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Review: Cabaret at the Liverpool Empire Theatre

Jo Henwood reviews the musical Cabaret which tours Liverpool and Manchester

Will Young as Emcee in Cabaret

Berlin in the 1930s was a decadent place to be.  There was no censorship, no morality laws and bars and clubs were allowed to open all hours. 

If you don’t believe me, check out Rufus Norris’s acclaimed production of Cabaret which is on tour at the Liverpool Empire (and the Manchester Opera House from September 9).

The musical pulls no punches and homosexuality, drugs, abortion, prostitution and nudity are laid bare for all to see.

Singer Will Young has reprised the role of Emcee he first played in London last year.  From his first appearance through an O in designer Katrina Lindsay’s gigantic WILLKOMMEN, the former Pop Idol winner is a big hit with the audience,

He does the job well but is not sensual or sinister enough for me until the final scene of Act 1.

In the spine-tinglingly rousing Tomorrow Belongs to Me he menacingly manipulates the Kit Kat dancers as puppets on strings, just as Hitler was beginning to do to the German public.

Javier de Frutos’s choreography is stunning throughout.  A contemporary choreographer rather than a stage musical man, his dancers have all the sexual, sinister and basic naturalness I was looking for.

They writhe and entangle themselves with a lasciviousness that makes the audience feel almost voyeuristic.

Talent show finalist Siobhan Dillon (she came third in Lloyd Webber’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? )is an accomplished leading lady as the mediocre cabaret star Sally Bowles.

Gauche and slightly awkward, her powerful rendition of the soulful Maybe This Time is very moving, even though we all know it’s not going to work out for her yet again.

Lyn Paul, of New Seekers fame but now a regular stage performer, is rather cold as boarding house owner Fraulein Schneider although her wonderful singing can excuse much.  And she has lived through one world war and is on the brink of another so I suppose she doesn’t have that much to smile about.

The brashness and downright openess of this production means that some of the subtleties of the original are lost.  The decision to drop Herr Schulz’s delightful Meeskite song means that Fraulein Kost has to tell Nazi supporter Herr Ludwig that he is a Jew, rather than have him work it out for himself.

And whilst the chilling finale was no doubt intended to shock, sometimes the imagination can be even more harrowing - we have hindsight to help us understand the horrors of the Third Reich but in 1932 there were just hints of the unspeakable terrors to come.

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