BWW Review: CABARET at Grand Théâtre
As you have come to know, all artistic performances here in Luxembourg merit our attention. However, we would be going against Broadway World's nature, if we were to suggest that we don't have a soft spot for musical theatre. So you know we just couldn't miss this production of Cabaret. Our Grand-Duchy receives far less musicals in English than anyone would like, which is one of the reasons why such events are usually pretty much sold out. This one gave us quite a bit to go over, so let us get right to it.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Cabaret takes the audience on a ride through the tantalizing atmosphere of Berlin in the last months of the Weimar Republic. The narrative follows the unorthodox relationship between failing American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Charles Hagerty) and the famous cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Kara Lily Hayworth). At the beginning of the play, Sally is presented as the star of the Kit Kat Klub, an establishment known for its raunchy performances, its eccentric artists and for welcoming all sorts of sexual preferences. One of its most prominent performers is Emcee (John Partridge), a provocative and oversexualized master of ceremonies with a strong personality and a remarkably diverse sense of fashion. When Sally is fired from the club, the now struggling singer decides to move in with Cliff, who barely has enough space from himself in the room he rents from Fräulein Schneider (Anita Harris).
The poor elderly landlady is perhaps one of the most respectable figures in this atmosphere of decadence, something which grants an extra layer of tenderness to her platonic relationship with the polite Jewish fruit-shop owner Herr Schultz (James Paterson). Their potential union is, however, threatened by Fräulein Kost (Basienka Blake), her tenant, and Herr Ernst Ludwig (Nick Tizzard), a Nazi sympathizer. With the ever-growing shadow of national-socialism expanding firmly throughout the country, every one of these characters is faced, one way or another, with the need to make a hard choice that might very well determine the shape of their future.
It was clear that many in the audience were unfamiliar with the story, given the general reaction to some less expectable twists. The fact that the action takes place in Berlin during the year of 1931, should be enough to give any spectator a pretty good guess of what's to come, yet the narrative is constructed in such an elegant and well-paced manner, that a skilled director does not need much to catch the public off guard. It could be said that the way it idealizes the Weimer Republic as a haven of social, intellectual and artistic prosperity is slightly dishonest, yet the great depth and the moral ambiguity of virtually all its characters prevents the show from becoming yet another tale of fallen good versus rising bad.
Cabaret has been directed in different styles throughout the years, and we'd be lying if we said we've seen them all. We can, however, argue that hardly any future production will capture the spirit and the intention of this musical better than this one. The balance between humour and drama is pretty much perfect, there is simply never a moment when one does not complement the other, something remarkably hard to achieve, especially in a major production set in the early days of Nazi Germany. The mood created by the lightning, the general pace of the show and the extremely well-coordinated transitions between scenes surely contributed a great deal for this harmony, but it was the acting talent of this amazing cast, so masterfully brought together by Rufus Norris under one single tone, that made such a thing possible.
Partridge, although distant from the central chain of narrative events, managed to be the heart of the show. While other characters made you think, question, wonder, he was there to make you feel all sorts of raw and unfiltered emotions. He made you love and hate Emcee, laugh, cry and want him far and near at the same time. In one scene you were thinking "this guy is too much," in the next you are wondering where he was. One minute he was a loud, dislikeable, raunchy arrogant wearing all sorts of flamboyant clothes while singing about his genitals, the next he was a David Bowie lookalike on a night-robe, giving you the blues with a slow-paced, heart-breaking song.
Hayworth and Hagerty were great together, wonderfully displaying the dysfunctional dynamic of a couple living on nothing but misconceptions, unmatching expectations and borrowed time. If you follow these reviews, you might have noticed how tired we are of stories that feature a lost writer as main character, yet Hagerty allows you to look beyond the man and into the struggle he represents. There is character development even in the emotion of his words, which is something not always easy to witness. Hayworth achieves this too, yet plays an extra trick on you. This promiscuous and fun-loving star of a cabaret is perhaps one of the least sexualized characters in the entire musical. Yes, you see her in a minxy outfit in several scenes, yes you see her flirting in Cliff's bed and yes she is abundantly desirable, but you look past that almost after her first line is spoken. She's a person trying her best to defeat her worst self and failing miserably at it. Her cute mannerisms and classy intonation fit the 1930s perfectly, but you immediately look beyond that and recognize the embodiment of a human challenge we all know too well.
We are sadly unable to review every performer of this great show, but one last word of praise to James Paterson and Anita Harris. Watching Paterson was first heart-melting and then heart-breaking, but deep inside, who can blame Fräulein Schneider? Harris was one of the cast members that better went from humour to drama in a manner of lines, and hearing her sing, with a painful yet well-mastered layer of elder world-weariness, was a true delight.
Ladies and gentlemen, we could not have opened 2020 in better fashion. Stick around to see what the Grand Théâtre has in store for us this year.
Image credit: The Other Richard