Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Life WAS a Cabaret at Studio 54

The irony was not lost on me as I watched Michelle Williams-as-Sally Bowles sing the title number from CABARET last night, capturing the essence of the whole play in that one song: What good is sitting alone in your room/ come hear the music play: the manic denial of the emergence of Nazi Germany and the denigration of difference, the seediness and despair that comes with secrets and living for instant gratification, the disquietude of hallucinating reality and the self-loathing that comes with it.

No use permitting some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away.


Studio 54 was New York's answer to Berlin's Kit Kat club. Although we weren't on the brink of WW2, the late 1970's began a stark period of disillusionment with ideology - we had punk on the left with it's angry young men and anarchic message, and disco on the right with it's feel-happy vibe and exclusivity. (And obviously, all eras have their fair share of pills and liquor.)

The first time I went to Studio 54 on 254 West 54th Street was when I was fourteen, maybe fifteen. It was on one of those rare occasions when I was home from boarding school, and I was spending the night with one of my best childhood friends, who had moved from our neighborhood in Chelsea to Queens. One of her neighbors worked at Studio 54 as a bouncer, and had agreed to bring us to work with him, and take us back home. (Is this true Johanna? It's what I am mining from my memory . . .)

I "borrowed" my mother's chocolate brown Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress which made me feel like a grown up. We didn't drink, but we danced, and giggled and ogled. It definitely was the beginning of my fascination with nightclub culture and a particular kind of performance art throughout my late teens. I went from wrap dresses to vintage clothes, ripped jeans and combat boots, favoring Danceteria and CBGB's as a junior, to the Palladium, Limelight and Paradise Garage as a senior in high school and a freshman in college. (A true punk/disco baby!)


It became boring and even a bit scary - I saw Sally Bowles everywhere - and I didn't want to become one of those girls like her - a third rate performer in a sleazy nightclub who pops pills, drinks booze and sleeps with anyone and everyone, who mirrors the negative aspects of the world by destroying herself.

Michelle Williams embodied that Sally Bowles I was so scared of. She starts off fun and shallow, but god, does she become brittle and cracked by the end. Studio 54 didn't need to do much to make one imagine a seedy nightclub, but it did a fabulous job with the cabaret seating and staging. (And I could do a whole separate blog post about Alan Cummings but I'll leave you with one word: DIVINE.)

Ms. Williams as Sally had tears in her eyes as she was singing Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret!
and I did too - grateful for the memories, and grateful for my belief in mirroring the positive aspects of the world instead - not by being a Pollyanna, no, but by embracing life and all of it's primordial ooze.

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