David and I saw Cabaret at the Savoy Theatre last night – the second half of our sort-of-exchange (I’d seen I Am A Camera before but not Cabaret; he’d seen Cabaret but not I Am A Camera; they are based on the same set of stories). I didn’t know, mostly, what the differences were before yesterday evening.
I was a bit surprised to find that the musical engaged me more than the play; I was really hooked in by the central love story of two older characters, one of whom doesn’t exist in the play and the other is a more minor and more comic character.
In IAAC Chris (Cliff in Cabaret) is essentially asexual; in Cabaret he’s bi, and/so the audience’s avatar is embroiled in the inter-war decadence rather than being a passive observer, which I think enhances all the emotional responses to the changes of atmosphere at the end of the first act and through the second.
The whole thing’s more explicit and enlarged, too: the sexuality and the Big Bad of Naziism, which is absolutely in your face in Cabaret, whereas in IIAC it’s going on outside, more removed and less developed because IIAC is more tightly tied to the actual timeline of Christopher Isherwood’s presence in Berlin.
It’s interesting that Chris/Cliff is made American in Cabaret – maybe to be more similar to its first audiences? (I wonder whether this is why he’s bi rather than gay, too.) In some ways it seemed to be played to make him seem more legitimately naive – more of an outsider to Europe.
My subjective experience: I found IIAC very interesting and thought-provoking, whereas Cabaret had me weeping buckets.
Performance-wise, Will Young was great as the MC, but I think there was an issue with his microphone as he was much less audible than the others.
Michelle Ryan worked much better than I expected as Sally Bowles – she was excellent. She worked the gradual disintegration of the shiny very well.
Matt Rawle was a great Chris Cliff – he reminded me a bit of John Barrowman in the extravagance of his performance, and that fitted well in the production.
The star, for me, was Sîan Phillips, playing the funny and the heartbreaking parts of Fraulein Schneider perfectly and singing much more for believability of the character than for note-perfection.
So yes, it was brilliant, and I would go again (with more hankies next time).