Germany, New Year's Eve, 1929: The
Master of Ceremonies, or Emcee, welcomes the audience to the Kit Kat
Klub, a seedy Berlin nightspot (“Willkommen”). Meanwhile, in a railway
car, an aspiring young American writer named Clifford Bradshaw heads
towards Berlin in hopes of finding inspiration for a new novel. Cliff
meets Ernst Ludwig, a German who appears to be in the smuggling
business. When Cliff inadvertently helps him, Ernst recommends a
boarding house in Berlin. Fräulein Schneider, the proprietress of the
boarding house, offers Cliff a room for one hundred marks. When he
hesitates, she accepts half the usual price; years of oppression have
left her weary but pragmatic (“So What?).
On his first night in
Berlin, Cliff visits the Kit Kat Klub. The Emcee introduces a young
English singer named Sally Bowles, who performs a provocative number
called “Don’t Tell Mama.” Sally flirts and tries to shock Cliff.
Intrigued, Cliff invites her home, but she refuses, explaining that her
boyfriend Max, owner of the club, “is most terribly jealous." The
telephone on Cliff’s table rings; the guests at the Kit Kat Klub flirt
with one another via an internal phone system (“The Telephone Song”).
next day, as Cliff finishes teaching an English lesson to Ernst, Sally
suddenly appears in Cliff's room with her baggage. Max has thrown her
out, and she convinces Cliff (and Fräulein Schneider) to let her move in
(“Perfectly Marvelous”). The Emcee and two companions sing a bawdy
number about cohabitation (“Two Ladies”).
Herr Schultz, a Jewish
fruit seller, woos Fräulein Schneider with the gift of a costly
pineapple (“It Couldn't Please Me More”). In the Kit Kat Klub, a young
waiter starts to sing a song—a patriotic anthem to the Fatherland that
slowly descends into a darker, Nazi-inspired march ("Tomorrow Belongs to
Months pass. Cliff is getting nowhere with his novel, but
enjoying life with Sally (“Why Should I Wake Up?”) Sally reveals that
she is pregnant. After the initial shock, Cliff is excited by the
prospect of fatherhood. Ernst arrives and offers Cliff a job smuggling a
briefcase into Germany, and Cliff accepts. The Emcee comments on
everyone’s need for cash (“Sitting Pretty”).
Schneider has caught one of her boarders, Fräulein Kost, soliciting
sailors in her room. Fräulein Kost notes Fräulein Schneider’s hypocrisy;
she has seen Herr Schultz spend the night in Fräulein Schneider’s room.
To save Fräulein Schneider’s reputation, Herr Schultz declares they are
engaged to be wed in three weeks (“Married”).
At the engagement
party, Cliff arrives with the suitcase he smuggled for Ernst. Ernst
arrives, wearing a swastika armband. With hesitation, Cliff hands off
the suitcase and accepts payment. Herr Schultz, enjoying his party, gets
a bit tipsy and sings a self-deprecating Yiddish song, “Meeskite.”
Ernst decides to leave, but Fräulein Kost lures him back by singing
“Tomorrow Belongs To Me.” As Cliff, Sally, Herr Schultz and Fräulein
Schneider look on, the entire ensemble joins in singing the Nazi anthem.
second act begins with the Kit Kat Girls and the Emcee, in drag,
dancing in a kick-line that morphs into a goosestep. Fräulein Schneider
expresses her concerns about marrying Herr Schultz, but he assuages her
fears (“Married” Reprise). Their moment of reconciliation is interrupted
by the crash of a brick thrown through the window of Herr Schultz’s
shop. At the Kit Kat Klub, the Emcee performs a duet with a female
gorilla, explaining that society will not accept their love (“If You
Could See Her”). Fräulein Schultz breaks off her engagement to Herr
Schultz (“What Would You Do?”).
Cliff decides to take Sally back
to America where they can raise the baby together. Sally protests,
declaring how wonderful their life in Berlin is, and Cliff sharply tells
her to "wake up" and take notice of the growing unrest around them. At
the Kit Kat Klub, after another heated argument with Sally, Cliff and
Ernst argue, and Ernst's Nazi bodyguards beat Cliff and drag him out. On
stage, the Emcee introduces Sally, who enters to perform again, singing
that "life is a cabaret, old chum," cementing her decision to live in
carefree ignorance ("Cabaret").
The next morning, as Cliff is
packing to leave, Herr Schultz explains that he is moving to another
boardinghouse, confident that the bad times will soon pass. He
understands the German people, he says, because he is a German too. When
Sally returns, she reveals that she’s had an abortion; Cliff slaps her.
Sally asks Cliff to dedicate his novel to her, and he leaves,
On the train to Paris, Cliff begins to write his
novel, reflecting on his experiences: "There was a cabaret, and there
was a master of ceremonies... and there was a city called Berlin, in a
country called Germany... and it was the end of the world."
(“Willkommen” Reprise). In the Kit Kat Klub, the Emcee welcomes the
audience (“Willkommen”), but it is now harsh and violent. He sings, "Auf
Wiedersehen, à bientôt," followed by a drum roll and cymbal crash.