Cabaret, Kander and Ebb’s iconic musical, is at The Festival Theatre this week (Tue 5th to Sat 9th November) with John Partridge (Emcee), Kara Lily Hayworth (Sally Bowles), Charles Hagerty (Cliff Bradshaw) and Anite Harris (Frauelein Schneider).
Cabaret has of course developed as a production from many different sources - Goodbye to Berlin (short novel - 1939), I Am a Camera (play 1951, adapted from the book) and of course as a musical first performed in 1966. Over the years, many people have played these iconic roles, including Judi Dench in the role of Sally Bowles (1968). Anyone now taking on the two iconic roles of Emcee and Sally Bowles faces the almost impossible task of being compared by many people to Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli in the classic 1972 film, and there perhaps many of the problems for people start as Liza Minnelli was simply too good a singer to be performing in an everyday cabaret club.
Here though, with a performance that does owe a little I think in inspiration to this iconic performance by Liza Minnelli, Kara Lily Hayworth does a very good job with some fine performances on all the major songs and gives "Maybe This Time" the emotional depth that it so much needs. Kara also understands that, despite its upbeat tempo, “Cabaret” is actually one of the saddest songs ever written for the stage, it is a song full of regret and simply getting on with what cards from the pack life has dealt you. Away from the song and dance routines, there are also some very tender dramatic scenes between Sally and Cliff, and Kara gets these pretty much as you would want them to be. Sally Bowles is a very complex character and needs someone in the role who can do far more than just “sing the songs”, and Kara fits that role here well.
Cabaret as a show is so often going to rise or fall on the performance of the Emcee, and in this production with John Partridge in the role, we have a performer with a vast amount of experience in theatre. Perhaps more than any role in this show, this is the one that you are never going to win everybody over with as everyone has their own idea of the perfect Emcee. For me, there is at times a harshness and aggressiveness to this Emcee, and somehow some of that vulnerability that I want to see in this role is missing. To be fair to John though, I can also easily imagine that someone doing this job in a Kabaret Bar in Berlin would need to be a pretty tough character when needed. Without giving any endings away to this show though, John leaves no one in any doubt that he can portray vulnerability when required.
Giving this show its much needed counter-balance to Sally is Charles Hagerty as Cliff, and as well as a good dramatic performance here, we also get some very good vocal performances. Here, Sally and Cliff are the believable relationship that is so much required in this production. It is always a pity though that the stage production never allows us time to open up more the relationship between Cliff and his boyfriend at the Kit Kat Club. Taking the dynamics out of this relationship does have an impact on his relationship with Sally, and we really do need that lover’s triangle for emotional depth.
For some reason, I am always more drawn to the other relationship in this story, the one of the older people, and Anita Harris (Frauelein Schneider) and James Paterson (Herr Schultz) are such a good pair together here with performances that make you wish they had just been in a different place and a different time and found the happiness that each so much deserved.
Cabaret as a stage production is always one of two halves with the lightness of the never ending party in Act 1 contrasting with the darkness and realisation that the party is over in Act II as the Nazi party rise to unstoppable power.
This is a good production, but I never really took to the set here – a little too sparse and functional for touring purposes for my liking, but the “classic theatre” auditorium of The Festival Theatre itself more than makes up for that sparseness on stage. Cabaret, by its very setting for the musical numbers, is a perfect production for a theatre like this.
Making this show come alive as much as any of the performers on stage are the live musicians of the “Cabaret Orchestra” and they do justice to the music of John Kander.
Whatever you do, stay with this show until the very end as the final scene just has so much power to it.
Review by Tom King