Cabaret at The Alhambra Theatre Bradford Review

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Cabaret the Musical
with Will Young
The Alhambra Theatre, Bradford

23-28 September 2013

Reviewed by Emma Wasson

On a par with a previous visit to the Alhambra, they know how to entertain well on every level. My tickets were waiting, as instructed, with Mandy on the mezzanine level, where I was handed a programme and told to meet at the lower bar at the interval for drinks, and also informed on how to find our seats. At the interval we were served complimentary drinks in a cordoned off area of the lower bar, which was reserved for press or other special invited guests. It was a lovely touch and made us feel very welcome. All other encounters with staff were positive. We took a drink prior to the performance at the bar near the dress circle and as it came closer to the performance starting, we were handed plastic cups to enable us to take our drinks through into the auditorium. There were many people pre-ordering drinks for the interval and this service appeared to be running efficiently as well. The only little niggle I have is about the toilets. I waited in a large queue for the toilets downstairs, and one of the toilets was out of order and most people in the queue were complaining about the wait. Afterwards we found out that there were additional toilets located on every floor, so perhaps someone could re-direct people in the queue to other toilets if they are not familiar with the venue.

It is my second time at the Alhambra and the building is just as impressive as on my first visit. Being located in the dress circle on this occasion, gave a different aspect to the theatre, with the impressive surroundings adding to the drama being acted out on stage. The location of our seats was perfect, we were on the front row with a perfect view of the stage at all times.

Cabaret, set in Berlin sees Clifford, played by Matt Rawle arrive in Germany at the train station. He befriends Ernst Ludwig played by Nicholas Tizzard who puts him in touch with Fraulein Schneider, played by Lyn Paul, who owns a boarding house. He rents a room from her and then visits the Kit Kat club, a typical German cabaret establishment of its era and meets Sally Bowles, played by Emily Bull. Sally leaves the club moves in with Clifford, falls pregnant and the couple agree to have the baby together, even though they are not sure of the father. Love is in the air again at the boarding house as a romance blossoms between Fraulein Schnider and Herr Schultz, played by Linal Haft, a Jewish fruit stall owner. All is well and life is one big celebration until Ernst Ludwig shows his alliance to the Nazi party and things start to take a turn for the worst. Fraulein pulls out of her marriage to Herr Schultz due to his Jewish race. Clifford who has been running secret errands for considerable sums of money for Ernst Ludwig, suddenly realises what he is doing and returns to America. He wants to take Sally with him, however she has a change of heart and decides to stay at the club and has an abortion. As the Nazi party starts to have major influence the play draws to a close with the final demise of the Kit Kat club.

To say we were excited for the performance to start was an understatement, and we were not alone, the theatre was packed and everyone had taken their seats eager for the performance to begin. We were not disappointed, the initial backdrop on stage was a huge black screen with Wilkommen Men in huge letters, three to a line, and the O in the middle opened up like a door, to reveal the Emcee aka, Will Young kitted out in lederhosen, fully made up face and showing plenty of leg. He opened the show in style singing the infamous Wilkomen to the audience, which the crowd lapped up cheering and clapping.  We knew right from the start that we were going to be entertained all night. 

The first scene was set at the train station and we were introduced to Clifford and Ernst Ludwig, with Will Young playing the border guard hidden in the letter E of Wilkommen, here he added his own humour to the small scene, again building on his rapport with the audience. 

Clifford also has a major role throughout the play and pulls it off very well, from the exploration to his own sexuality at the beginning of the performance to the darker issues explored at the end as he goes up against the Nazi party. A talented actor with a beautiful singing voice.

Then we were introduced to the KitKat club, set in 1930s Germany in full hedonistic mode. This number was superb, full of Kabaret razzmatazz, we were introduced to all the male and female dancers of the club by the Emcee and treated to a superb performance of dancers using cages to act out their roles within the club. The orchestra were located at the back of the stage high up above the actors and when glitzy scenes were played throughout the play, they were illuminated for all to see which again added to the overall experience.   

The costumes were amazing, with the men all kitted out in lederhosen and the women in very skimpy, sparkly and scantily clad outfits, completely suited to the character roles they were playing. All of the dancers were amazing, very talented, strong and supple with bodies to die for, they made each routine look effortless.

Cabaret is renowned for its risqué themes and not long into the performance the ladies were treated to a naked man running across the stage, trying (not very hard) to cover his modesty with a towel, and this did not go unnoticed and caused quite a stir within the audience!!!

Clifford arrives at Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house and the scene acts out the negotiation between the two, for the money to be paid for the room with Fraulein Schneider singing “So What?”  Lyn Paul who plays the hotel owner has such a beautiful voice that one could sit and listen to all day, and it’s clear by her presence of stage that she has been in show business a long time and portrayed her character very naturally.

Next we were introduced to Sally, one of the lead characters in the story, who was being played by Emily Bull instead of Siobhan Dillon, as announced at the very start of the show. She performed an amazing rendition of Mein Herr, which included a movable metal staircase and all the club’s dancers. The choreography to this scene was amazing and showed off the sheer strength and flexibility of the dancers. The men had a costume change for this number into long trousers with the girls retaining their tight fitting sparkly underwear. Not only are the cast talented dancers but also talented singers, with each different scene requiring different singing tones, and often with the jazzy numbers, they started off quite slow and quiet building to a crescendo to finish, pulling the audience into the scene and firing them up. It was clear that the audience was enjoying the performance by their reaction to each scene and the loud clapping and cheering as each number finished.

During Act 1 all of the Cabaret scenes are fairly racy, with scantily clad men and women depicting typical scenes from a Cabaret nightclub, including prostitution, drugs and homosexuality. Various props and lighting effects were used to aid the cast to portray these themes, without going too far, and the dancers characterized all of these issues extremely well.

The Two Ladies scene set in a large bed with Emcee, Frenchie and Helga had the audience in stitches. The nature of the scene became racier as more people kept popping up out of the bed covers, equating to 8 in total and a giraffe!!! Thoroughly enjoyed by all, job well done.

Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, pineapple song was excellent, again we got to enjoy Lyn’s wonderful voice and various comedy elements were thrown into the mix by Herr Schultz varying the tone of his voice and the Hawaiian dancers who kept floating on and off the stage throughout the song.  This again had the audience laughing out loud.

Then the mood shifts considerably as the play moves into Act II, the sinister Nazi overtones start to make an appearance when Ludwig first reveals his alliance and support for the Nazi party, by wearing a Nazi armband.  From here we start to see a shift in the tone of the play and it becomes more sombre as darker issues are brought to the audience’s attention with anti-Semitism being addressed. All the cast portray these darker issues extremely well, and you can see the hurt, pain and fear in the cast’s faces as they act out the difficult issues faced by their characters during various different scenes, but you also saw Nicholas Tizzards character, Ernst Ludwig, portray enjoyment as he and his Nazi extremists exerted their power over others.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom in the second half, as there is still plenty of dancing and singing to be enjoyed on stage, with continued excellent choreography throughout. I particularly enjoyed Will Young’s rendition of “I Don’t Care Much” with the dancers cart wheeling around the stage. The money song also saw Will Young struggle onto stage as he was huge with ballooned trousers and top and then towards the end of this number the dancers popped his top and trousers bursting all the balloons bringing him back to his normal size, very cleverly done.  Also Will Young’s voice was astounding as he sung “I don’t care much”, an incredible rendition.

Those who know the musical Cabaret will know that it ends on a very sad note as the characters of the Kit Kat club are sent to the gas chamber, however it was acted out superbly, an extremely moving and compelling scene. As Ludwig knocks over each of the Kabaret letters, one by one, the thud that each letter made on stage, added to the tense atmosphere within the whole auditorium. During which all the cabaret dancers remain naked, their backs to us, against the backdrop of the stage, apart from Emcee: Will Young who stands tall in the middle holding onto the letter A. The scene comes to a dramatic climax as Will Young pushes down the A himself , drops his dressing gown to the floor and heads to the back of the stage to join the other naked cast members. The curtain falls but it remained silent for a few minutes as the audience reflected on this final cruel act, which had just been portrayed on stage. Then the curtain is raised and the crowd went wild, with many of them giving the cast a full standing ovation as they each took a bow on stage. What a finale.

Overall, I don’t think I could use enough adjectives to describe this performance to do it justice, however to name but a few, astounding, remarkable, wonderful, hilarious, thought provoking, funny, talented, and sad.

For the first half of Cabaret, the scenes are upbeat, jazzy and full of life showing everyone’s vivacity for the party lifestyle, depicting the scene in most Kabarett clubs in Germany at that time. However as you move into Act II the scenes take on a more sombre atmosphere portraying the sinister turn of events that were happening to Germany as the Nazis gained political power, the anti-semantic movement gaining dominance and the change of public opinion towards the Kabaretts and their eventual demise. All of these issues, ranging from racy to highly controversial anti Semitism were acted out superbly by the cast of Cabaret, with flair, vitality, energy and empathy. What an amazing group of talented artists, who wowed the audience from start to finish with this spectacular and thought provoking performance.   

It was an extremely enjoyable night, one that I have already and would continue to recommend to others. Will Young was the talking point at the school gates this morning as we recalled the amazing singing we had heard, not forgetting of course the naked bottoms!!!

I couldn’t end without saying how brilliant Will Young was throughout the show, he has such an amazing voice, and is also a talented actor perfect for stage performances. He built a rapport with the audience right from the beginning and where the script allowed him, he would encourage audience participation, which he got back immediately upon any of his requests. He was just right for the part of the Emcee and played it superbly throughout the changing scenes where he had to depict the liveliness and energy to the more sombre scenes at the end of the show, where the darker issues were under covered.

Rating: 5/5

Cabaret with Will Young is showing at The Alhambra Theatre in Bradford until 28 September 2013. Tickets cost from £19.50 to £39.50. To book your tickets click here.

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