On Friday I went to the opening night of Cabaret at the Birmingham Rep. Being me, I didn’t realise until I opened the programme that this was the professional debut of Samantha Barks, who was a runner-up in I’d Do Anything (personally I’d say Sally Bowles in Cabaret is a more taxing role than Nancy in Oliver!, but what do I know?!) And it had Wayne Sleep in it. Consequently, I think it’s the first time I’ve seen “Full House” signs outside the theatre; and it was packed. And deservedly so. The set was amazing – flexible and quickly transformed; impressive. Wayne Sleep is both amusing and chilling as Emcee, a role he seems perfect for; and he plays it with a delightful postmoden self-consciousness, asking the audience if they think he’s too old to dance, etc. Samantha Barks is good; she’s not great, yet, but she’s very young, and this was the first night of her first show. She seemed a bit tentative once or twice, but she carried the big numbers of the show very well on the whole, and she does have an amazing voice.
And, of course, Cabaret is a cult classic, as it should be. Aesthetically reminiscent of Chicago, Kander & Ebb’s later work, it works in the shadows, blurring lines of morality, sexuality, politics etc until the viewer is bedazzled but sympathetic. The shadow of fascism grows throughout the show to a shocking, brilliant climax, and the world of Berlin in the 1930s is evoked in all its tawdry glory. Some musicals make me cross, but this is a feast for the eyes and the mind; it does make you think, so it stays with you.