Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Solo musical with original songs written and performed by Michael Trauffer following the life and times of the outrageously camp host of the Fabulett club in Berlin, 1933, during the transition from ultra-liberal society to the rise of fascism, and the compulsory closing of all “decadent” venues.
This is a brave and timely show that explores the impact of the rise of fascism in 1933 in Germany on the queer community, through a solo musical. That is an original and ambitious aim and Michael Trauffer, who wrote and performs Fabulett 1933 is to be admired for connecting a historical piece to the present day which is moving to the right in many societies, and doing this via a solo musical.
The story, told through original songs and some very short monologues, follows camp and queer Felix from his childhood where he was clearly “different” with a caring, accepting mother and out-of-his-depth father, to his life as a soldier in World War 1, which he survives, and the finding his ‘real’ family in the decadent cabaret and queer scene in Berlin, where he rises to be the celebrated host of Berlin’s most decadent and “depraved” club, Fabulett, which, as the advance publicity tells us, is forcibly closed by the Nazis in February 1933, ending the fully self-expressed lives queers in Berlin had been able to live for over a decade.
This would be a big and ambitious story to tell in 60 minutes of spoken theatre, and here that story is told through a musical theatre genre. The original songs, with piano accompaniment, echo very accurately the musical style of the period, and would not feel out of place in a stage production of the musical Cabaret, which is quite an achievement. Trauffer gloriously embodies Felix the “depraved” host, variously in black leather, big skirts, sequined caps and brandishing a whip. Of course, in the genre of musicals, small story steps are then sung about, so the time for plot development is short, and I would have welcomed some longer monologues that gave us more details of the life and characters in the wonderfully debauched club and community of the drama. The other aspect I would have welcomed is for the story to build and have jeopardy and take us on more journeys of discovery. We know from the start that the club will be shut down, so there was little tension throughout the piece. There were some lovely surprises that gave insights into the times, such as a mother who tried to equip her clearly queer and cross-dressing child to live the life he wanted, and the attendance of Nazi officers and sympathisers, sometimes cross-dressed, at these “depraved” clubs, whilst supporting the persecution of the people and establishments, but these very interesting and illuminating details are no substitute for a gripping plot, which I would have welcomed. We did get a surprising romance for Felix with a shady, possibly Nazi, possibly married, man, which was welcome. The other aspect I would have welcomed is a variety in the range of songs, which were sung tunefully, but not with great power. After a while, the songs all sounded rather similar, in tone, tune and emotion. Many musicals have a huge variety of types, tempos, styles and impact of songs, a range that Fabulett 1933 would have benefitted from.
The connection to today’s rise of the populist right and of fascism, is a very welcome and resonant angle which connected with the audience. It came in a post-applause speech from Michael Trauffer, rather than in the body of the musical, and it would have been great to find a way to connect today to 1933 Berlin, during the show.