There’s a reason why schools dedicated to the performing arts often showcase the musical Cabaret in their third year. As a show it leaves no margin for error. Either the singing, music and choreography are spot on or it’s not. But when it’s done right, the kudos is well-earned. This production – the final year show at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance – is directed by Karen Rabinowitz, with the stage band led by musical director Mark Smith.
From the moment Willkommen begins, the pitch-perfect intro lets the audience know they’re in safe hands – this is going to be a show that respects the show’s legacy. Set in ‘decadent’ Berlin during the last days of the Weimar Republic, aspiring American author Cliff Bradshaw (Harry Newton) arrives in town, hoping the change of scenary will help him to write his novel. Following an introduction to ‘entrepreneur’ Ernst Ludwig (Bobby Harding) on the train and landlady Fraulein Scneider (Hannah Macpherson), Bradshaw finds himself at the Kit Kit Klub. Hosting the evening is the Emcee (Barney Fritz), accompanied by the chief chanteuse, Sally Bowles (Jenny Coates)…
While the Bowles/Bradshaw narrative is central to the show, their acquaintences reflect Berlin’s social and political climate, forewarning them of the changes to come. The truth behind Ludwig’s business and political ties reveal themseleves at the most inopportune moment, leaving Schneider in a quandry regarding her personal life and livelihood.
While Schneider takes a dim view to the ‘regular visitors’ of Fraulein Kost (Nichol Renton-Charmin), her lodger’s activities reflects the choice many women made during this period of time as a way to survive the economic climate. In this light, Macpherson’s rendition of So What? has a particular poignancy, especially when we consider the stage version of Bowles (unlike Liza Minnelli’s rendition) isn’t meant to be an obvious star, but someone who dreams of ‘making it big’. Schneider is how Bowles could turn out if her dreams don’t materialise.
While the standard of the cast is uniformly high, Newton, Coates, Macpherson and Renton-Chamin are particularly well-cast in their respective roles, with Fritz distinguishing himself in his role.
Cabaret, however, wouldn’t be the show that it is without the stage band and the other dancers who perform as the Kit Kat Klub Girls. With choreography by Graham Newelle, the dancers tap into the spirit of Bob Fosse’s distinctive, boundary-pushing choreography – both suggestive and stylised – and each gets their chance to shine.
Cabaret‘s place in musical theatre is unique. The earliest version of the show predates Hair and obviously takes place 35+ years before the ’60s counterculture. But while Hair chronicled the optimism of the young and the disparity of their values with the Vietnam War, tonally the show belongs to a specific point in time. Cabaret, by contrast, holds a mirror to society’s ‘underbelly’ – the first modern musical to do so – and through its characters, show how turning a blind eye to what’s happening in the world impacts personally and on the bigger picture.
With this in mind, this production of Cabaret keeps the gravitas of the narrative to the fore, while keeping the sense of fun and subversive humour in the songs. The creative teams involved evidently show an affinity for the material, which in turn has led to superior performances from all concerned.
© Michael Davis 2018
Cabaret ran at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance on 7th and 8th December.
CAST: Emcee – Barney Fritz; Cliff – Harry Newton; Fraulein Schneider – Hannah Macpherson; Herr Schultz – Calum Rickman; Fraulein Kost – Nichol Renton-Charmin; Sally Bowles – Jenny Coates; Ernst Ludwig – Bobby Harding; Officer 1/Max – Jake Lomas; Two Ladies – Rebecca d’Lacey & Kate Claussen; Maître d’ – Michael McGeough; 3 German sailors – Thomas Wareham, George Fairclough & Brendan Mageean; Kit Kat Klub Girls – Emily Harper, Rebecca d’Lacey, Amy Louise Lonergan, Florence Russell, Eleanor Turner & Alessia Watson.
Musical director/piano – Mark Smith
Tenor sax and clarinet – Ellie Marsh
Guitar and banjo – Jack Penifold
Keyboard – Tom Knowles
Trumpet – Sara Ruiz Fernandez
Double bass – Darren McCarthy
Alto sax and clarinet – Layla Allen
Trombone – Siddhartha Lethbridge
Percussion – Rory Clark