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CABARET

04-09-2008

Cabaret

A cracking start to the Rep’s new season, Cabaret offers fans of musical theatre a treat, although Paula Elenor has some reservations, too.

If the new production of Cabaret is anything to go by, Birmingham Rep audiences can look forward to an interesting and lively autumn/winter season.

This production is proof enough of the contention that film versions of musicals produced for the theatre are rather tame and insubstantial affairs, and no substitute for the crackling energy generated by a great ensemble on stage.

The 1972 film version of Cabaret starring Liza Minnelli left me feeling tepid, but I certainly felt warmed through as I left the theatre on Tuesday night.

Why should this production inspire me more than the film?

The themes of both versions are essentially the same. The strangely thrilling, if tawdry, demi-monde of Berlin’s cabaret and revue bar scene at the turn of 1931, a heady mix of sexual freedom, artistic creativity & social satire, is depicted in its dog days.

The early days of the Nazi party’s infiltration into mainstream society, casts its shadow over the personal lives of the characters and presages the eventual end of the Cabaret culture, the rise of Hitler and raises questions about personal responsibility and choices made in the face of oppression.

The performances of Jenny Logan as Fraulein Schneider, the pragmatic, yet kind landlady, trying to make-do in a tough world, and Matt Zimmerman, as Herr Schultz, her suitor, are the emotional barometers of this production.

Their relationship evolves from friendship to love, overcoming the anxieties bred by years of hardship. Maybe there is a place for fellowship, love and loyalty in this selfish, mistrustful and cynical world, after all.

Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schluz’s courtship is delightful, and beautifully acted and sung by these two old hands. For me their scenes together epitomised the very best of musical theatre. The humour and sensitivity of their performances, and its effect on the audience, could never be replicated on film.

Hope is dispelled by the rise of the Nazis, chillingly evoked by the patriotic anthem Tomorrow Belongs to Me. Herr Schulz is Jewish, Clifford (Sally’s boyfriend) is bi-sexual and nasty prejudices seep to the surface.

What a professional debut for I’ll Do Anything finalist Samantha Barks as Sally Bowles! Thankfully there was no attempt to do a Liza Minnelli – I always felt her character was given too much prominence in the film anyway. What Samantha Barks lacked in acting finesse, she certainly made up for when she sang. Her distinctive and accomplished rendition of Cabaret was superb.

I think that the role of Emcee was made for Wayne Sleep. He looks brilliant – 10 out of 10 for costume design – and his carefully measured, ironic delivery- whether as satiric observations and ironic counterpoints – was spot on.

And what holds it all together? A brilliant dance troupe performing Javier De Frutos’ startling and sexually charged choreography with panache. As I said earlier, you cannot beat the buzz created by a well-honed ensemble!

Overall, in spite of some unevenness in performances and some over-busy staging, this is definitely one Cabaret worth a visit!

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