“There was a cabaret and there was a master of ceremonies and there was a city called Berlin in a country called Germany. It was the end of the world….and I was dancing with Sally Bowles and we were both fast asleep.” The Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood.

History of Cabaret Chelsea Gibb as Sally Bowles in the Hayes Theatre’s new Cabaret. Photo by John McRae

Last year, the musical Cabaretturned 50. A half century since Harold Prince’s ground-breaking 1966 production opened on Broadway, Kander and Ebb’s musical is still being regularly revived, with directors sharpening and subtly refocusing their productions to reflect shifts in society. As the world darkens, the themes underlying Cabaret– inspired by the writings of Christopher Isherwood – remain frighteningly resonant.

Isherwood was born in England in 1904. Had he been a better student, Cabaretmight never have existed. As it was, in 1925 he was asked to leave Cambridge University after writing joke answers at his second-year exams. He milled around doing part-time work, then in 1929 went to Berlin to visit his school friend W.H. Auden and was exhilarated by...