Writers: John Kander &Fred Ebb
Director: Rufus Norris
Musical Director: James McCullagh
Reviewer: Ray Taylor
A packed house gave a standing ovation to the opening night of this legendary hit musical. The story, set in Berlin in 1930-1931 and centred around the cabaret scene is well known to lovers of musicals from the iconic Hollywood film. The stage production, while replicating what is familiar, also builds on and expands the story of impending Nazism to lead to a much darker and grim conclusion than the film portrays. Here we have almost as much a play as a musical with substantial dialogue so that you don’t feel that the words are just there to fill in until you get to the next number.
Will Young, who received an Olivier award nomination for his performance of Emcee in the West End, reprises that rôle here to stunning effect. Appearing in a succession of outlandish costumes and make-up his mastery of all the hit songs and routines is a triumph. In particular ‘Two Ladies’ and ‘If You Could See Her’ are superb. Anyone drawn to see the show because of his name will not be disappointed. The rôle of Sally Bowles was played by understudy Emily Bull. Any members of the audience who felt let down by not seeing Siobhan Dillon were very quickly cheered by Bull’s assured and energetic performance. She has a terrific singing voice and delivered all her songs brilliantly from the heartfelt ‘Maybe This Time’ to the climactic ‘Cabaret’. Looking a bit like a young Julie Andrews her CV includes a number of understudy rôles but it surely cannot be long before she has a leading rôle in her own right.
In a full company of 18 mention must also be made of the other leads: Matt Rawle as Clifford, the American visitor to Berlin and through whom the story is really told, Lyn Paul as Fraulein Schneider who runs the lodgings (albeit with a somewhat shaky German accent), Linal Haft as the kindly Herr Schultz, Valerie Cutko as Fraulein Kost, and Nicholas Tizzard as the sinister Ernst Ludwig who initially befriends Clifford but rises through the ranks of the Nazi Party to stand for all that is evil. The relationship between Schneider and Schultz is poignantly and sensitively portrayed with a couple of touching duets. The rest of the company of singers, dancers and musicians all perform excellently.
Katrina Lindsay deserves credit for designing a brilliant set that is easily transformed from the glitz and razzamatazz of the nightclub to scenes that depict the rise of Nazism and the breakdown of civilised order. The final image is so haunting that it leaves the audience in complete silence not feeling that it is appropriate to applaud. It is only when the curtain is raised again that the audience can show their full and loud approval for what is an undoubted triumph.