Cabaret is a rare musical in having glorious songs from the desperately sad to marvellously funny, exceptional characterisation, the potential for hugely entertaining choreography plus a story that encompasses the individual and the universal.
Staging such a musical is a massive challenge as in the wrong hands it could so easily be a silly and potentially offensive romp through John Kander and Fred Ebb’s music and lyrics. Similarly, it can be an attempt to recreate the iconic (and I use the word intentionally) 1972 film that scooped up Oscars when the Academy Awards actually meant something.
Dafydd Gape, Corey Jones and Jennifer Ruth-Adams
Fortunately and thankfully director Paul Kerryson, choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves and musical director Nathan Jones have created a unique version of the show, rich in dramatic interpretation, cleverly staged and exquisitely lit with a knock-out performance of the central character of Sally Bowles by Adena Cahill.
The Tina Torbey set designs for the two key locations, the Kit Kat Club (I once went to a gay party there and it was, well, pretty decadent even now) and the Berlin boarding house (the one the author, Christopher Isherwood, whose work this is all based upon, lived in is still in Nollendorf in Berlin), work well, allowing for the flow of the narrative and the transition from dialogue to song routines. The interplay of the two (particularly using the bed in both worlds) worked particularly well. The only other scenes are on the train between Paris and Berlin and that is pretty simply done with chairs.
The choreography was crisp, sexy and hugely entertaining with boys and girls playing the Kit Kat Club dancers/musicians/prostitutes and the sexual orientation or questioning sexual orientation of characters played out fully.
This is not just the story of the desperate wannabe and the innocent-abroad writer, the rise of National Socialism in Germany and the world of sexually, artistically and socially experimental Berlin. It is also the story of love, isolation, fear, age, yearning, disappointment, self-realisation, self-delusion, alienation, despair, hope and exploitation and is an all in one remarkable work of musical theatre. Every element is captured in this production.
The evening does belong to Adena Cahill as, if the Sally Bowles cannot act and sing those show-stopper songs, the whole production falls apart. No problems here. This young woman has a fabulous voice, created her own characterisation giving Sally Bowles a darkness, a self-awareness that snarls through her solo songs. She isn’t quite the sex kitten we might expect; rather she is a very insecure English girl clinging on to a fragile world of Berlin’s avant garde.
Welsh actor and tenor Jonathan Radford just lives the role of Clifford Bradshaw, a completely polished actor whose delivery of his lines was so natural it really could have been real and with a lovely musical theatre singing voice that carries his splendid accent from word to song. Corey Jones has the other difficult role but one with massive potential, the Emcee of the club. He is on stage almost continuously as the ring master, observer, commentator (if by gesture rather than word) on the action, and, of course, one of the ultimate victims. However, here he portrayed as very vicious, not a loveable rogue, but a nasty piece of work. Of course he has great songs and costumes, yet this portrayal is insightful in being another snarler in this far from divinely decadent doomed world. He excels in most of his songs and a few difficult notes in a particularly tricky song failed to dim a sparkling performance.
The other roles are strongly performed with Rosie Archer as a totally engaging Fraulein Schneider, Tom Corbishley as an all too ugly real world human Ernst Ludvig, Dafydd Gape as a charming Herr Schultz and a well-rounded, hard-nosed Fraulein Kost from Jennifer Ruth-Adams.
Jonathan Radford and Adena Cahill
Yet the full ensemble has to be rock solid for this show to work and Ross Hoey (what an accomplished Nazi youth and cross-dressing dancer!), Ellie Pawsey, Hannah Roper (a deliciously naughty Helga), Jordan Scott-Turner and Dayfdd Weeks all clearly relished their plethora of roles and kept us absorbed in this accomplished performance.
Eliza French, Joshua Jones, Erin McSporran, Joseph Arkwright, Sioned Evans, James Golborn, Peter Harris and Luke Adams played that scintillating score with relish, working perfectly with the singers on solo numbers and intoxicating ensemble numbers. I would have liked the band to have been more visible but that would have been tricky on the limited stage space in the Richard Burton Theatre. The musicians well deserved the rapturous applause.
This musical is now 50 years old but what a punch it packs and as European history embarked on another stage in its vast personal and collective history what a way to spend an evening.
RWCMD until June 30.
Tickets 029 2039 1391