"In 2006, director Rufus Norris and choreographer Javier de Frutos stripped the glamour and glitter of familiarity around the musical Cabaret to return it to the show’s original creative impulse of revealing the gathering horror of the rise of Nazism in Thirties Germany. Now they have returned to the show and dug even deeper and darker, offset by a production with newly choreographed numbers that dazzle anew."
Kander and Ebb's classic survives this trivial production, but just barely.
As one of the greatest musicals ever written, it’s pretty difficult to take the wind out of Cabaret’s sails, but this production certainly tries. With puerile direction from Rufus Norris, not even the appearance of pop star Will Young manages to save this sinking ship.
The year is 1931 and in Berlin, life is beautiful. Penniless American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Matt Rawle) has arrived looking for inspiration and finds it at the Kit Kat Klub, a den of debauchery presided over by the omnipresent Emcee (Will Young). Cliff finds himself pulled towards the charismatic Sally Bowles (Michelle Ryan), a British songstress who comes to represent the overwhelming antipathy in Berlin towards the rise of the Nazi party.
Given its popularity, it’s difficult to find a way out of the shadows of Cabaret’s Oscar-winning 1972 film version or Sam Mendes’ acclaimed 1993 revival, which began at the Donmar Warehouse before transferring to Broadway’s Studio 54, where it ran for more than 2,000 performances. Norris seems so intent on eradicating the memories of these versions that he finds himself throwing the baby out with the bathwater, choosing stranger and edgier ways of staging numbers at the expense of clarity. Rather than playing to the audience in the first few rows, Young is confined firmly to the proscenium, leading to a few stilted encounters which seem shouted to no one in particular. Gratuitous nudity and rampant cocaine use abound, going far beyond creating a sense of atmosphere and instead regularly distracting from the storyline. The final image of nude concentration camp victims could be moving, were it not sidetracked by Young in a robe with the entire audience tittering and collectively wondering just how much of him we’ll see. One can hope it will be the last time a naked pop star is allowed to upstage the Holocaust.
Ryan is making her West End debut as the irrepressible Sally Bowles, and unfortunately it shows. Both her acting and vocal ranges are simply not up to a professional standard – a fact further highlighted by vocal arrangements sympathetic to her limitations and by shoving the showstopper Don’t Tell Mama to the back of the stage where it plays under another scene. Rawle tries valiantly to keep things on track as the protagonist Cliff, and Sian Phillips and Linal Haft bring a sense of decency to the proceedings in a subplot about an elderly couple falling in love only to be torn apart when it is discovered he is Jewish. Despite the awkward audience encounters, Young has a great voice and an interesting characterisation asthe Emcee, and it would be good to see him in a more accomplished production.
There’s some able choreography from Javier De Frutos (despite all the cocaine), and in the end, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s magnificent score, with standards like “Wilkommen,” “Two Ladies,” and “Mein Herr,” is impossible not to get wrapped up in. It’s a mixed bag, surely, but after the closure of Chicago last month, it’s good to see Kander and Ebb back in the West End in whatever form.
"The final 20 minutes of Rufus Norris's revamped revival of Cabaret are shockingly good. The campy glamour of Berlin's pre-war Kit-Kat Club is gradually stripped away, just as the illusions of would-be writer Clifford Bradshaw (Matt Rawle) have been destroyed...Had Norris dared more from the outset, however, this could have been a rare piece of musical theatre, challenging as well as entertaining."
"..the chilling descent into Nazi nightmare isn’t realised with enough intensity. The central relationships don’t fully convince, and there is a lack of sensuality. Young’s vigorous interpretation typifies a production that has too little menace and contains a good deal of posturing."