By Rachael E. Worthington
The Sally Bowes character in Cabaret, which Liza Minelli made famous with her showstopping performance in the 1972 film, tends to get a lot of attention. However, the real protagonist is Cliff Bradshaw, a writer who falls for not only the seductive goings-on of the Berlin underground but also for the irresistible burlesque singer Sally.
We spoke with actor Carl Pariso, who plays the role of Cliff in the nationally touring Broadway musical, to learn more about his character. “Cliff is a young American novelist, and he comes to Europe as a lot of American writers did at this time to try to find an experience to write about,” says Pariso. Cliff has already traveled to London and Paris at this point, but he chooses Berlin as his next destination because of Berlin’s notoriety for being sexually liberated and welcoming of all kinds.
While Cliff enters the story as an innocent young writer, there are parts of himself that he hasn’t explored yet that are brought to light over the course of the musical — namely his bisexuality. He has multiple encounters with men and becomes involved with Sally Bowles as he has the time of his life experiencing the raucous nightlife of the Kit Kat Club.
Pariso says that Cliff is “caught up in this whole party debauched life in Berlin, but he really starts to wake up when he realizes Berlin isn’t all this party — it’s got some pretty sinister politics.” Cliff is blindsided by the glitz of the cabaret before he comes to realize that he hasn’t been paying attention as the Third Reich rises in Germany.
Cabaret is “supposed to make people uncomfortable and make them question things they’ve never questioned before,” Pariso says. “I think that’s a good sign of a good piece of theatre, when you feel questioned or challenged. I think there’s a lot of theatre or art that doesn’t do that enough today.”
Come experience the decadent allure of the Kit Kat Club for yourself. Cabaret comes to the Lincoln Center April 19–21 at 7:30 p.m. and April 21 at 2 p.m. Seats from $20 are available here.