A LOVE story and two fine, fine performances lie at the heart of the current touring production of Kander and Ebb’s 1966 musical Cabaret.
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THE PLAYHOUSE, Greenside Place
Based on Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories and John Van Druten’s I Am A Camera, that romantic focus should fall on cabaret performer Sally Bowles and her beau, American writer Clifford Bradshaw. In this production it doesn’t.
Instead, it is the story of elderly landlady Fraulein Schultz and fruit market proprietor Herr Schultz, both caught up in the late bloom of love, that shines through as Germany slips slowly into the Nazi grip.
Herr Schultz, played with a sincere warmth by Linal Haft, is the perfect match for Susan Penhaligon’s forthright and wonderfully funny Fraulein.
Both capture the despair of their situation with a moving intensity that is heart-felt.
That the story of Bowles and Bradshaw fades into the background by comparison comes from the ongoing trend of stunt casting - celebrities rather than actors providing the billing above the titles.
As Sally Bowles, pop star Louise Redknapp, in her stage debut, boasts a lovely singing voice and is a likeable prescence. She plays her character as a cut-glass English rose... but has no acting chops.
Opposite Redknapp, as Bradshaw, Charles Hagerty is in good form and gives a generous performance against which she occasionally shines, but the moments are few and far between.
Set in and around the characters of the Kit Kat Club where Bowles performs, Cabaret is famous for its iconic numbers, many delivered by the enigmatic Emcee.
In the role, Will Young adopts a bizarre unintelligible German accent. Waddling around the stage like a demented penguin he mangles lyrics before spitting them out.
It’s an obtuse interpretation that lacks subtlety or threat. By the time he sings I Don’t Care Much, neither do we.
Despite its low energy and staid direction, however, this production does have some things going for it.
Katrina Lindsay’s design is stark, stylish and dazzling. Nicholas Tizzard is chilling as Ernst Ludwig, the Nazi, and Basienka Blake equally so as Fraulein Kost.
And if an under-energised rendition of Tomorrow Belongs to Me doesn’t quite send the chills down the spine it should, a devastating finale, which sees the Kit Kat Kabaret transformed into a gas chamber does.
It’s the defining moment of a production that has the potential to be so much more than it is, and one that reduces the auditorium to contemplative silence.
Run ends Saturday