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508 Topics: American Musicals – Cabaret; The Guggenheim Museum; relation versus relationship; rerun versus syndication; belly of the beast

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 508.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 508. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in – where else? – beautiful Los Angeles, California.

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On this Café, we’re going to talk about a famous American musical – a play with music in it. It’s called Cabaret. We’re also going to talk about the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, one of the most famous museums in one of our most famous cities. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

The musical Cabaret premiered on Broadway on November 20th, 1966. “To premiere” (premiere) is to be shown or performed for an audience for the very first time. Here in Los Angeles, almost every week there is what we call a “premiere,” a showing of a movie for the first time, and often the stars of the movies go to the movie and they stand outside and have their pictures taken and so forth. Well, we can also use this word as a verb to mean to be shown or performed for the first time.

Cabaret premiered on Broadway in 1966. Broadway is the area in New York City that has some of the most well-known theaters. The story of Cabaret is one of a group of people living in Berlin, Germany, in the late 1920s. It begins with the master of ceremonies of the Kit Kat Klub welcoming the audience. A “master of ceremonies” is the person who is the host for an event, the person who introduces other people, perhaps, or other performers.

The master of ceremonies is sometimes also known by the initials “MC,” although it’s spelled “emcee” when you see it in print. “MC,” of course, stands for “master of ceremonies.” The master of ceremonies in the play is at something called the “Kit Kat Klub.” A “club” is a place where people dance and drink and, in this case, watch a musical performance.

“Kit Kat” probably comes from the words “kitty cat.” A “kitty” is a small cat – a baby cat, if you will. I’m not sure if that’s where the expression comes from. I’m guessing it is. It’s not important for our story, because in the story, the master of ceremonies sings a song that welcomes everyone to the performance. The song that opens the play says the people should relax and forget about anything that is bothering them; they are here to enjoy the performance at the Kit Kat Klub.

The Kit Kat Klub is what we would call a cabaret club, and it’s where the name of the movie comes from. A “cabaret” (cabaret) is a special kind of club or nightclub that serves alcohol and has musical performances. Often, performances at a cabaret are somewhat sexual in nature and involve women wearing very little clothing. A real-life cabaret club that many people may have heard of is the Moulin Rouge in Paris. Of, course there was a famous movie starring Nicole Kidman called Moulin Rouge that you might have seen or heard about.

The audience at the Kit Kat Klub is then introduced to the different girls who are going to perform at the club, as well as to the staff of the club – the people who work there. In the next scene of the play, which I should mention was later made into a movie, a young American writer by the name of Cliff Bradshaw arrives in Berlin on a train. He meets a young German man by the name of Ernst Ludwig on the train, and Ernst recommends a boarding house where Cliff can stay.

A “boarding (boarding) house” is a private home, a large home that rents out rooms to people and often provides meals for these guests. An older woman by the name of Schneider runs the house, and she agrees to let Cliff pay a small amount to rent a room at her boarding house. Cliff takes the room and goes to spend the evening at – where else? – the Kit Kat Klub.

At the club, he watches one of the performers sing a very sexy or sensual song called “Don’t Tell Mama.” The performer is named Sally Bowles, and she’s a young English woman. Sally and Cliff talk, and Cliff of course tries to get Sally to come home with him, but she says no, that she has a boyfriend who is the owner of the Kit Kat Klub. So, be careful, Cliff.

The next day, however, Sally goes to the boarding house and says that the owner of the club has fired her. She’s lost her job and she needs somewhere to live. She asks to stay with Cliff in his room. He agrees and the two begin a relationship. A few months later – surprise, surprise – Sally is pregnant, and she claims she doesn’t know who the father is. “To claim” (claim) is to say something is true without offering any proof, any evidence. Cliff thinks the child might be his, so they continue their relationship.

Remember Ernst? Well, Ernst, Cliff’s friend, asks him to run an errand for him – to go to Paris to do something for him. An “errand” (errand) is a short journey, a short trip that involves usually dropping something off – leaving something somewhere – or picking something up. Cliff knows that the errand might involve something illegal, but he does it anyway, because now he needs money to support Sally and the new baby.

As Sally and Cliff’s relationship develops, so does one involving the owner of the boarding house – the woman named Schneider – and a Jewish man by the name of Herr Schultz. Herr Schultz asks Snyder to marry him and she agrees. However, at this point in the musical, things begin to become a little dark because it is, in fact, Germany in the late ’20s, early ’30s, when as you probably know, the Nazi party was beginning to become more popular and would eventually of course take control of the government of Germany.

Cliff realizes that things are getting very scary in Berlin and asks Sally to leave with him for America. She says no. She refuses and says they shouldn’t worry about politics or what’s going on in the government, that they’ll be just fine. She prefers to live in the world of the cabaret, where nothing bad will happen. But of course you know something bad will happen. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a very interesting story, would it?

Cliff tries to tell her that the cabaret is not real life, that she has to pay attention to the world outside her. She goes to the club and sings the song, at this point in the performance, “Cabaret.”

“What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a cabaret, old chum,
Come to the cabaret.”

Well, her voice is a lot better than mine. What is the meaning of this song? It begins by asking, “What good is sitting alone in your room?” meaning “What good will come to you by just sitting in your room? You should go instead and hear the music play.” “Life is a cabaret, old chum.” “Chum” (chum) is a word used in British English that means a good friend. We would probably say something like “buddy.” But is life a cabaret? Well, I won’t tell you how the story ends. You’ll have to go and watch the movie because there was, as I mentioned earlier, a movie made based on this musical.

Cabaret was originally performed in 1966 on Broadway starring a man by the name of Joel Grey. The original production won a Tony Award, an award given to the best musicals or plays of that year. Cabaret was also made into a movie in 1972 that also starred Joel Grey in addition to another famous singer and actress, Liza Minnelli. Both of them won Academy Awards for their roles, which to this day continues for both of them to be their most famous performances.

Cabaret, although the movie is considered one of the best of the early 1970s, I myself have never actually seen it. I’ve seen parts of it, but I’ve never actually seen the whole movie. But if you’re interested in the story of Cabaret, you can get the movie and find out about it yourself.

Now let’s turn to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. A “museum,” as you know, is a place that holds valuable objects that you can go and look at, including art. One of the most famous art museums in New York City is the Guggenheim. I’ll begin by telling you a little bit about who Guggenheim was.

Solomon R. Guggenheim was the son of a very wealthy American by the name of Meyer Guggenheim. Beginning in the 1920s, Solomon Guggenheim began collecting what we call “abstract art.” “Abstract (abstract) art” is art that uses shapes and colors instead of, well, things that you can recognize, like people and animals and trees.

In 1937, Solomon decided to take some of this art and start a foundation, with the goal of getting more art as well as exhibiting the art. “To exhibit” (exhibit) means to show something to the public. It’s where we get the word “exhibition.” An “exhibition” is a special showing of art, usually of one artist or of a group of artists or about a similar theme. For example, here in Los Angeles, recently there was an exhibition of the art of J.M.W. Turner, a famous British landscape and seascape painter.

Well, Guggenheim wanted to exhibit his art to the public, and in 1939 he opened a museum that wasn’t called the Guggenheim Museum. It was called the “Museum of Non-Objective Painting.” Yes, that’s right, “Non-Objective Painting.” What does “non-objective” mean? Well, I suppose one meaning would be something that is “subjective,” which means it’s influenced by your opinions or feelings. So the opposite of “subjective” is “objective.” But Guggenheim didn’t call it the “Museum of Subjective Painting,” but rather of “Non-Objective Painting.”

The museum changed its name to the Guggenheim Museum in 1952. In the early 1940s, the art director of the Guggenheim Foundation wrote to a very famous American architect, a man by the name of Frank Lloyd Wright. An “architect” is someone who designs and creates buildings. The director asked Frank Lloyd Wright to design a building that would be the permanent home of the museum in New York City. Wright said yes and designed the now very distinctive building that houses the Guggenheim Collection.

I call the building “distinctive” (distinctive). To say something is “distinctive” means that you can easily recognize it, and if you go to New York City and see the Guggenheim Museum, either from the outside or from the inside, you will realize why we would call it “distinctive.” It is a very interesting shape. It’s sort of a round shape, and when you go into the building, you go up basically what we would call a “ramp” (ramp). Instead of taking stairs from one level of the museum to another, you can walk up slowly and go up this ramp around and around in a circle.

The architect, Wright, was famous for making buildings that somehow fit into the area around the building – into nature, we might say. Wright wasn’t very happy about having to build in New York City, where there isn’t very much nature. There isn’t a lot of open space, but he put the building across from the largest park in New York City’s Central Park. He wanted to use the “natural surroundings,” if you will, of the park as the setting for this building.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s building for the Guggenheim Museum was completed in 1959, quite a number of years after the art director asked Wright to design the building. In fact, it took so long to get the building finished that neither Solomon Guggenheim nor Frank Lloyd Wright ever actually got to see the building when it was finished. Guggenheim died in 1949, and Wright died a few months before the museum opened in 1959.

The building is all white and is six stories, or levels, high. It’s completely round. You can take an elevator, as I mentioned earlier, to go to the top floor. From there, you can walk down this circular walkway or ramp that goes around the edge of the building. If you go inside the building, you can look up and you can see the structure of the museum. It’s very impressive. I’ve been inside of the museum and I love the way that it is designed, the shape of the building.

On the very top of this circular part of the museum there is what’s called a “glass dome” (dome). A “dome” is a curved ceiling or roof at the top of a building. You can think of the great domes of the churches in Europe, such as St. Peter’s Basilica or the famous dome in Florence, Italy. Domes are also popular in certain houses of worship for Judaism and Islam.

During the design and construction of the building, a lot of people disliked the design. They said that it would somehow take away from the art itself. “To take away from” here means to distract attention from something – to make you pay attention not to the art inside of the building but the actual shape of the building. Guggenheim insisted that the building would only make the artwork even more impressive. “To make something impressive” (impressive) means to make it more deserving of attention, to make more people pay attention to it, if you will.

Once the museum opened, people changed their minds – at least, some people did. They said that it was a beautiful building and a perfect design for an art museum. In 1992, the building was expanded to include a ten-story tower or structure to provide more space in order to display all of the artwork that is part of the Guggenheim Collection. The new structure or building also provided offices for the people working at the museum. Nowadays, if you go to the museum, you’ll see mostly European and American paintings from the twentieth century by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Kandinsky.

In addition to the building in New York, the Guggenheim has other museums around the world, perhaps one of the most famous being the museum at Bilbao, Spain. That museum was also designed by a famous architect, a man by the name of Frank Geary from here in Los Angeles. There’s also a Guggenheim Museum in Venice, Italy.

So, if you go to New York City, you definitely want to at least see the outside of the building of the Guggenheim. When I went, you could actually go inside of the museum and see the structure from the inside without actually having to buy a ticket to go inside the museum. So, you might try that as well.

Now let’s answer a few of your questions.

Our first question comes from Nan (Nan) in China. The question has to do with two words, “relation” and “relationship.” These two words often mean the same thing, although there are a few differences.

Let’s start with the word “relation” (relation). One meaning of “relation” is a way in which two people or two groups (or more than two) deal and talk with each other. To say someone has “good relations” with our country, means that there’s a certain friendship between our countries. If you say you have “poor relations” with the people you work with, that means that you don’t get along with them. You have problems with them. “Relationship” also can refer to the way in which two or more people or groups are connected. You could say you have a “bad relationship” with the people you work with.

The word “relations,” when it means the way that two groups or two people get along, is probably used more often when we’re talking about politics, when we’re talking about different countries. It would be a word you might see in the newspaper or in a magazine when we’re talking about politics.

“Relationship” would probably be used most often to talk about personal connections, or the way that you get along with other people or that one small group gets along with another small group. You could also, as I say, use it to talk about the way that two countries get along or don’t get along, but it probably gets used more often in American English when we’re talking about personal connections that you have.

Now, there are some special uses of both of these words I should explain. “Relation” can also refer to someone who is related to you or is part of your family. They could be a brother, a sister, or a cousin, or it could be someone married to your brother or sister or cousin – all of those could be considered your relations. We don’t use that word all that often anymore in this sense, but you can still use it and you will still hear it.

We also have the expression “to have relations with” someone, that refers to having sexual contact, shall we say, with someone, to have sexual intercourse with someone. The term “relationship” can refer not just to the way that two people are connected, but specifically to a romantic connection between two people. If someone says, “I’m in a relationship,” he means he has someone with whom he has a romantic connection – a girlfriend, say.

Louisa (Louisa) from Canada wants to know the difference between two words: “rerun” and “syndication.” These words are related, although they mean something slightly different. The word “rerun” (rerun) is when a television show, a television program, is shown again after the first time it was shown on television.

During the summertime, for example, many American television channels have reruns. They show the same programs that they showed during the fall and spring. There are some television channels now that are nothing but reruns, nothing but old shows – old television series like Seinfeld or Friends – that are shown over and over again. You can see those same shows again.

The word “syndication” (syndication) can refer to the selling of these television programs to different television stations, allowing them to show the programs in their area. Sometimes shows that are “syndicated” are shows that have already been broadcast and are basically reruns.

Well, sometimes you can have shows that are “syndicated” – that are “in syndication” – that are being shown for the first time. But instead of being shown on one major television network or group of stations that all show basically the same programs, the shows are sold to individual television stations in different cities, and those television stations can then broadcast the program.

Finally, our last question comes from Masoud (Masoud) in an unknown country. The question has to do with an expression that he heard in a movie, Lara Croft, starring Angelina Jolie. The name of the movie is not important, the expression is – it’s “belly of the beast.”

Let’s start with the first word, “belly” (belly). “Belly” refers to a person’s stomach, that part of the body that contains food after you eat it, or at least for a certain time. A “beast” (beast) is usually a wild animal or an animal that is very large and dangerous. The “belly of the beast” refers to being literally inside the stomach of a wild animal or creature.

However, we use the expression to mean to be in the middle of a very bad situation, a very dangerous situation. The phrase comes from the Old Testament of the Bible, from the story of Jonah, who is inside of a whale during one part of the story. He is in the “belly of the beast” – the beast here being the whale. But when we use the expression nowadays, we mean to be in the middle of a very difficult and perhaps dangerous place or situation.

If you have a question or comment that isn’t too dangerous, you can email me. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

to premiere – to be shown or performed for an audience for the first time

* When the new movie premiered in London, all the main actors and actresses in the film were there for press events.

master of ceremonies – MC; emcee; the host of an event

* The master of ceremonies started the evening by welcoming the audience and telling everyone the schedule of activities for the night’s event.

cabaret – a nightclub that servers alcohol and has sexy musical performances

* The dancers at this cabaret perform a dance each night during which they kick their legs high in the air at the same time to the same music.

boarding house – a private home that rents out rooms to paying guests and provides meals for them

* Faced with difficult times, many women turned their homes into boarding houses, renting out rooms to single women or men during World War II.

to claim – to state that something is the truth without offering any proof

* Fernando claimed that he didn’t know how their parents’ car got damaged, but his sister didn’t believe him.

errand – a short journey to collect or drop off something, often for another person

* Natalia used Saturday to run her errands, including buying food at the grocery store and picking up dry cleaning.

abstract art – art that uses shapes and colors instead of clear and recognizable images

* An abstract art painting can look like a horse to one person and a church to another because of the lack of recognizable forms.

to exhibit – to show something to the public

* The British crown jewels are exhibited in the Tower of London so people can buy tickets and see the crowns and tiaras of former kings and queens.

distinctive – easily recognizable and unique

* Miranda has a very distinctive laugh that can be heard across the room.

dome – a curved ceiling or roof; a rounded ceiling or roof

* The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican can be seen from many places around Rome.

to take away from – to distract attention from something; to diminish or lower the importance or impact of something

* The horrible paint color and ugly furniture took away from the beauty of the room itself.

impressive – deserving of attention or admiration

* Mohammed gave a very impressive performance at his interview and was offered the job.

relation – the way in which two or more people or groups talk to and deal with each other

* The amount of dust in the air has a direct relation to how well Celia can breathe.

relationship – the condition and nature of the relations between people or groups

* Do you have a good mother-daughter relationship with your three daughters?

rerun – a show, especially a television program, shown after its first broadcast

* There’s nothing to watch on TV but reruns and sports.

syndication – the selling of a series of television programs directly to local television stations, allowing each station to determine when it will be shown

* When Law and Order went into syndication, you could watch it on more than one cable TV station each day.

belly of the beast – being in the middle of a very bad situation or a dangerous place

* Mom is cooking in the kitchen and she’s really mad. I wouldn’t go into the belly of the beast right now no matter what.

What Insiders Know
The Drama Desk Award

In 1949, an organization called the “Drama Desk” was “founded” (created; started) by New York City theater “critics” (people whose job is to give opinions, usually about arts and entertainment), “reporters” (professionals who gather and write and give reports about news), and “editors” (people who work for publications, producing the final version of writings). The group was formed to deal with issues related to the theater “industry” (business). Today, the Drama Desk organization has 140 members.

Beginning in 1975, the organization gives awards for theatrical performances in New York City. The awards are presented in three categories of theaters: Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway.

“Broadway” or “Broadway theatres” refer to performances that are presented in the 40 professional theatres with a 500 or more “seating capacity” (the number of people who can be seated in a specific space). These theater performances are major shows and only the best or most popular theater productions ever get a chance to be performed in Broadway theaters.

An “off-Broadway” theatre refers to “venues” (locations for an event) with a seating capacity between 100 and 499. Often, a new theater production will begin at an off-Broadway theater, and if it is successful, move to a Broadway theater.

Finally, smaller shows that are “experimental” (involving very new or very different ways of performing) or that may “draw” (attract) smaller audiences can be found in off-off-Broadway theaters. These theatres have fewer than 100 seats.

Many famous actors have won Drama Desk Awards, including Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Popular “plays” (theater performances) like Driving Miss Daisy, Steel Magnolias, The Boys in the Band, have also been “recipients” (the person or group receiving an award) of the Drama Desk Awards.