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Teaching Notes - Cabaret

July 7, 2020

Welcome to Teaching Notes - a blog series written by a teacher to help other teachers #TeachtheSongbook. 

 By GASF Volunteer: Sue Ackley 

This Month's Teaching Notes:


While the musical Cabaret takes place in 1930’s Berlin, its relationship to American politics is unquestionable. 


"What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play
Life is a cabaret, old chum
Come to the Cabaret



Image from the Songbook Foundation's current exhibit installation titled, Of Thee I Sing: Politics on Stage. Visit our digital exhibit here. 


What's it all about?


Enter Berlin's sleezy Kit Kat Klub where the performers gyrate in their sexy costumes and pepper their audience with crudely funny lines. But it’s 1931, and there's a dark side to this club. It’s ground zero for the rise of Adolph Hitler.


What's going on in U.S. politics?


President Lyndon B. Johnson was challenged with an escalation of the Vietnam War that came with anti-war protests and race riots. Ham, the chimpanzee, took an historic 414 miles ride into space while the Beatles started a new music craze.


What topics are covered in the musical?


  • apathy
  • bystander
  • cabaret
  • inclusiveness
  • racial profiling
  • satire
  • totalitarianism


Start a discussion:


  • Why is Cabaret still relevant in today’s society?
  • What does the Emcee represent in Cabaret?
  • What parallels can be drawn between 2020 and 1930?
  • Cabaret served to comment on the political climate of the day with satire. How is satire used today in musical theater and other forms of entertainment?
  • What is meant by “life is a Cabaret, old chum”?


What's been said about the musical?


  • “It really delivers everything you want in a musical: great music, laughter, great drama, sexy dancing and a compelling, relevant theme. It resonates with the audience — what you’re watching is from today’s headlines in America.” Read more here.


  • "Cabaret is one more in a long history of examples of the failure to act responsibly in the face of horrifying totalitarian rule." Read more here.

  • "At its core, Cabaret is a devastating critique of apathy, and a clever and terrifying look at totalitarianism." Read more here.


  • "Hopefully Cabaret’ will seem dated some day, but we’re nowhere there yet." Read more here.


Useful Lesson Plans and Ideas


  1. Student Matinee Series Learning Guide: Cabaret

  2. Cabaret Upstage Guide

  3. Cabaret: Definition, Style, Themes & Music

  4. The Rise of the Nazi Party


Where can I find out more?



Broadway Video: Cabaret 1966 Musical



Cabaret Movie Trailer 1972



Cabaret 1993 Full Show



Up next month: Patriotism and Politics

Successful, awkward, and downright terrible songs have been used to launch political campaigns ever since the 1800’s.  Which noteworthy theme songs have captured the younger generation and rallied the voters?  Which ones have not?


Happy Teaching! Please share your success in the classroom with us by posting about your lesson plan using the hashtag #TeachtheSongbook and tagging us @songbookfoundation.



A Note from the Author: I can’t imagine life without music. When tunes float by, memories flood in. My foot starts tapping, fingers start snapping, and I get caught up in the emotion of the song.  For 28 years, music was always a key component in my classroom. It never failed to grab the attention of my students and made past cultures come alive with connections to daily life.


I’m excited to open up a discussion about the new Songbook exhibit, Of Thee I sing Politics on Stage. It’s a storytelling device where cultural values are seen in the context of music. Including musical theater in your classroom has never been easier. Join me in this forum where you can share your lesson plans and get ideas from others. It’s your point of access for creative ways to engage your students through music. Tell me what works and what’s missing. Let’s start a conversation and get those toes tapping.


 Sue Ackley

Contact me at:


Keep an eye out for our other installments coming soon...