I went to get kicked in the heart again. I was prepared this time, though. And yet, I felt it all the same. I just had the chance to appreciate more fully the pauses and the crescendos and the half breaths at each punch.
I saw the touring production of Cabaret the musical for the first time ever a few weeks ago in Oxford. For some reason I only finally managed to watch the 1972 cult film about a year ago. I had been told that the stage production is very very different from the film, so I was eager to experience some Kander and Ebb classics in person. I came away from that first viewing determined to see the show again, to allow myself to breathe in all the emotions with the time and musical compass that only repeated viewings can afford.
This afternoon I loved the show even more than the first time, if that’s possible. It was interesting that the opening scene was different to the one I had seen previously which made for a pleasant surprise factor and a clearer understanding of the complexities of adapting a touring production to each different venue. It also made more obvious the meaning of the stunning poster photo I had tried to sketch in pencil over the last few days to stay connected to the piece whilst I waited to be able to see it again.
The show works perfectly on so many levels. I don’t even know where to start. I wasn’t at all surprised that the production had bagged an Olivier award for the impeccable choreography by Javier De Frutos. The movement of people and props on stage is fluid and captivating from beginning to end. It feels a bit like being held and rocked gently from side to side as the stories unfold, hitting hard as they do. Rufus Norris’ direction does justice beautifully to the sharp contrasts that characterise this classic, perfectly balancing the tenderness of the love threads with the outrageous political satire of the Kabaret, the dark insinuating power of the looming Third Reich with the promiscuity of a decadent Berlin, and delivering a finale as sharp and burning as ice on a wound.
Kara Lily Hayworth is superb – her Sally is bubbly and restless and delivers powerful but incredibly touching interpretations of the songs made unforgettable by Liza Minnelli. Admittedly, I already had a soft spot for Joel Grey’s Emcee in the film, having loved the ambivalence, creepiness, and outrageousness of the screen character. However, I found myself with my hands pulling my face, mind blown, after each and every single one of John Partridge’s appearances on stage. His Emcee is everything. Loud and bold and endearing and piercing and heartbreaking. Flawlessly.
Charles Hagerty brings us a warm and lovable Cliff Bradshaw, with beautiful vocals and a convincing portrayal of emotional and moral tension, and there’s not much one can say to describe Anita Harris’ stage presence that hasn’t already been said. As is often the case, I was in awe of the ensemble and how everyone in it contributed to the seamless alternating of desolate and crowded moments on stage so perfectly.
Each musical number is a little jewel of reinterpretation, with Tomorrow belongs to me, Money, and Two ladies being examples of musical theatre genius (no spoilers, sorry). As for punch and depth, I don’t care much was a thing of hard-hitting beauty and I can’t find the words to explain how I felt as if it was me walking barefoot on a cold floor.
I don’t know how the cast go through two of these shows in a day. I don’t know how their hearts are not reduced to pulp after every performance. I don’t even know how they manage to smile at curtain call. Amazing, incredible people, rebuilding history on a stage. Reminding us all of some of our most shameful past and of how it crept up on us slowly and poisonously.
You are beautiful. The girls and the boys are beautiful. Even the orchestra is beautiful.