Pros: Lots of new talent showcasing their abilities.
Cons: Doesn’t quite rise above student production standards.
“Do you really love it?” asked a friend when I said I was going to see a student production of Cabaret, the famous Kander and Ebb musical that has been frequently revived since it first appeared on Broadway in 1966. The answer was that I’d seen the 1972 Bob Fosse movie a few times and liked several of the songs, plus I was drawn to the seriousness of the show’s setting and historical perspective. So the chance to see Cabaret on stage for the first time was appealing, and having been impressed with several drama school showcases in the past I was looking forward to getting a glimpse of the possible stars of tomorrow.
The plot follows the characters living in a Berlin boarding house in 1929. This bohemian crowd includes English nightclub singer Sally Bowles (Amy Blanchard), who forms a relationship with American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Michael McGeough). Their landlady Fraulein Schneider (Hannah Qureshi) is also in the throes of romance, in her case with Jewish greengrocer Herr Schultz (Calum Rickman). But therein lies the dramatic motor of the story: Nazism is on the rise, threatening the carefree lives of the characters, and the very survival of the Jewish people.
The first thing to say about the stage musical is that it’s significantly different to the film. There’s no Mein Herr or Maybe This Time, two classic numbers that Liza Minnelli made her own. In their place are a handful of excellent alternatives including the droll So What? and the cheeky Don’t Tell Mama.
As well as presenting a different soundtrack, the stage version also shifts the focus of the story away from Sally/Cliff and onto the Schneider/Schultz relationship. This works well, as it’s a very affecting autumn romance, and Schultz’s Jewishness encapsulates the dramatic meat of the narrative. This plotline is well served by Qureshi, who shows impressive comic flair as well as real emotional weight, wrapped up in a beautifully rich voice.
Sally and Cliff feel rather sidelined, although Blanchard brings some last minute depth to Sally in a powerful rendition of the title song, skilfully undermining the surface joie de vivre with hints of the desperate bitterness she’s hiding.
Elsewhere, Jake Lomas makes a confident, unpleasant Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub, and Bobby Harding as Ernst Ludwig demonstrates enormous stage presence in a small but crucial role. There’s not really a weak link in the whole company, who sing and perform several complex dance routines with style and commitment. I can’t honestly say I spotted the next Sheridan Smith or Charlie Stemp, but I think I left the show loving Cabaret a bit more than I had before.
I want to mention a couple of things that don’t really reflect on the quality of the production but which are worth saying. The first is that in this day and age it’s actually quite shocking to see such a large cast with not a single BAME member. This is something that would have gone unremarked ten years ago, but I’m surprised that in 2018 the Trinity Laban Conservatoire doesn’t seem to have noticed recent moves to reflect diversity in the arts.
On a less serious note I must air a pet peeve, which is visible microphones. In this production, some mics were skillfully hidden above hairlines, but others were very obviously not. I find it tremendously distracting when a performer is emoting away with a piece of wiring stuck to the middle of their forehead. I’ve seen this in much more professional productions too, so my plea to those starting out on their careers to do what they can to stamp the rot out now! Danke. Merci. Thank you.
Book: Joe Masteroff
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Director: Karen Rabinowitz
Musical director: Mark Smith
Choreographer: Graham Newell
Booking until: This production has completed its current run