Cabaret, Savoy Theatre | Theatre reviews, news & interviews
Cabaret, Savoy Theatre
Better voices but less bite mark this revival of a revival of Kander and Ebb's Broadway classic
"All this hatred is exhausting," or so remarks Will Young's ceaselessly grimace-prone Emcee in Cabaret in a comment that encapsulates the evening as a whole. Returning to a show he directed to acclaim on the West End six years ago, the director Rufus Norris has reconsidered John Kander and Fred Ebb's song-and-dance classic with less nudity, stronger voices, and lots of stage business where its bite should be.
Audiences will turn out for a show that features bigger names than were on offer on Shaftesbury Ave. in 2006, where musicals neophyte Anna Maxwell Martin played Sally Bowles opposite a purposefully joyless James Dreyfus as a clearly doomed Emcee. But as if to accommodate an admittedly game singer (Young) here making a hyperactive West End debut, the sting of the earlier staging has taken a showbizzy turn that only occasionally honours arguably the most resoundingly political musical ever to hit the Broadway mainstream.
One can hardly fault Young (pictured right) for giving it his all (and, at one point, baring all, albeit in a production that elsewhere dispenses with the abundance of flesh from before, at least until the closing image). From the moment he first appears midway up Katrina Lindsay's at once forbidding yet fluid set, the Pop Idol star rarely stops wincing and pulling faces as he struts and high-kicks his way from one state of quasi-undress to another, along the way scooping up songs that aren't necessarily within this character's remit - "Tomorrow Belongs to Me", the ominously lovely first-act finale, preeminently among them.
The phrase "less is more" was made for a star turn so determined to impress that one ends up seeking respite from this omnipresent, omnisexual figure of hedonism hurling itself toward the grave in 1930s Berlin. And for all that the show's master of ceremonies has been an authorial construct as opposed to a flesh-and-blood character pretty much from Joel Grey onwards, two-plus hours of vampy posturing can take their toll. In context, it's scarcely a surprise that Young's ghostly and deliberate "I Don't Care Much" late in the second act represents the finest moment in a performance that elsewhere has yet to settle, though a sense of proportion may well come into play as the run continues. (This cast had a month on tour prior to arriving at the Savoy.)
Elsewhere, Norris as before communicates the dreamscape tipping into nightmare traversed by all the show's inhabitants, from the heedless chanteuse Sally Bowles (Michelle Ryan) through to the ageing landlady Fraulein Schneider (a hammy Sian Phillips) and on to her beloved Herr Schultz (Linal Haft), the Jewish shopkeeper who refuses to acknowledge the genocidal march gathering pace around him. "It will pass," he says, resisting the chance to exit the country that against mounting evidence he continues to hold dear.
"Wake up, Sally," the bisexual novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Matt Rawle) tells the small-time, large-voiced singer who has been sharing his bed. But Cliff alone can read the increasingly swastika-laden writing on the wall amidst a community collectively so blinkered that even he briefly succumbs to the intensifying moral aphasia in "Why Should I Wake Up?", the lesser-known but haunting number that West End regular Rawle - giving by some measure the performance of the night - sends soaring eerily into the ether.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Cyberspace goings on and reports from the frontline of FGM
Benjamin Scheuer's stirring solo show has both heart and heft
The emotional voyage takes literal form in this heartfelt if generic new musical
Let the right Mormons in: a bit of everything in theartsdesk's tips
This irresolute jarhead musical is a lover, not a fighter
Irish sex comedy plays it safe with cosy sitcom laughs
More from the world's biggest and best arts festival
The screen made her, but she would become a stage tigress, not least when she sang
Rona Munro's enthralling history cycle bursts with Scottish regal life
Oscar Wilde's comedy of Victorian morals receives an uneven update to the 1930s
A new German play offers an incendiary view on the root causes of global war
An arts organisation for once takes an ethical stand and are unjustly pilloried for it