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CABARET (Birmingham Rep, until Sat Sept 13)

11-09-2008

Cabaret

The West End hit has already had a favourable review from Paula Elenor. Now Terry Wills throws in a few more plaudits.

Mix the legendary musical ‘Cabaret’ writing talents of Kander and Ebb (who also penned the phenomenal successful Chicago) with the enduring popularity of Wayne Sleep, Samantha Blake who in essence won the Bronze Medal in TV’s “I’ll do Anything”, a young gifted ensemble, and two seasoned ‘veterans’ that prove youth and joyous enthusiasm need a steadying calming influence, and the result has to be triumph for the Birmingham Rep’s latest musical production.

Devotees of both Film and Stage Musicals will be familiar with the Cabaret story.

But for newcomers it’s set in 1930s Berlin against the background of the emerging menace of Nazi dictatorship. The ‘Kit Kat Klub’ is the home of decadence at it’s best or worst depending how Germany preferred to be influenced by the then ‘sign’ of emerging times.

The central character Sally Bowles (Samantha Barks) a young gifted singer enjoys a relationship with Henry (Cliff Bradshaw) an American aspiring writer who as the relationship grows urges Sally to leave Germany, meet his family, and start a new life in America.

This growing relationship is complicated on many fronts. Not the least Sally’s attachment to a typical arrogant member of the aspiring Nazi Youth Party who in a arrogant sinister fashion reminds her that this new admirer is a foreigner.

Henry receives a beating from a group of strutting boastful Nazi devotees. Hence the plea “Sally pack your bags and come with me to America”

Running alongside is a tender loving relationship between the elderly Fraulein Schneider (Jenny Logan) and the mild mannered Herr Shultz (Matt Zimmerman) he asks her to marry him but as with Sally and Henry they face complications of a far sinister nature. He is Jewish she is German.

From the novel opening scene, as Emcee (Wayne Sleep) appears to ‘Welcome’ potential customers into the club amidst a spiralling group of sexually orientated dancers, to the finale at Germany’s border control that leaves an audience wondering just how the story had ended, the question as to which of the characters were ‘gay, ‘straight’ or bisexual still wasn’t made perfectly clear. Or was it?

Wayne Sleep is truly superb. Whether dancing in his trademark fashion or displaying a sense of comedy normally seen in Pantomime, he literally commands the stage as arguably only he can in a role he’s played on numerous occasions.

Cliff Bradshaw gives a sensitive performance knowing only to well, even if Sally has doubts, that if they are to enjoy a future together it has to be away from the gathering ugly black storm clouds edging closer day by day over Germany and central Europe.

Jenny Logan and Matt Zimmerman almost steal the show. Both bringing a touch of pathos and understanding as they realise their planned wedding was inevitably doomed to failure.

But the ‘Star’ of Cabaret has to be Samantha Blake. Only 17 and with the massive coverage of her weekly TV appearances in the attempt to win the coveted role of Nancy in Sir Andrew Lloyd’ s Webber new staging of ‘Oliver’, her performance belies her still learning curve to become a leading lady in her own right.

I suspect that many of the ‘Full House’ audiences that will inevitably flock to the Rep will have been attracted, and intrigued, to judge for themselves whether she was capable of handling such a prodigious role.

(A role that will forever be remembered and subsequently rewarded with an Oscar winning performance by Liza Minnelli way back in 1972)

Her rendition of the title song evokes a wonderful reaction and left me in little doubt that this first starring role is merely the first step on a ladder that WILL certainly be followed by many others.

Other songs that evoke response are ‘Tomorrow belongs to me’ ‘It couldn’t please me more and the ‘Money Song’- the latter allowing Wayne Sleep to demonstrate his comedy talents to the full.

Praise has to be lavished on the energetic dance troupe. With Cabaret being set in (to put it mildly) a period of sexual freedom where anything goes they leave little to the imagination in a production, that if being a movie, would warrant a ‘Adults Only’ Certificate.

A final thought and perhaps it’s just me (!) as the emerging sinister intentions of Nazi Germany become ever clearer, with most of the characters strutting around wearing Swastika armbands, for a moment I couldn’t help cast my mind back to the wonderful lampoon production of ‘The Producers’.

But then that was a spoof. A perfect vehicle for a happy night out, while Cabaret leaves audiences thoughtful, and perhaps wondering how the course of history would have been changed should the implications behind the writings of John Kander and Fred Ebb have ever come to pass?

Well done to the Birmingham Rep or bringing this production to the city. Cabaret has to be, what is often termed by professional s critics ‘A sure fire winner!

See Paula Elenor's review link here

Booking details at www.birmingham-rep.co.uk

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