WHENEVER I am asked what my favourite musical of all time is I happily respond ‘Cabaret!’
I must have seen over a dozen different productions over the years and have had the pleasure of directing it twice. So a new version from the Kenwright stable directed by the National Theatre’s top gun Rufus Norris (who attended North Bromsgrove High School) with choreography by the award winning Javier De Frutos; this was a show at the Wolverhampton Grand I looked forward to immensely.
For me, what sets Cabaret apart from other musicals is it’s mix of decadence and doom – glittering Berlin in the 1930s set against the brutal background of the rise of Nazi Germany with a love story woven in-between. This production actually adds excess to what is already an excessive tale – plus it takes naughtiness to new heights and seediness to some very dark places indeed.
The story opens in the Kit Kat club where we meet Emcee – arguably one of the most iconic male roles ever written and immortalised on stage and screen by the magnificent Joel Grey.
Here the part is played by a very in-your-face John Partridge who quite rightly puts his own stamp on the role.
He is good – in some parts awesome – but I didn’t like his crossing-the-line ‘twixt stage and auditorium by involving the audience in a two way banter – I like that barrier to be maintained but then the title of the show is ‘Cabaret’ and maybe it was supposed to be a mechanism to lull us into a false sense of security for the horrors to come.
For indeed there are horrors aplenty, from brutality to sado-masochism with this ‘Cabaret’ culminating in the most shocking finale of any musical I have ever seen.
No spoilers but I swear my heart stopped beating.
The Kit Kat club itself is more austere than plush – cages and steel stairs replace the traditional plush velvet couches and gold telephones whilst the girls and boys of the chorus are dressed in black leathers and chains rather than silk and stockings.
Designer Katrina Lindsay brings her own kind of decadence to the party.
Kara Lily Hayworth makes a delightful Sally Bowles, the English singer in the club who teaches the American writer Cliff Bradshaw how to lose his inhibitions in (literal) orgies of partying until he goes and spoils it all by falling in love with her, Charles Hagerty brings just the right amount of innocence, wonder and finally indignation Cliff.
James Paterson in his role as the Jewish greengrocer Herr Schultz portrays perfectly the innocence of not only himself but all of the poor Jewish people who could not comprehend the terror that was slowly engulfing them.
Anita Harris is quite simply outstanding as Fraulein Schneider, the object of Schultz’s affections and landlady to Cliff and Sally.
Her acting and singing work in harmony to make a complete character – she is simply flawless.
There are some wonderful highlights; ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ that oh-so-deceptively sweet call-to-arms Nazi anthem which is done with the cast as puppets on strings controlled by Emcee as puppet master, an amazing ‘Two Ladies’ set in a bed with many more than just the two ladies including a giraffe!
And of course THAT finale.
If I have a quibble it is perhaps that the love story gets swamped by the decadence in this outing, but make no mistake it packs a powerful theatrical punch.
Not for the purists or the faint hearted – as Emcee says (and I concur) the girls are beautiful, the boys are beautiful and even the band is beautiful – but dark – as in black – as in magic.
Cabaret runs at the Grand until Saturday, September 7.
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Review by Euan Rose.