We found ourselves in the Weimar Republic on Thursday evening. Okay, it wasn’t Berlin, we were in Bromley, having traversed about a hundred miles of back-streets to get to the Theatre because of a jammed motorway.
We were along to see the first night of a new production of Cabaret, the dark musical that starts at new year 1931 in pre-Second World War Berlin.
I think I’ve seen three very different versions of the stories by Christopher Isherwood, which is set mainly in apartments and at the KitKat Club during the time when Berlin was a pivot between a hedonistic cabarat world and the terrifying rise of the Nazi party.
I’m guessing most people are familiar with the film version of the story starring Liza Minnelli, Michael York and Joel Grey. There’s many similarities in the stage version although the story lines chosen are different. The film musical is already dark but suffice to say the stage version is even darker with a most ‘un-Hollywood’ ending.
This version follows the story of the struggling American writer Cliff Bradshaw as he arrives in Berlin on New Year’s Eve and befriends Ernst who rapidly introduces him to the ways of Berlin.
He meets nightclub singer Sally Bowles and they share an apartment in a house full of colourful bohemian characters. There’s a parallel doomed love interest - different from the film version but entirely in keeping with the main story themes.
The backdrop of the increasingly violent persecution of Jews in Germany rachets up throughout the action.
The whole story telling is framed by the EmCee, who opens the show and provides narration becoming a sort of cipher for what is happening in Germany.
Will Young plays the chameleon of the EmCee, singing the difficult lyrics with deft Berlin intonation. Equally strong is Michelle Ryan playing a cut glass English Sally Bowles, also strongly singing tremendously well-known songs from the show.
There’s an excellent band who kick up a Kurt Weill-like atmosphere driven from John Kander’s musical score. There’s the additional songs that tell other parts of the story and are sung away from the KitKat Club.
The ensemble dancers and singers provide great energy, decadence and promiscuity both in the club scenes during cabaret performances and also in the various backstage and other moments.
The staging uses mainly black flats, lit to provide atmosphere, as well as plenty of Kabaret style flashing lights.
This being a first night, there were some attempts to involve the audience in parts of the show and I can see that this will develop as the cast get more fully into their roles. This could also be tricky, given the nature of some parts of the show.
I noticed that certain elements from the symbolism of what was happening in Germany had already been dialled down in the performance.
There’s no pictures yet from the show, which hasn’t reached Press Night status yet and it will be interesting to see how it develops as it moves to the London stage in a few weeks.
Not from the show, but clearly a musical influence from the time, I’ve picked this little 1930-ish recording of Lotte Lenya singing Kurt Weill's "Mackie Messer."