Review: Cabaret, Festival Theatre ****

Bill Kenwright’s multi award-winning production of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret was never going to disappoint, and if you like your musicals with all the glitz and glamour of a 1930s nightclub then it is not to be missed.

Based on the musical adaption of Christopher Isherwood’s novel, Goodbye to Berlin, Cabaret tells the story of an aspiring young writer named Clifford Bradshaw (played by Charles Hagerty) who becomes involved in the wonderfully debauched lives of Berlin’s cabaret stars of the 30s. 

But it is not all singing and dancing as the Weimar Republic is fast becoming an uncomfortable place to be, and not just for Bradshaw but for our entire cast of misfits. Poverty is high, antisemitism is building and hearts are being broken – all to the backdrop of the notorious cabaret show at the Kit Kat Club. 

Directed by National Theatre Director Rufus Norris, Cabaret is clearly a class act with tight choreography and a highly polished musical score. The only minor criticism is that at times the high standards of the production was almost its own worst enemy as it the musical sometimes struggled to authentically portray the urban decay and debauchery of 1930s Berlin. 

That aside, there is no denying Cabaret is a stunning production. Starring musical theatre veteran and ex-Eastenders actor John Partridge as the eccentric Master of Ceremonies (Emcee) and Kara Lily Hayworth as the dazzling and divinely decadent cabaret singer Sally Bowles, the musical delivers all the classic songs from the original 60s stage production, including Willkommen, Cabaret, If You Could See Her and Maybe This Time, as well as the unnerving Nazi anthem Tomorrow Belongs to Me. The cast are nothing less than exceptional too and despite a large team, the audience could easily connect which each individual character, who all made us laugh or moved us to tears.

With Cabaret the movie being such an iconic piece of cinema it is unavoidable that Patridge and Hayworth’s roles would be compared to their big screen counterparts, Joel Grey and Liza Minelli, but our main stars delivered their own show stopping performances throughout and brought their own unique interpretations to the roles – and in a nutshell, smashed it. Partridge was especially powerful as the flamboyant satirist who bravely ridiculed Nazi ideology from the stage of the Kit Kat club. His gut wrenching final performance doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house, proving that although Cabaret may be largely known for its wild antics its message remains a powerful one, even in 2019.

Cabaret is on at the Festival Theatre until Saturday, 9 November 2019.

Words: Aimee Stanton

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