Gritty portrayal of Weimar Germany. William Young proves his acting chops. Lacking Glitz and Glamour.
My friends and I went to see ‘Cabaret- The Musical’ starring Will Young and Michelle Ryan at the Lowry in Manchester last weekend. I had mixed expectations. I’m a huge fan of Liza Minnelli and ‘Cabaret’, the film and knew it could never live up to that classic film and Liza’s iconic performance. However seeing as it was a West End production I knew it must be good. I was interested in seeing the difference between the cinematic and theatrical versions. Despite these inevitable comparisons, I must say after seeing the show, the show and film are almost like two entirely separate entireties and should be treated as such.
The million dollar question: Was Will Young any good? The answer is he was brilliant. He definitely got into the spirit of Berlin Cabaret and captured the essence of the Emcee. He was the main character in the musical, unlike the film, and so carried a large part of the show. His singing was fabulous and he even managed a convincing German accent. He evoked the bizarre, hysterial quality of the Emcee very well. Although Joel Grey’s performance in the film remains iconic for me.
There were many differences between the film and the show. First off in the film Sally Bowles is the main character. Liza Minnelli’s electrifying performance became iconic propelling her to superstardom. In ‘Cabaret- The Musical’ Sally Bowles is merely a supporting player. The Emcee was the main character in the musical with the rest of the cast acting as an ensemble.
This may have been due to Will Young, the British Pop Star, being cast as the Emcee. It was very surprising Sally Bowles was such a minor character. My friends and I were all wondering how Michelle Ryan, a former EastEnders’s actress, was going to take on the iconic role of Sally Bowles given the image we all have in our heads of Liza.
‘Cabaret- The Musical’ had the atmosphere and structure of a play. There are also different characters in the musical than in the film. The musical is an ensemble piece with the action revolving around the boarding house and the stories of the different characters living there. These characters were given about equal playing time. Then we flashed over to the Kit Kat Club and entertainment from the Emcee.
The touching, sweet romance between Fräulein Schneider, the boarding house owner and Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor, was given prominence over that of Sally Bowles and Cliff (Brian in the film).
The strongest points of the play for me was the relationship between Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Siân Phillips, the great Welsh actress, was sublime as Fräulein Schneider and Linal Haft was brilliant as Herr Schultz. I loved the Pineapple song aka ‘It Couldn’t Please Me More (A Pineapple)’, which was sweet, funny and quirky, all at the same time.
I would have liked to have seen more of Sally. Sally is the centre of the Cabaret story. An electrifying, exciting performer but also a vulnerable and sensitive girl. The complexities of Sally’s character were not translated to the audience as she wasn’t in it enough. When Michelle Ryan sang, ‘Maybe This Time’, she wasn’t able to relate this to the audience as they hadn’t built up her character enough. This was a wasted moment seeing as its one of the most iconic musical songs there is, subtlety revealing in song the character’s deepest feelings. Michelle Ryan can sing well and she was particularly strong on ‘Cabaret’. She has a crystal clear voice rather than a Broadway Belter voice like Liza which I feel would be more suited to the role.
I also wasn’t keen on Sally being English and Cliff (Brian in the film) being American. I know this is the case originally, however I think it makes more sense given Sally’s character for her to be an American flapper girl rather than the ‘Toast of Mayfair’. The differences between the brassy American, Sally and reserved Englishman, Brian were portrayed beautifully in the film, in a nuanced way. This made it clear Sally and Brian would never been able to stay together as they had such different personalities.
I would have liked to have seen more interaction of Sally and the Emcee and to have seen Sally more at the Kit Kat Club. I was surprised the Emcee sang ‘The Money Song’ alone rather than as a duet with Sally. My friend pointed out that Sally and Cliff should have sung ‘The Money Song’ as a duet, working it into the storyline, as they worry about money more in the musical than in the film.
Director Bob Fosse’s choreography in the film is iconic. Who can forgot the image of Liza dancing on the chair in ‘Mein Herr’? It was disappointing they used new choreography. They also made more use of the backing dancers in the musical, Michelle Ryan didn’t seem to dance much.
‘Cabaret’ is ‘divinely decadent’ to quote Sally in the film. The costuming was rather dab without the glamour and decadence of the film. My friends and I thought Michelle Ryan should have had her hair in a short flapper style à la Liza in the film. Michelle Ryan did not wear Liza’s iconic waistcoat, shorts and bowler hat and her clothing was not as glamorous.
The musical was a lot darker than the film. The film is ‘divinely decadent’, brilliantly evoking the glamour and atmosphere of the Berlin Cabaret. The film is very fun. Bob Fosse’s Oscar winning-direction enables the film to successfully balance the glamour of the Cabaret against the hatred and violence taking hold of Germany. The film itself is very dark; anti-Semitism plays a key part of the storyline, there is an underlying threat of Nazi violence, and, of course, we know the Nazis will come to power.
The musical was even darker. The musical had a very strong ending with those who worked at the Cabaret ending up in a concentration camp. Many Cabaret artists were slaughtered in the concentration camps so it was realistic the musical ended this way.
I would recommend the musical to Cabaret fans as there were excellent performances. Siân Phillips and Will Young were both excellent. ‘Cabaret- The Musical’ is very different to the film having a much darker atmosphere and is much more like a play with music than a musical.