stabilization of Bolshevik power, the thematic focus shifted to fostering communist mores. By the mid-1920s, agitprop skits mainly excoriated such holdovers from feudal and capitalist society as alcoholism, sexism, ethnic prejudice, and domestic violence and promoted literacy, hygiene, and sports. Like cabaret in Weimar Germany, the agitprop movement influenced other types of avant-garde theatrical performance: lively episodic elements, such as song, pantomime, dance, and even athletics, appeared in the productions of Vsevolod Meyerhold and the plays of Vladimir Mayakovsky, who occasionally wrote agitprop skits as well. The red cabarets proved to be a versatile medium for spreading communist ideas, but like so many innovative artistic ventures they began to suffer from Stalin's political and cultural crackdown in the late 1920s and they largely ceased to exist after 1932.
The following year, Hitler's rise to power likewise put an end to cabaret in Germany, as leftist and Jewish performers fled the country or were forbidden to perform. Of the innovative venues, only the Cabaret of Comedians continued to operate until the 1940s, after it divested itself of Robitschek, its director, and its other Jewish performers. Werner Finck's Katakombe (Catacombs), which had exclusively "Aryan" performers, persisted into the Third Reich, even though Finck regularly made fun of Nazi attitudes. Although some Nazis in the audience found that amusing, Joseph Goebbels did not, and he ordered the Catacombs closed in 1935. Many performers who had fled Germany tried to form cabarets in exile. Erika Mann, the daughter of Thomas Mann, took her Pfeffermühle (Peppermill) cabaret from Munich to Zurich, but in 1935 it was shut down by Swiss authorities under pressure from the Nazi regime. Other émigré entertainers appeared in cabarets in Vienna, Prague, and Amsterdam. The fortunate ones made it as far as London, New York, and Los Angeles. Those who had remained on the European continent were swept up by the expanding Third Reich, beginning with the Anschluss of Austria in 1938. In a tragic denouement, interned Jewish entertainers were "encouraged" to stage cabaret shows in the transit camps of Westerbork and Terezin (Theresienstadt), to provide distraction for both inmates and guards. Almost all of them eventually were murdered in Auschwitz.
After 1945 cabaret lacked the importance that it had enjoyed in the first half of the century. Already in the 1920s, the cabarets of Paris, the birthplace of the genre, were little better than tourist traps; the type of singer that had highlighted turn-of-the-century cabarets had gravitated to the much larger revue stages. After the war, television brought such entertainers to a truly mass audience. Cabarets fared somewhat better in Central and Eastern Europe. In Germany and Austria during the 1950s, they were among the few places where national culpability during the Third Reich was addressed. Helmut Qualtinger's persona, Herr Karl, was an especially bitter and incisive portrayal of the Austrian who bends to every wind, especially if it blows from the far right. During the 1960s and 1970s, stages like Berlin's Reichskabarett contributed significantly to the anti-imperialist movement and the counterculture generally. But Volker Ludwig and other members of the Reichskabarett eventually recognized the limits of cabaret as a political medium; they concluded that satire was unable to change the opinions of adults and refashioned themselves as a progressive theater ensemble for children. Beginning in 1972, their GRIPS-Theater has gained renown as a highly innovative, as well as politicized, stage for children and youths.
During the postwar era, the most interesting cabarets were to be found in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, inasmuch as they were often the only officially tolerated institutions that allowed a modicum of social and political criticism. In the German Democratic Republic, the Distel (Thistle) was relatively tame, since its location in Berlin placed it directly under the eyes of the nation's rulers. But farther afield, Leipzig's Pfeffermühle (Peppermill) was more audacious, as a result of which its directors were occasionally fired by the communist authorities. Poland likewise enjoyed a vibrant cabaret scene. Its most notable example was the Piwnica Pod Baranami (Cellar under the Rams), founded in Kraków in 1956, which was more devoted to artistic experimentation than were the cabarets of the German Democratic Republic. Its mainstay was Piotr Skryzynecki, who remained its master of ceremonies until his death in 1997, and it launched the careers of many of Poland's most popular singers, notably Ewa Demarczyk.
With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the cabarets of Eastern Europe lost their unique critical function. Indeed, the genre resides at the margins of Europe's cultural landscape at the outset of the twenty-first century. Although a number of entertaining troupes and outstanding solo performers can still be found, it is unlikely that cabaret will again play the role that it did in the 1920s, when it was a seedbed of artistic innovation and offered a vivacious combination of critical insight and lively entertainment.
Amey, Claude, et al. Le Théatre d'agit-prop de 1917 à 1932: Tome I: L'URSS. Lausanne, Switzerland, 1977.
Appignanesi, Lisa. The Cabaret. Revised ed. New Haven, Conn., 2004.
Budzinski, Klaus. Pfeffer ins Getriebe: So ist und wurde das Kabarett. Munich, 1982.
Jelavich, Peter. Berlin Cabaret. Cambridge, Mass., 1993.
Lareau, Alan. The Wild Stage: Literary Cabarets of the Weimar Republic. Columbia, S.C., 1995.
Otto, Rainer, and Walter Rösler. Kabarettgeschichte: Abris des deutschsprachigen Kabaretts. Berlin, 1977.
Cabaret came late to Russia, but once the French, German, and Swiss culture spread eastward in the first decade of the twentieth century, a uniquely Russian form took root, later influencing European cabarets. While Russian theater is internationally renowned—as just the names Chekhov and Stanislavsky confirm—the theatrical presentations in cabarets are less so, despite the brilliance of the poets and performers involved.
The French word cabaret originally meant two things: a plebeian pub or wine-house, and a type of tray that held a variety of different foods or drinks. By its generic meaning a cabaret is an intimate night spot where audiences enjoy alcoholic drinks while listening to singers and stand-up comics. While sophisticates quibble over precise definitions, most will agree on the cabaret's essential elements. A cabaret is performed usually in a small room where the audience sits around small tables, and where stars and tyros alike face no restrictions on the type of music or genre or combinations thereof, can experiment with avant-garde material never before performed, and can "personally" interact with the audience. The cabaret removes the "fourth wall" between artist and audience, thus heightening the synergy between the two. Rodolphe Salis—a failed artist turned tavern keeper—established the first cabaret artistique called Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat ) in Paris, where writers, artists, and composers could entertain each other with their latest poems and songs in a Montmartre pub.
Cabarets soon mushroomed across Europe, its Swiss and Austrian varieties influencing Russian artists directly. Russian emigrés performed, for example, in balalaika bands at the Café Voltaire, founded by Hugo Ball in 1916 in Zürich, Switzerland. The influence of Vienna-based cabarets such as Die Fledermaus (The Bat ) is reflected in the name of the first Russia cabaret: "Bat."
This tiny theater was opened on February 29, 1908, by Nikita Baliev, an actor with the Moscow Art Theater (MKhAT) in tune with the prevailing mood in Russia. In the years following the revolution of 1905, Russian intellectual life shifted from the insulated world of the salon to the zesty world of the cabaret, the balagan (show), and the circus. New political and social concerns compelled the theater to bring art to the masses. Operating perhaps as the alter ego —or, in Freudian terms, the id —of MkhAT, the "Bat" served as a night spot for actors to unwind after performances, mocking the seriousness of Stanislavsky's method. This cabaret originated from the traditional "cabbage parties" (kapustniki ) preceding Lent (which in imperial Russia involved a period of forced abstinence both from theatrical diversion as well as voluntary abstinence from meat). Housed in a cellar near Red Square, the "Bat" had by 1915 become the focal point of Moscow night life and remained so until its closure in 1919.
While the format of the Russian cabaret—a confined stage in a small restaurant providing amusement through variety sequences—owed much to Western models, the uniqueness of the shows can be attributed to the individuality of Nikita Baliev and indigenous Russian folk culture. In one show entitled Life's Metamorphoses, Baliev installed red lamps under the tables that blinked in time with the music. In another show, he asked everyone to sing "Akh, akh, ekh, im!"—to impersonate someone sneezing. As Teffi (pseudonym of Nadezhda Buchinskaya), a composer for the "Bat" recalled, "Everything was the invention of one man—Nikita Baliev. He asserted his individuality so totally that assistants would only hinder him. He was a real sorcerer."
The Russian cabaret also flourished due to its links with the conventions of the indigenous folk theater—the balagan, the skomorokhi (traveling buffoons), and the narodnoye gulyanie (popular promenading). It incorporated the folk theater's elements—clowning, quick repartee, the plyaska (Russian dance), and brisk sequence of numbers. Baliev employed key writers and producers, including Leonid Andreyev, Andrei Bely, Valery Bryusov, Sergei Gorodetsky, Alexei Tolstoy, Vasily Luzhsky, Vsevolod Meyerkhold, Ivan Moskvin, Boris Sadovskoi, and Tatiana Shchepkina-Kupernik. Famous artists performed at the "Bat," including Fyodor Chalyapin, Leonid Sobinov, and Konstantin Stanislavsky. In 1916–1918 Kasian Goleizovsky, the great Constructivist balletmaster of the 1920s, directed performances.
Like most visionaries ahead of their time in the Soviet Union, however, Baliev was arrested. When released in 1919 after five days of confinement, he fled to Paris with the renamed Chauve-Souris ("bat" in French), which toured Europe and the United States extensively. In 1922 the Baliev Company moved to New York, where Baliev entertained enthusiastic audiences until his death in 1936. Baliev and the "Bat" inspired many imitations, most notably the "Blue Bird" (Der Blaue Vogel ), founded in Berlin by the actor Yasha Yuzhny in 1920.
See also: circus; folk music; stanislavsky, konstantin; theater
Jelavich, Peter. (1993). Berlin Cabaret. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lareau, Alan. (1995). The Wild Stage: Literary Cabarets of the Weimar Republic. Rochester, NY: Camden House.
Russell, Robert, and Barratt, Andrew. (1990). Russian Theatre in the Age of Modernism. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Segel, Harold. (1993). The Vienna Coffeehouse Wits, 1890–1938. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.
Director: Bob Fosse
Production: Allied Artists Pictures, ABC Pictures; Technicolour; 35mm; running time: 123 minutes. Filmed on location in West Berlin and at Bavaria Atelier Gesellschaft, Munchen, West Germany.
Producer: Cy Feuer; screenplay: Jay Allen, based on the musical play by Joe Mastertoff, from the play by John van Druten, based on the original book by Christopher Isherwood; photography: Geoffrey Unsworth; editor: David Bretherton; choreography: Bob Fosse; assistant directors: Douglas Green, Wolfgang Glattes; production design: Rolf Zehetbauer; art direction: Hans-Jurgen Kiebach; music: John Kander; lyrics: Fred Ebb; music supervisor: Ralph Burns; sound: Robert Knudson, David Hildyard; costumes: Charlotte Fleming.
Cast: Liza Minnelli (Sally Bowles); Michael York (Brian Roberts); Joel Grey (Master of Ceremonies); Helmut Griem (Maximillian von Heune); Fritz Wepper (Fritz Wendel); Marisa Berenson (Natalia Landauer); Elizabeth Neumann-Viertel (Fraulein Schneider); Helen Vita (Fraulein Kost); Sigrid von Richtofen (Fraulein Mayr).
Awards: Oscars for Best Director, Best Actress (Minnelli), Best Supporting Actor (Grey), Best Cinematography, Best Song Score, Best Editing, Best Art/Set Decoration, and Best Sound, 1972.
Altman, Rick, The American Film Musical, Bloomington, Indiana, 1989.
Grubb, Kevin B., Razzle Dazzle: The Life and Work of Bob Fosse, New York, 1989.
Gottfried, Martin, All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse, New York, 1990.
Mizejewski, Linda, Divine Decadence: Fascism, Female Spectacle,and the Makings of Sally Bowles, Princeton, New Jersey, 1992.
Variety (New York), 16 February 1972.
Marill, A. H., Films in Review (New York), March 1972.
Filmfacts (London), number 2, 1972.
Monthly Film Bulletin (London), June 1972.
Milne, T., Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1972.
Vallance, T., Focus on Film (London), Summer 1972.
Buckley, P., Films and Filming (London), August 1972.
Blades, Joe, "The Evolution of Cabaret," Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 1, 1973.
Chion, M., "La comédie musicale rêve au realisme," in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), September 1982.
Vecchiali, P., Image et Son (Paris), November 1972.
Serceau, M., "L'archetype Lola: realisme et métaphore" in CinémAction (Courbevoie), April 1984.
Mizejewski, L., Journal of Film and Video (Boston), Fall 1987.
Clark, R., "Bending the Genre: The Stage and the Screen," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), January 1991.
Rodda, Arlene, "Cabaret: Utilizing the Film Medium to Create a Unique Adaptation," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 22, no. 1, 1994.
Campbell, V., "Michael York in Cabaret," in Movieline (Escondido, California), vol. 7, July 1996.
"Cabaret de Bob Fosse: Découpage plan à plan aprés montage et dialogues in-extenso," in Avant-Scène Cinéma (Paris), no. 464, July 1997.
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Based on the Berlin short stories by Christopher Isherwood, the play I Am a Camera, and the Broadway production of the same name, Cabaret was shot in West Germany in the early 1970s. Centered primarily around the seedy Kit Kat Klub, the film ruthlessly depicts Berlin in the last days of the decadent Weimar Republic, and the terrifying rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany.
Fosse cleverly interweaves the action taking place on the stage of the club with the political and social action occurring in the streets. The musical numbers performed for the most part impeccably by Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles, and her entourage, a group of sleazy female musicians and dancers, mirror real life, and are directed beautifully by the manipulative Master of Ceremonies (brilliantly performed by Joel Grey).
Brian Roberts (Michael York), an aspiring author and repressed homosexual, comes to Berlin to write and to teach English. He finds himself living in the bohemian boarding house inhabited by Bowles, and is introduced to the sexually liberating atmosphere of the Kit Kat Klub. While the Master of Ceremonies reflects that: ". . . life is disappointing? Forget it! In here [the club] life is beautiful," the seediness and obvious vulgarity of the audience and performers reinforce that this is far from the truth. In another scene, a Nazi officer is booted out of the club by the manager; later we see the same man being brutally beaten by a group of young Nazi thugs.
Although Brian makes it clear to Sally that he is not at all interested in women sexually, the pair embark on an affair. The couple find their seemingly unreal existence complicated by the rich, mercurial Baron Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem) who tantalizes and tempts both of them. Sally is seduced by champagne, wonderful clothes, and the opulence and decadence of the baron's life—Brian, who is at first sceptical, and also a little jealous of the baron's uninhibited behaviour, is literally seduced by the man, who disappears as quickly as he enters their life. Sally discovers she is pregnant and briefly deludes herself that she and Brian have a future together. Finally she realizes that what they have experienced is completely removed from her reality, and she has an abortion. Brian leaves Germany, and Sally continues her life as a cabaret singer in Berlin.
Against this storyline, two of Brian's language students fall in love. Feckless Fritz (Fritz Wepper), a fortune hunter, seizes his chance when he meets beautiful and rich Jewish heiress, Natalia (Marisa Berenson), only to fall genuinely in love with her. Natalia believes Fritz is a Christian and recognizing the political instability of Germany, and the brutality of the Nazis she refuses to have anything to do with him. Only when Fritz confesses that he is a Jew pretending to be a Christian, does Natalia agree to marry him.
The changing political atmosphere and growth of anti-semitism in Germany is illustrated by the victimization of Natalia in her family home by a group of young boys, who eventually slaughter her dog and leave it on her doorstep. Brian also witnesses the frightening strength of the Fascists when he visits a beer garden with the baron. Arriving in the baron's limousine, the two men leave Sally sleeping in the car. While the two men are drinking, a lone very pure voice begins to sing "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," slowly and with great feeling. The camera focuses on the young man's almost perfect Aryan features, tracking the increasing fervour with which he sings. Gradually, other members of the beer garden begin to stand up and join in, the camera closing in on the glazed expressions on their faces. Finally, when almost everyone is on their feet, the camera pans down and reveals the Nazi armband of the young man who instigated the singing. This technique was used in Nazi propaganda films. Brian and the baron leave to the sound of the group's harmony, climbing into their luxurious car and driving away—indicating that because the baron is rich and Sally and Brian are foreigners they will always have the option to leave this horrendous reality behind.
Cabaret is an incredibly innovative film. Now regarded as a classic, the film's use of colour, the garishness of the costumes, the smokiness of the club, the brightness and exaggeration of the makeup emphasize the decadence of the time. The musical score and choreography are well crafted and performed, and are deliberately kept to the stage of the Kit Kat Klub ("Tomorrow Belongs to Me" is the only exception to this). Minnelli performs her songs emotively and convincingly, if anything she is too good for the small, decadent atmosphere of the Klub.
On its release in 1972, Cabaret was received to great acclaim— winning eight Academy Awards, and three Golden Globe Awards.
Cabaret ★★★½ 1972 (PG)
Hitler is rising to power, racism and anti-Semitism are growing, and the best place to hide from it all is the Berlin cabaret. With dancing girls, an androgynous master of ceremonies (Grey), and American expatriate singer Sally Bowles (Minnelli), you can laugh and drink and pretend tomorrow will never come. Sally does just that. Face to face with the increasing horrors of Nazism, she persists in the belief that the “show must go on.” Along for the ride is Englishman Brian Roberts (York, in a role based on Christopher Isherwood's own experiences), who serves both as participant and observer. Based on the John Kander's hit Broadway musical (and Isherwood's stories), the film is impressive, with excellent direction and cinematography. DCabaret; Wilkommen; Mein Herr; Maybe This Time; Two Ladies; Money, Money; Hieraten; Tomorrow Belongs to Me; If You Could See Her. 119m/C VHS, DVD . Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey, Michael York, Marisa Berenson, Helmut Griem, Fritz Wepper, Elisabeth Neumann-Viertel; D: Bob Fosse; W: Jay Presson Allen; C: Geoffrey Unsworth; M: Ralph Burns. Oscars '72: Actress (Minnelli), Art Dir./Set Dec., Cinematog., Director (Fosse), Film Editing, Sound, Support. Acthan tor (Grey), Orig. Song Score and/or Adapt.; British Acad. '72: Actress (Minnelli), Director (Fosse), Film; Golden Globes '73: Actress—Mus./Comedy (Minnelli), Film—Mus./Comedy, Support. Actor (Grey); Natl. Bd. of Review '72: Director (Fosse), Support. Actor (Grey), Support. Actress (Berenson), Natl. Film Reg. '95; Natl. Soc. Film Critics '72: Support. Actor (Grey); Writers Guild '72: Adapt. Screenplay.
cab·a·ret / ˌkabəˈrā; ˈkabəˌrā/ • n. entertainment held in a nightclub or restaurant while the audience eats or drinks at tables. ∎ a nightclub or restaurant where such entertainment is performed.ORIGIN: mid-17th cent. (denoting a French inn): from Old French, literally ‘wooden structure,’ via Middle Dutch from Old Picard camberet ‘little room.’ Current senses date from the early 20th cent.