Saturday, October 07, 2006

"All the odds are in my favour, something's bound to begin..."

Two rules, not the only rules, but two rules nevertheless for any production of Cabaret to follow:

Make sure "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" gives everyone the chills.
And that no-one could ever accuse this Sally Bowles of leaving them cold.

Well, the much-hyped new West End production of a musical for which the word “classic” seems somehow insubstantial - well, it gets it half-right.
I’ve bored on at length already about the novel-cum-stageplay-cum-musical-cum-movie-cum-musicalagain, but will try to restrain this to the latest production (in previews, at the Lyric Theatre in the always-exciting, glistening end of Shaftesbury Avenue).

Well... I cannot tell a lie. I can’t listen to that music and not love it, even if the impeccably-remembered every-syllable of how Joel Grey or Liza Minelli pronounced a note tempers the appreciation of each new variation.

But the band here were, er, “perfectly marvellous”, as one of the stageshow-but-not-movie songs have it, and the set bleakly black and commanding, and the choreography presumably as dazzling and daze-making higher-up into the gods as it was on the very-lucky third-row. And the pre-reviews suggesting an over-phallic indulgence weren’t quite right, although the skimpy, barely-there underdresses of the earlier scenes were soon outdone by the pure nudity of a couple of others, including an apparently-gratuitous nearly-all-naked scene at the close of Act One, only for a devastatingly-depressing-but-justifying nude tableau in the very closing seconds of Act Two (ahoyhoy, spoilers ahead...)

I often find myself justifying to my Liza-loving, diva-deifying mother the rather under-played part of Renee Zellweger in Chicago, on the grounds that Roxie Hart isn’t necessarily a knock-’em-dead star, but a bit of a hoofing wannabe. And the same should go for Sally Bowles, especially as the rather trying-too-hard-to-shock, weak English ingenue of Christopher Isherwood’s original Berlin stories.
That is, Liza Minelli is awesome in the film. But she’s just too, too good. For Sally Bowles. Then again, if you’ve paid to see an all-singing, all-dancing, all-drama spectacular on-stage, then you’re entitled to expect a little more than mere oh-so-knowing amateurism.

I wanted to like and admire Anna Maxwell Martin’s performance as Sally, I really, really did. And could appreciate how she could play her as a silly, little, lisping, petty, somehow-almost-prissy teenager. But at least try to belt out some of the songs. And when an over-worked, over-perspiring chorus line is whizzing its way acrobatically around you, it might be an idea to do a little more than simply stand stock-still and hope the occasional arm-flutter might suffice.

Her stage experience seems to have been well-overwhelmed by her film and TV credits, as suggested by her recent Bafta award for Bleak House. In fact, a Barnet Press interview last week told how this was her first stage musical and how she hoped it would go well regardless - or even, as a result.
Sorry, from this seat, this Sally Bowles was a bit of a dud. Notably a promising actress, yet with very fine facial expressionism that suggests a set of close-up cameras rather than a vast stage would be the best environment.

James Dreyfus, perhaps because the camp shadows of The Thin Blue Line and Gimme Gimme Gimme mince too obviously by, seemed to be trying a little too harshly to spit out his delicious words as Emcee, forbidding black paint smeared across his eyes and what looked an ill-rehearsed, balloon-fumbling rendition of Money aside. He led the whole proceedings domineeringly, if lacking the edge of malevolent mischief given by the inimitably joyous Joel Grey.

But Sheila Hancock, national treasure and surefire Dame any day now, surely?, was poignant and perfect as the sad, relenting Frau Schneider, and Michael Hayden as confused writer Clifford Bradshaw and Geoffrey Hutchings as harassed Herr Schultz were both sturdy and solid-silver-voiced.

“Tomorrow Belongs To Me”, though - gets me every time, even without the devishly-clever cutaways of the movie, with the golden-voiced, brown-shirted Aryan boy leading a communal-hymnal-turned-Nazi-barnstormer…

Here, almost out of nowhere and seemingly unconnected to the previous scene, the trumpeter from the fluid backing band steps up, sporting yellow-and-brown Liederhosen and a cheeky, almost-innocent smile, to trill the purest of melodies and maladies.

Behind him, bohemian naked bodies caper and drape.
An hour, ten years later.. they huddle and droop.


Aureala said...

Well, if you ain't quite happy with 'Cabaret'... Any other West End shows you can recommend?

Aidan said...

Chicago, The Producers - both excellent. I'm intending to see the new Evita production, with (gasp!) an actual Argentine in the title role. I'm sure there are plenty more, will have a ponder...