The Theatreguide.London Review
Cabaret is one of the very, very few stage musicals that actually made better movies, so anyone coming to any stage revival must make the conscious decision to forget Bob Fosse's 1972 film. Do that, and this new production will prove very satisfying indeed.
You know the long list of credits - original stories by Christopher Isherwood, play by John van Druten, musical book by Joe Masteroff (silently re-adapted by someone for this revival), music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb,
The end product is a frequently sharp-edged look at that moment in German history, the early 1930s, when everyone was dancing as fast as they could to avoid noticing what was coming.
The plot is slim even by usual musical standards - naive young American comes to Berlin, meets several colourful characters, notably the wild-living cabaret performer Sally Bowles, and leaves sadder but wiser.
The power of the show lies in the way Kander and Ebb's songs reflect both the forced and frantic gaiety of the time and the sense of impending doom. Director Rufus Norris captures all of this through fresh interpretations of all the songs and characters, with an emphasis on the background depravity
Setting the tone, as he does in any production, is the character of the cabaret Emcee, whose dark onstage numbers provide a counterpoint to the plot scenes. James Dreyfus gives him the cynical weariness of a veteran debauchee who has seen and done it all so many times that nothing can really excite him any more - a characterisation that is in its own way as eerie and disturbing as Joel Grey's leering horror was.
As Sally, Anna Maxwell Martin is always an actress-who-sings rather than a singer, which actually helps, as she gives fresh dramatic readings of such over-familiar numbers as Maybe This Time and Cabaret, and keeps them from becoming musically pretty but disconnected set pieces.
The role of the American is a thankless one, made up almost entirely of shocked reactions, and I mean it as a compliment to Michael Hayden that he is less wooden and invisible than most are in the role.
In the subplot that was cut from the film, Sheila Hancock gives the fatalistic landlady a dramatic warmth and depth, though she cannot erase memories of Lotte Lenya three decades ago, and Geoffrey Hutchings is solid as her Jewish admirer, though oddly the character's Jewishness has been considerably toned down and his one big song Meeskite cut from the show (along with a couple of other lesser songs).
If you block all thoughts of Bob Fosse from your mind, Javier De Frutos' choreography is inventive, witty and appropriately disturbing. And while Katrina Lindsay is credited with stage design, one recognises the hand of producer Bill Kenwright in the blend of inventiveness and simplicity.
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Review - Cabaret - Lyric