Cabaret is a type of theatre entertainment which features a
combination of song, music, dance, drama and recitation

The History Of Cabaret

Primarily, cabaret is characterised by its performance venue – often a nightclub, restaurant or pub which has a stages which can be used for performances. Usually, the audience will sit at tables and drinking and dining at the same time as the show is common. Usually, there is an MC (master of ceremonies) who will introduce each individual performance.

Although not always, the entertainment is typically adult-oriented and has a more underground or subversive nature. Sometimes, especially in the USA, but more commonly across the rest of the west, the term “cabaret” often encompasses drag shows, burlesque and striptease too.

The History Of Cabaret

The term “cabaret” first emerged during the 17th century, although originally it didn’t have anything to do with performance. Instead, it was a word which meant eating place, and by the early years of the 20th century the word was synonymous with a nightclub or restaurant.

The earliest cabarets of all were found in France during the 16th century and were an early form of restaurant. Unlike a tavern, a cabaret sold wine only with food and presented on a table cloth. Although customers sometimes sang of their own volition, there was no formal entertainment programme. Instead, cabarets were often a meeting place for artists and writers.

It wasn’t until the 1700s that the café-concert emerged – a venue which served food and drink together with performances by magicians, singers or musicians. Perhaps the best known was the Café des Aveugles, a venue famous for its blind musicians orchestra. A century later, and there were many café concerts spread around Paris. The first ever cabaret in the sense we use today was Le Chat Noir which was established in 1881. Combining entertainment and music with satire and political commentary, this venue was frequented by artists, Bohemians and the wealthy alike. Each show started with a satirical commentary by the host, and they were so popular that the venue became too small to accommodate demand and had to move to a larger club on the Rue de Laval.

Cabaret was imported overseas to the USA in 1911 where it took new directions thanks to jazz music’s influence. In the Roaring Twenties, Chicago became the hot scene of cabaret with performances held in steakhouses and speakeasies. Although American cabarets didn’t have the same level of social commentary found in Europe, they did have an emphasis on famous vocalists.

Meanwhile, in the UK, a club known as the Cabaret Theatre Club was opened by Frida Strindberg. This venue eventually became known by the name The Cave of the Golden Calf and took its inspiration from the Viennese cabaret Kaberett Fledermaus. Although this cabaret was intended to be a meeting place aimed at artists and Bohemian writers, it was popular among high society and only 2 years later, it went bankrupt. Nevertheless, it did mark the beginning of cabaret in London, and soon the Cabaret Club was soon launched – a dance club which required attendees to be members, or friends of members. 

Famous Cabaret Artists Of Past And Present

Cabaret has launched and furthered the careers of many performers, from musicians and vocalists to magicians and comedians. In France, big names like Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker trod the boards of some of the biggest venues while in the USA, stars like Bette Midler, Peggy Lee and Nina Simone could be seen performing. 

Best Known Cabarets Today

Perhaps the most famous cabaret of them all is the Moulin Rouge in Paris which was opened at the end of the 19th century. Easily recognised by its huge imitation red windmill on the roof, it is well known as the birthplace of the Cancan and launched the careers of Toulouse-Lautrec and Edith Piaf. As well as the Moulin Rouge, Paris is home to several other famous cabarets which can still be visited today including Le Lido, and the Crazy Horse Saloon.

However, Paris isn’t the only place where you can find cabaret performances today. Head to the USA and you can find variety at its best in Las Vegas dinner shows, such as those at the Tropicana, as well as in a wide range of cities nationwide where original music combines with political satire and burlesque to create entertaining performances. Two well known cabarets are found in New York City – Leviathan: Political Cabaret and Cabaret Red Light.

While in London, you can visit the Royal Vauxhall Tavern for a fun night of cabaret with a difference. With a distinctly avant garde flavour, the cabaret acts that you can find here are entertaining, amusing and uplifting in equal measure all performed in an iconic grade II listed building with a strong heritage in the local community.