Theatre review by Hannah Richardson
Cabaret, which takes in Milton Keynes Theatre this week on its UK tour, was much darker than I expected from my memories of the 1972 film that propelled Liza Minelli to stardom overnight.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the musical, although it did have flaws. Friends who had not seen the film said they found it impossible to follow the storyline – which is kind of essential, in my view.
Based on a story by Christopher Isherwood, the plot centres round aspiring American novelist Clifford Bradshaw, who visits Berlin in the decadent era of the early 1930s, just as the Nazis are rising to power, and falls in love with nightclub dancer Sally Bowles.
The show centres around the sleazy setting of the KitKat Club, with energetically raunchy dancing from girls in not much more than stockings and suspenders and boys in leatherware.
The show boasts well-known musical numbers including Money Makes the World Go Round, Life is a Cabaret, Maybe This Time and, of course, Cabaret.
I thought singer/songwriter Will Young was superb as the sleazy, sinister Emcee, in the role made famous in the film by Joel Gray.
Young’s singing was superb and his stage presence compelling. Unfortunately, however, he was virtually inaudible during the quieter numbers and his German accent would have made it difficult to understand the words if the songs weren’t already familiar.
2016 Strictly finalist Louise Redknapp stars as Sally Bowles. We knew she could dance – well, she can also sing, and she has a lovely voice. Sadly though, I felt she was just too ‘nice’ for the part.
Sally Bowles is really a bit of an unlikeable character, totally wrapped up in her own world and unaware of the sinister bigger picture unfolding on the streets around. And yet, you need to like her, or why should you care?
Liza Minelli accomplished this daunting task, with knobs on, but it’s a big ask, and how many actresses have that much stage presence?
Redknapp is convincing as an upper-class English airhead, and gives the role her all, but she perhaps hasn’t yet had the acting experience to really own the stage.
She was also hampered by a poor choice of haircut, a swinging bob that completely covered her face when seen from the side.
Particulary enjoyable and moving was the sub-plot of a burgeoning and doomed love between the elderly landlady Fraulein Schneider, played by Susan Penhaligon, and an elderly German Jew, played by Linal Haft.
For me, the production of Cabaret had much to recommend it. Despite being a musical, with plenty of comic moments, it’s not always a comfortable watch, and the very dark ending took me by surprise.
Cabaret is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday night.
Box Office: 0844 871 7652 or see atgtickets.com/MiltonKeynes