My love affair with Cabaret continues

Review by Paul Nelson

IT IS beginning to look as though I have had a half-century love affair with Kander and Ebb's musical Cabaret.

It first came to my notice in the middle 1960s when it was on Broadway and had a dull leading lady. The same decade it hit London with Judi Dench (nervous, I believe, in that it was her first musical). Then came the terrible film in which we were expected to believe that Liza Minelli was a well brought up English gel gone to the bad.

This idiosyncratic movie, directed by Bob Fosse, cut out most of the numbers I liked, added a few that were not as good as the original score, and wrecked the show for me, as I then thought, forever.

Guess what. The show has reassembled itself in its original hard hitting format at the Union Theatre and beware, that chocolate box musical is once again a nasty representation of Nazi hatred and bigoted anti-Jewish feelings.
The ultimate production has finally arrived.

It is a hard-hitting piece of filthy history.

The story is quite simple, an American writer arrives in Berlin before WW2, gets a cheap room, gets involved with an English girl of hedonistic and dubious morals, learns about fascism and life and is inspired to write THAT book.

Loosely based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories and John van Druten's play I Am A Camera, it presents a sanitised Isherwood, now a heterosexual American writer, Cliff Bradshaw. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It does however, give a horrifying picture of a Germany the world united to destroy, and fortunately for us survivors, succeeded in so doing. Nevertheless there are scenes that are still so dreadful that one's flesh creeps.

Against the background of a seedy nightclub, the story is told with a simplicity that amazes one. For a start it is in the Union Theatre, which is in a railway arch, and an obvious home to a tacky bierkellar.

The Kit Kat Klub, with its shameless girls, awful band and all-knowing MC is at last presented in its true milieu. The show is a smash hit.

The cast is led by Mark Edison as the Emcee, a man of doubtful sexual orientation but obviously a chap who will go along with the trend, whatever it may be. The most horrifying racist song that I think has ever been written, 'If You Could See Her Like I Do', sung to a gorilla (she wouldn't look Jewish at all) in this manifestation actually made my flesh creep. He is magnificent.

As Sally Bowles, the thirties English airhead, Stefanie Moore gives an affecting performance. This kid has got it. Whereas Sally Bowles was supposed to be not all that good, which I believed in the case of Liza Minelli, Miss Moore is good and well worth going to see.

Glynne Steele in the almost thankless part of Cliff, the authors did not even give him a rattling good number, is quite startling. What a leading man! Where was he when the light went out?

Equally stunning is Stephan Dunbar as Herr Shults, a kindly sensitive and worldly-wise Jew who really doesn't believe that what is happening can have anything to do with him. Apart from a lovely voice, he has a noticeable talent. He is not let down by his opposite number Fraulein Schneider, played quite neatly by Susan Travers. 'A Pineapple For Me', and 'Married', are two songs that are not only essential to the play, but also happy and tear-jerking at the same time.

However, it is the general company, who effortlessly change the settings, and really get down and dirty that puts this production above all the rest. Through them you can smell the rot in the Wehrmacht, and it makes you shiver.

The production is a triumph.

Cabaret by John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics) and Joe Masteroff (book), based on a play by John van Druten and Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood. Directed by Ben De Wynter and Sasha Regan, Choreography Louise Mitchell and Zoe Wyatt, Musical Director Susannah van den Berg, Designed by Sharon Miller, Lighting Design Jim Harlow, Costume Advisor June Cannon, WITH Mark Edison (Emcee), Stefanie Moore (Sally Bowles), Glynne Steele (Clifford Bradshaw), Susan Travers (Fraulein Schneider), Stephan Dunbar (Herr Schultz), Deanna Johnson (Fraulein Kost), Andrew Obeney (Ernst Ludwig). Jamie Anderson, Karl Clarkson, Liz Flint, Louise Fitzgerald, Louise Mitchell, Rebecca Oliver, Zoe Wyatt (Kit Kat Club Girls and Company), and Anna Corbould (sax and flute), Jill Grainger (trumpet), Liz Flint (violin), Deanna Johnson (violin), Greg Hunt (drums). Presented by the Union Theatre at the Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, London SE1. Tickets 020 7261 9876.