Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Cabaret

Book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb
Darlington Civic Theatre and touring
(2009)

Wayne Sleep as Emcee

In the opening number the Emcee (Wayne Sleep) remarks that they have a battle every night to stop Kit Kat Club girls and boys from taking off all their clothings. "Tonight we may lose the battle." he smirks.

And they do, but this is not gratuitous: it surpasses strip show, beautifully lit beautiful bodies display the creepy Ayran race ideals during the paean to the fatherland that ends the first act.

More shocking still though is the final montage representing the atrocities that were to come in Nazi Germany.

This Cabaret sends a shiver down the spine and Sleep's grotesque Emcee does little to lighten the mood.

The production does go rather overboard on some of the songs and with Kander and Ebb's superb songs, there really is no need.

That is not to say I didn't relish the choreography of Mein Herr, energetically pulled off by the seductive chorus, however the comic strap-ons to Two Ladies and Money Makes the World Go Round were a few eggs too many in an already rich dessert.

The show was a little too reliant on technology, which was rather unfortunate as there were a few hiccoughs in this area.

The basic elements of the set worked well with five windows into life in decadent Berlin. The use of the mobile ladders was rather distracting and the giant letters rather clumsy.

Samantha Barks also proved rather clumsy and distracted in her acting, but her musical numbers virtually made up for the flat scenes between her and Clifford (Henry Luxemburg).

Barks came alive with the music, confident with a strong voice, she kept up with the devilish little chorus in the dance pieces, but was particularly moving with Maybe This Time sung from her bed.

While Sally and Clifford's scenes were wilting and dying, Jenny Logan's Fraulein Schneider and Matt Zimmerman's Herr Schultz blossomed with their touching and tragic romance.

The production felt rather forced at times, none more so than If You Could See Her, which rather than having a dancer as a gorilla, has the Emcee with a pig mask and dress on his back.

While it is important to keep the show fresh and avoid just copying the iconic film, or indeed acclaimed recent revivals, a modern audience doesn't need everything spelt out for them.

Though it went a little too far in places, mostly I was enthralled: Sleep looks a long way off hanging up his dancing shoes, but the chorus was what really caught my attention.

The tight toned little group proved more sensual than the leads, working fluidly together and also flirting with the audience with their come-get-me smiles.

Until 21st February 2009

Reviewer: Seth Ewin