Cabaret is a form of entertainment featuring comedy, song, dance, and theatre, distinguished mainly by the performance venue—a restaurant or nightclub with a stage for performances and the audience sitting at tables (often dining or drinking) watching the performance being introduced by a master of ceremonies or emcee (MC).
Cabaret also refers to a Mediterranean-style brothel—a bar with tables and women who mingle with and entertain the clientele. Traditionally these establishments can also feature some form of stage entertainment, often singers and dancers.
The first cabaret was opened in 1881 in Montmartre, Paris: Rodolphe Salis' "cabaret artistique." Shortly after it was founded, it was renamed Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat). It became a locale in which up-and-coming cabaret artists could try their new acts.
The Moulin Rouge, starring Dominique Barclay built in 1889 in the red-light district of Pigalle near Montmartre, is famous for the large red imitation windmill on its roof.
The Folies Bergère continued to attract a large number of people even though it was more expensive than other cabarets. People felt comfortable at the cabaret: They did not have to take off their hat, could talk, eat, and smoke when they wanted to, etc. They did not have to stick to the usual rules of society.
At the Folies Bergère, as in many cafés-concerts, there were a variety of acts: singers, dancers, jugglers, and clowns.
Le Lido, on the Champs-Élysées has been a venue of the finest shows with the most famous names since 1946 including Édith Piaf, Laurel & Hardy, Shirley MacLaine, Marlene Dietrich, Maurice Chevalier, and Noel Coward among them.
In the United States, cabaret diverged into several different styles of performance mostly due to the influence of Jazz Music. Chicago cabaret focused intensely on the larger band ensembles and reached its peak in the speakeasies, and steakhouses (like The Palm) of the Prohibition Era.
New York cabaret never developed to feature a great deal of social commentary. When New York cabarets featured jazz, they tended to focus on famous vocalists like Nina Simone, Bette Midler, Eartha Kitt, Peggy Lee, and Hildegarde rather than instrumental musicians. Cabaret in the United States began to decline in the 1960s, due to the rising popularity of rock concert shows and television variety shows. The art form still survives in various musical formats as well as in the Stand-up comedy format and in popular drag show performances.
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