Anna Maxwell Martin plays Sally Bowles
First night: Cabaret
Our critic Mark Shenton welcomes a dazzling new production of the classic musical to the West End...
Though you may have seen the 1972 film version of this 1966 Broadway musical, best known for Liza Minnelli's star-making turn as cabaret singer Sally Bowles, nothing will prepare you for the raw, overwhelming power of the stage revival that is now at London's Lyric Theatre.
Instead of the seductive sexiness of Bob Fosse's Oscar-winning film, the approach here is far more moodily gritty, and it's even more gripping as a result.
Director Rufus Norris, who previously staged Festen, that amazingly powerful play about a dysfunctional family imploding on this same stage, layers this potent story - based on Christopher Isherwood's novel about 1930s Berlin - with tantalising atmosphere and real feeling as another world is on the edge of imploding with the rise of Nazism.
Contrasting the shadowy, sleazy world of the Kit Kat nightclub against the harsh lives being led outside it in a boarding house, it is given a dark, stark and ferocious theatricality.
Norris keeps the competing dramas being played out here buoyant with an alert and expert ease, revolving around an aspiring, closeted gay American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Michael Hayden) who forges a relationship with needy singer Sally (Anna Maxwell Martin).
The story explores 30s Berlin and Nazism
She then comes to live with him at the rooming house of Sheila Hancock's Fraulein Schneider, populated also by busy working prostitutes like Harriet Thorpe's Fraulein Kost and the earnest Jewish fruit-seller of Geoffrey Hutchings' Herr Shultz, who falls in love with the landlady.
The cast are much more accomplished actors than singers for the most part, but then this particular cabaret was always meant to be more ragged than glamorous.
And, as fully inhabited with real intelligence by this brilliant ensemble cast, led by Maxwell Martin's rivetingly vulnerable Sally and James Dreyfus' grimly sleazy Emcee, this is a fearless, frank production that magnificently renews a classic musical.
Cabaret is at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue W1. Tickets: £20 - £50. Box office: 0870 890 1107. Booking to 7 April 2007
last updated: 02/05/2008 at 13:54
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