Breyer, Kozinski Rule: Cabaret’s No Musical

After all the speeches, seminars, dining and dancing, the most substantive opinion to come out of last week’s Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference was the result of a brief cocktail hour discussion between Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer over the characteristics of the musical.

For Kozinski, the most difficult question was whether “Cabaret” — the Isherwood-Fosse masterpiece of pre-World War II loucheness in Berlin’s Kit Kat club — is a musical. On the one hand, it features much singing (for example, “Money Makes the World Go Round”). On the other, it’s not like “The Sound of Music,” or any of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s various catastrophes, in which the cast breaks — spontaneously and unself-consciously — into song. Instead, the songs in “Cabaret” are sung by actors in their roles as nightclub performers. In a sense, the jurists seemed to agree, “Cabaret” is a play about a singer, rather than a traditional musical.

Of course, there are perils to a justice holding such a conversation: What if such a question comes before the high court? And could the statement be used against him in a similar case — say, one that asks the question of whether the be-roller-skated Lloyd Webber embarrassment “Starlight Express” is a musical or just a roller derby set to song?

In any case, the “Cabaret” discourse ended with a point of hearty agreement by all present: Liza is just divine.

Justin Scheck



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