Review: Seedy and sensual Cabaret is a breathtaking hit
Happy (belated) New Year! I hope this year brings everyone some theatrical joy and that theatre really does return to its previous 'normal' state.
To kick off the new year, my family and I visited the Kit Kat Club - home of the latest West End revival of Cabaret. Before I start, I am going to try and keep this as spoiler-free as possible but if you don't want to know ANYTHING then I suggest you don't read on.
The Kander and Ebb classic Cabaret has been seen many times in London. The original opened at the Palace Theatre starring Judi Dench back in 1968 and has since been revived in 1986, 1987, 1993, 2006 AND 2012. So the West End has seen its fair share of productions over the last 40 years but none quite like this one.
The Playhouse Theatre in London (recently home to revivals of Fiddler On The Roof and Caroline, Or Change) has been incredibly redesigned to create the 1930's Kit Kat Club. The auditorium, now in a wonderful in-the-round setting with tables around the stalls, is one of the most enthralling theatrical spaces I've ever been in.
Before you even enter the auditorium, a super talented Prologue company treat you to a unique experience as you enter the Club - but I'm not gonna give anything away! This little touch is just one of many things that made this production so electric.
The show is headlined by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as the Emcee and BAFTA nominee Jessie Buckley as Sally Bowles. Now, I must admit I was sceptical about Eddie Redmayne. Yes, we have seen his vocal ability in Les Misérables, but I wasn't sure if he was going to pull the Emcee out of the bag, but my god he did. His twisted, commanding performance was a far cry from any other part he has played previously and he truly was the Master of Ceremonies, controlling the narrative as well as entertaining us with witty dialogue and dance along the way. He is a welcome addition to the West End musical theatre scene.
Jessie Buckley, who first found fame on the BBC talent show I'd Do Anything back in 2008, stuns as Sally Bowles. The one issue many people have with Sally is that they are used to Liza Minnelli's performance from the 1972 film and though the film may be good, it has many many differences from the stage show. Liza plays her as a young American with her iconic vocal chops but Jessie Buckley sticks close to the original source as a young British girl in Berlin with a heart of gold but an extremely troubled soul. She is a joy to watch in every scene but especially shines in her musical numbers including 'Don't Tell Mama', 'Mein Herr' and of course 'Cabaret'. The title song is often sung out of context and therefore often loses its true meaning, but Buckley's emotional breakdown throughout was heartbreaking and was the first time I've ever truly felt emotional listening to it.
Every single member of this company is strong, from It's A Sin star Omari Douglas's calm yet assertive performance as Sally's American lover Cliff to the ever-fabulous Anna-Jane Casey as the funny German prostitute Fraulein Kost. One of my personal highlights of the evening was the relationship between Fraulein Schneider (Liza Sadovy) and Herr Schultz (Elliot Levey). Both actors radiated such warmth off the stage and made these parts, which sing a lot less than others, some of the true stars of the show.
Also, every single ensemble member shines individually and is wonderfully diverse in many ways. It is amazing to have so much representation for often underrepresented people on stage. An example that many producers should be looking at.
The whole production has been masterfully directed by Rebecca Frecknall, taking full advantage of the show's distinctive environment and immersive feel. The same goes for the choreography by Julia Chen, which is a mix of modern contemporary/hip hop with a subtle hint of Fosse thrown in. The set and costumes by Tom Scutt, lighting by Isabella Bryd and sound design by Nick Lidster work together harmoniously to blend the new with the old and create a tantalizing atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
I've never experienced anything quite like this before. It's very rare that a show is revived so vividly that it feels brand new, but this one does. I wish I could say more but actually, I think it's best that you don't know what's going to happen before you go in as it adds so much to the 3-hour experience. It's a revival like no other, and it's going to be an extremely tough act to follow for any other revival this year or any other revival of Cabaret in years to come.