Cabaret at Leeds Grand Theatre Review

Cabaret is an exciting, sexy, dark musical that manages to entice, delight and appal simultaneously – which is exactly the look they’re going for.

Set in 1931 Berlin, the musical follows American writer Cliff Bradshaw as he becomes involved with cabaret performer Sally Bowles. The action is constantly overseen by Emcee, Master of Ceremonies at the seedy Kit Kat Klub as the rise of the Nazi party bubbles menacingly under the surface.

The musical is an absolute classic, featuring a range of recognisable show tunes including Cabaret, Maybe This Time and Willkommen.

The latest production is raunchy, but not in a sexy / sassy way. More in a filthy, slightly unsavoury way. This vibe is thoroughly led by John Partridge, who plays Emcee. He is slimy and overly cocky in his role, bringing out the worst qualities in the character rather than the mischievous, likeable ones. This casts a shadow over the whole production. Where previous actors, such as Will Young, add sinister undertones, John Partridge rather taints the piece. It’s all the more difficult because his diction is pretty unclear, so it’s hard to hear anything he says or sings.

Kara Lily Hayworth plays our lead, Sally Bowles. Her voice is stunning and she gives the character a whole new level of vulnerability – stripping Bowles of her sexy, carefree and slightly reckless nature and replacing it with a bewildered, lost and easily influenced young woman. This works for Hayworth, who can offer plenty of touching moments, but not so much for the show. It misses the sizzling, sexy Sally Bowles that holds the audience in the palm of her hands. It’s an interesting interpretation, though.

The rest of the cast are much more suited to their roles. Charles Hagerty as Cliff Bradshaw is confident, confused, yet firm in his principles – a hedonistic Steady Eddie. Nick Tizzard as Ernst Ludwig also brilliantly adds menacing undertones to the piece, representing the rise of the Nazi party.

It’s Anita Harris as Fraulein Shneider and James Paterson as her love interest Herr Schultz that steal the show for me. Harris has a magical charisma that just captivates – she embodies her character and portrays her beautifully. Paterson is similarly adorable, firmly solidifying the pair as our real romantic leads.

The choreography from Javier De Frutos is predictably raunchy, energetic and spectacular to watch. There’s always something going on. This is complemented by the ever-changing yet seamless set designed by Katrina Lindsay. We’re transported to Berlin, exploring Fraulein Sneider’s boarding house and enjoying the seedy performances in the Kit Kat Klub.

The musical has plenty of dark moments, highlighted to their extremes by director Rufus Norris, but it makes some important political points by doing so. It’s by no means a light watch, but there are moments of true theatrical magic woven throughout the show – mainly provided by stage legend Anita Harris.

Don’t miss Cabaret at Leeds Grand Theatre, running until 7th March 2020.

Photograph credited to ┬ęThe Other Richard

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