Bill Kenwright’s production of Kander & Ebb’s classic musical Cabaret is back on tour just two years after it played at various theatres around the country with Will Young as the Emcee and Louise Redknapp as Sally Bowles. This time they’re replaced respectively by John Partridge and Kara Lily Hayworth and a completely new cast. However, everything else stays the same including direction from Rupert Norris and choreography by Javier De Frutos.
The background for the 1966 multiple Tony award-winning musical is Berlin in the early 1930s as the Nazi party makes it move to take power in a country still suffering from the repercussions of the first world war. Mainly set in the Kit Kat Club, a seedy nightclub, it tells the story of an American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Charles Hagerty) who’s visiting the city in order to find material for a novel. Along the way, he meets English performer Sally Bowles and various characters who visit the club as well as those in the boarding house he finds a room in. However, the driving force behind the story is the Emcee who lives in a kind of netherworld addressing the audience directly before introducing the acts at the Kit Kat. He starts as a preening, primping, camp character in boots, bustier and garters who gradually metamorphoses into an evil Nazi.
Cabaret is one of the darkest musicals ever written and there are scenes (especially the end) that chill the soul. There’s violence, anti-Semitism, closeted homosexuality and one of the characters has an abortion – this isn’t a gentle night at the theatre and the ending isn’t at all a happy one.
The performances from the cast of eighteen are all excellent without (apart from one or two) ever hitting the heights. John Partridge as the Emcee is camp enough but doesn’t quite capture the menace the character needs. Kara Lily Hayworth as Sally Bowles sings superbly but just doesn’t ever convince us that she’s a tired, jaded, second rate cabaret artist. She does a superb version of the showstopping title song and her vulnerability is there for all to see but for the rest of the show, she’s a bit wimpy, rather than sassy and hard-boiled. There’s also little sexual chemistry between her and Hagerty. In fact, the real chemistry is between Anita Harris who plays Fraulein Schneider and James Paterson as Herr Schultz. Harris is wonderful as the lonely widow who has suffered through a war, raging inflation where a loaf of bread costs millions of marks and terrible loneliness.
It looks as if she and Schultz are going to have a wonderful future together but he’s Jewish so it’s not to be. Harris’s character is devastated and sings “What Would You Do?” with heart-breaking emotion which brings a tear to the eye.
Cabaret is one of the greatest musicals of the past 50 years or so and its popularity endures to this day as another tour sets off around the country. With such Kander & Ebb standards such as “Wilkommen”, “Maybe This Time”, “The Money Song” and “Cabaret” and a superb book by Joe Masterhoff, it’s a must-see piece of theatre. The major problem with this production is that it’s all a little clean and needs scuffing up a bit. The costumes in this seedy, run-down cabaret club need some dirt and ladders in their stockings – it’s all a bit too nice.
Everyone wears clothes that look as if they’ve just come from the dry cleaners – where’s the dirt and decay? At times it feels as if it’s been cleaned up for provincial audiences and although director Norris gives the audience a quick flash of male full-frontal nudity and a momentary glimpse of one of the dancers topless, it just feels too clean.
To make a pearl, an oyster needs a bit of grit. If this Cabaret had some added grit, it would be a pearl of a production.
Review by Alan Fitter
Bill Kenwright presents the multi award-winning production of Kander and Ebb’s landmark musical, Cabaret. Directed by National Theatre Director Rufus Norris, the production has enjoyed two smash-hit West End runs at The Lyric and The Savoy theatres.
Cabaret features show-stopping choreography, dazzling costumes and iconic songs ‘Money Makes the World Go Round’, ‘Maybe This Time’, ‘Cabaret’ and more.
It’s 1931, Berlin is a haven of divine decadence and the legendary Sally Bowles is about to take the stage at the infamous Kit Kat Klub…
Starring as Emcee is John Patridge, winner of Celebrity MasterChef 2018, well known to TV audiences as EastEnders’ charismatic Christian Clarke and one of West End theatre’s most prolific leading men (A Chorus Line, Chicago, and La Cage Aux Folles). Kara Lily Hayworth stars as the iconic Sally Bowles following her spectacular performance in the title role of Cilla The Musical which was revered by both critics and audiences alike. They are joined by Anita Harris, who first rose to fame as a singer in the 1960s and has appeared both on-screen (Follow That Camel and Carry on Doctor) and on stage, most notably as Grizabella in the West End’s Cats.
Cabaret at New Wimbledon Theatre
Cabaret at New Wimbledon Theatre from Tuesday 18th February to Saturday 22nd February 2020.
Selected Cabaret Tour Dates
New Wimbledon Theatre
Tues 18 – Sat 22 February
Manchester Palace Theatre
Tues 25 – Sat 29 February
Leeds Grand Theatre
Tues 3 – Sat 7 March
Canterbury Marlowe Theatre
Tues 10 – Sat 14 March
Tues 17 – Sat 21 March
Cardiff Wales Millennium
Tues 24 – Sat 28 March
Stoke Regent Theatre
Tues 31 March – Sat 4 April