Quick Change Reviews - Cabaret (Tour)
Welcome to the Kit Kat Klub. Located in the underbelly of early 1930s Berlin, the cabaret club is a haven for freedom with your body, your sexuality and your desires. It is the setting for the Bill Kenwright revival of the landmark Kander and Ebb musical, Cabaret, following the lives of couples finding love and themselves in pre-Nazi Germany.
Cue the unmissable opening notes of ‘Wilkommen’, as we meet the Emcee. Portrayed by John Partridge with his make-up caked face and a thick German accent he purrs; “So life is disappointing, forget it! In here, life is beautiful!” and introduces us to his ensemble of leather clad cabaret club dancers. Our host for the evening represents musical theatre itself and Partridge’s performance is the perfect balance of comedy and tragedy. He manages to be sleazy but sexy, charmingly camp but deeply unsettling, leaving all eyes transfixed on his hypnotic performance as he watched our story unfold from the sidelines.
Inside the club on New Years Eve, we meet Cliff Bradshaw (Charles Hagerty), an American novelist looking for something to write about. He finds it in the enigmatic performer, Sally Bowles (Kara Lily Hayworth), a fiery English girl who always wants a drop of gin and who will never answer questions. The two dreamers find themselves sharing a single bed as housing guests of Fraulein Schneider (Anita Harris), as they learn to navigate the complex emotions that come with being failing artists and confused sexuality. Their relationship is naively flirtatious and seems to be blossoming out of convenience rather than anything serious, like constantly being in the middle of a party where nobody shows any sign of slowing down. Hagerty and Hayworth perform with gorgeous ease, the contrasts of their characters slotting perfectly into place and complementing the duality we see so often in ourselves when we’re faced with a difficult situation with no clear solution. Bowles is glamorously dressed in selfish ignorance, whereas Bradshaw is an optimist, through his underlying anxiety he is eager to please as he attempts to stand up against the political unrest in the city.
Schneider falls for a kind and thoughtful fruit vendor, Herr Schultz (James Paterson), “a Jew, who is German”, as he presents her with a pineapple and accidentally proposes after holding it back for many years. As their relationship develops they must decide whether the love is worth fighting for as the impending takeover by the Nazis looms. The chemistry between Harris and Paterson is stunning to watch, as the two give an honest and heartbreaking performance of the fragility of a peaceful love and the cost it comes at.
As a story about freedom, the ensemble carry the symbolic narrative with a ferocious and determined attitude. Scored by a visible big band, the dancers were mesmerising in setting the scene and tone. Performing aerobic routines choreographed by Javier Du Frutos, they drip with sensuality. Flaunting in lingerie and lenderhosen, they are full of life and hope but gradually lose control and become puppets on strings performing in stiff, robotic synchronisation.
The finale, ‘Auf Wiedershesen’, rewinds back through the musical numbers where we met our characters topped with a twisted dreamlike narration. In a chilling final scene, the stage falls dark before light displays the cast nude and huddled, and you hear the unmistakable sound of a gas tap being turned on. The party is over.
Star of the show
Stage veteran Anita Harris stole the show as the guest-house keeper. Whilst Cabaret does not have the most memorable of soundtracks bar its namesake, Harris added a new lease of life to her numbers. ‘What Would You Do?’ left the audience stunned into silence as she cancels her engagement in fear to protect herself and her lover and bought a stark realisation to Sally and Cliff.
The Emcee’s performance of ‘If You Could See Her’ featured a gorilla silhouette behind a curtain. At first it appears a comedic act, the love song is set to question prejudice and discourage prior judgement of a person and their relationship. Partridge did a stellar job with the innocence of the honey sweet slow number, backed with sweetheart bird song as he talks about this woman who reads music rather than smoke and drink gin. Concluding with, "if you could see her through my eyes... she wouldn't look Jewish at all." the number finishes with a cartoon jingle as the Emcee cheekily smiles and waves before rushing off stage.
Best musical number
The fizzy ‘blee dee dee’ of the ‘Two Ladies’ number never fails to turn the lips into a smile. Performed by the Emcee in bed, he giggles that he is the only man with a woman who cooks and another that makes the bed. As the song progresses he is joined by an endless stream of enthusiastic ladies and gentlemen holding props to take the piss out a domestic house setting. The cheeky and saucy number is a comedic ode to threesomes and best reflects the power of the Emcee’s flamboyant act in bringing a dose of sugar to a dark show. Albeit in a twisted way.
Pay close attention to
Javier De Frutos’ choreography is risque and liberating. Combining gymnastics with classic cabaret club steps, it feels classic in parts but elevated greatly with a contemporary style. When the choreography is taken away from the Kit Kat Klub routines, it is used to tell violent fight scenes as the dancers are thrown into the air to kick and punch. Magnetised by stunning warm and cold light from Mark Howett and Katrina Lindsay’s brass design, the ensemble were unstoppable and it felt as though the show was held in their grasp.
Pulls on the heart string
The use of a pineapple and a fruit bowl to symbolise the simplicity of kindness and understanding was a gorgeous metaphor used throughout.
One to watch
Kara Lily Hayworth, who made her name as Cilla in last year’s UK tour, was a delight to watch. Her Sally Bowles was stunning and impeccably British in her mannerisms from the cute pronunciation to her stubborn mystique, encouraging the audience to root for her happy ending. Her rendition of Cabaret was sensational as she dominated the stage with a voice that knows no bounds.
Cabaret tour continues: https://www.kenwright.com/portfolio/cabaret/