Milton Keynes Theatre
13 April 2009
Come to the Cabaret!
When Mr FB saw the warning in the Foyer that the show contained “elements of nudity”, he literally did a hop, skip and a jump into the auditorium, I kid you not!
And talking of philistines, I am ashamed to also admit that I had never seen Cabaret before, not the film, not the stage show, nothing. But it’s one of those shows that you actually think you HAVE seen, mainly because you know so many of the songs. However, in my defence, I can reveal that I HAVE read Christopher Isherwood’s series of short stories collected under the title Goodbye to Berlin (1939), which provided the inspiration for the play 'I Am A Camera', and subsequently this musical.
So I was worried that I would be let down by some sort of weak story linking these fab songs together, but I wasn’t, and in the hands of this talented company I was actually enthralled.
In the show, Sally Bowles is a performer at the Kit Kat Club in Berlin for whom, along with her fellow entertainers, life is all about shows, drink, sex and trying to get money for essential items such as clothes and booze.
However, this is 1930s Germany and against all this fun and decadence, the rise of the Nazis is ever present and increases as the show goes on.
The excesses of the era are represented in the Kit Kat cabaret songs which are slick, sensual, colourful, amusing and very well executed by the company.
The nudity mentioned is basically all tasteful back views, but that’s not to say that the show isn’t steamy. There are some very highly charged scenes with much canoodling going on between all the sexes, something which bought some hilarious ooohs and aaahs from what was, shall we say, quite a mature audience.
The legendary dancer/actor Wayne Sleep is scarily watchable as Emcee. With a face packed with make-up that highlights not only his eyebrows but his ambiguity, I wasn’t sure whether I was terrified of him or on his side – maybe both! He also has some comic-dancing to do which I have to say was incredible stuff for a 60-year-old. He’s certainly still got “it”.
Samantha Barks was a good Sally Bowles. The acting side of things was competent but not outstanding, however, she certainly knows how to belt out a tune and this show gives her plenty of chance to do just that with songs like, Maybe This Time, Don’t Tell Mama and the anthemic title song. She may have only come third in the BBC’s ‘I’d Do Anything’, but for me anyway, she has certainly come out of it smiling and with a better show to boot! Sally Bowles versus two-song Nancy in Oliver – no contest!
Henry Luxembourg played Cliff, Sally’s American lover, and I am also ashamed to say that, at the first sight of him, I whispered loudly in surprise to Mr FB, “that’s Toby the serial killer from Hollyoaks!” However, he was convincing in that and he’s believable in this, a very different role.
He grows from his initial wide-eyed innocence about the Berlin that he arrives in, through to his revulsion of the Nazis and finally rejection of them and their country.
It is this theme that makes it far more than your average musical and other supporting characters add to the darker themes. There’s Fraulein Schneider, played by the excellent Jenny Logan, whose engagement to Herr Schultz (Matt Zimmerman) is ended by the threat of what is going to happen, and the Nazi presence grows throughout the course of the show.
This culminates in an ending which, to say it is downbeat is somewhat of an understatement. The musical leaves us in no doubt where Nazi Germany is heading and the tableau of naked figures as the final scene drums this point home with force.
I had no wish to clap along at the curtain calls, I felt sad and shattered, but also somewhat uplifted by the fact that I had watched one of those rare things – a musical that really made me feel something. Not since Blood Brothers have I been quite so impressed by this kind of entertainment.
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