Thursday, October 12, 2006

We celebrate it even though it isn't in the Torah

So, yesterday. It was a ball, it was a blast. I made it into London with enough time to buy myself some new boots, drop off the Alias discs and make it to the theatre on time. I met up with my theatre companion at noon and the first show was not until 3pm. The reason for the lengthy pre show time was he is recently back from New York, where he had himself a time and therefore we had a LOT of catching up to do. And as I couldn't spend time with him between shows, we had to do it all before we came to the Cabaret. In addition to the NY stories, he also told me something that made me see him in a whole new light. In a good way.

So in my previous entry I mentioned my fear that Anna Maxwell Martin would be taking the afternoon off. She didn't and thank the baby Jesus because she was pretty much the only outstanding performance on stage over at


I have to say, if she weren't in it, I wouldn't have given this revival a second thought. I saw the Studio 54 revival 3 times and was absolutely blown away by it each and every time. Any subsequent production I see is going to have to really go some to escape the long shadow that is inevitably cast. And this one didn't make it. I tried to take it on its own terms, really I did. But I couldn't. The main reason I couldn't is because this new revival is pretty much a smudged photocopy of the Studio 54 run and the stuff that has been altered has been changed for the worst.

The staging is off. It's unnecessarily complicated half the time and the vast majority of it is all moved around by the ensemble which just looked cheap. "Mein Herr" suffered particularly badly with the cast wheeling on a huge box, splitting it in two and having Anna Maxwell Martin climb up between the two halves and sing the number while they all danced behind her and were blocked from view by said huge box. Weird. And more than a little annoying after the cunning staging of "Don't Tell Mama" with the beds upended and used as cages. Ah well. It was almost like two people directed alternate scenes because it would go from great to shit to great to shit again.

I'm all for reworking scenes but if you're gonna change something, change it for the better. "If You Could See Her" ditched the gorilla motif and instead had the EmCee in an outfit that had a pig bride on the rear. Didn't work. At all. The interval had been moved to the first appearance of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" which was turned into a full blown number replete with a naked ensemble. Which is fine but the way it was staged before signified the rise of Nazism, from a harmless song by a choirboy to a chilling singalong at the engagement party. Here we go from full blown number to Fraulein Kost singing it alone at the party. Weird and, it must be said, unsuccessful.

Performance wise, James Dreyfuss doesn't cut it as the EmCee. Not sexy, not menacing, not really anything. "Money" was great though, I'll give him that and it was the best choreographed number of the show. Sheila Hancock as Fraulein Schneider was fine but that was to be expected I mean, she's Sheila Hancock. Harriet Thorpe's Fraulein Kost was also fine but couldn't do a German accent. Neither could anyone else in the show, alas. The rest of the performances ranged from average to awful. Shame.

It was all about Anna Maxwell Martin. She's truly phenomenally talented. And while her recent BAFTA winning performance in Bleak House has increased her visibility, I truly think she'll be another Kelly Reilly in that she never stops working, the critics always adore her but she stays off the fame radar. Which is fine with me. Her Sally Bowles was a thing of rare and special beauty. Desperately aware of her limited talents and trying oh so very hard to maintain the pretence of fabulousness, it was a brilliantly nuanced performance. She's taken a lot of flak for her apparent inability to sing, but of course Sally Bowles can't. So her performance numbers were deliberately lame but she nailed her book songs plus the title number, which is the most crucial moment in the whole show. All in all though, I would file this whole experience under 'disappointing'.

And then it was over to the National for the first preview of

Caroline, Or Change

I'm always wary of first previews. Particularly at the National where due to having shows running in rep, their tech time is always insufficient. Also, I was wary of the show as a whole because despite owning the cast recording and trying to listen to it several times, I haven't been able to get through it. Well, I needn't have worried on any count.

The show is utterly fascinating. Structurally flawed and musically all over the place, but never less than fascinating. After seeing Idina in Wicked I said I was no longer that annoyed at her Tony win. Well now I've seen Tonya Pinkins's Caroline and I'm furious all over again. I am amazed that a performance as incredible as this could be so overlooked. It's legendary, historic, matchless. Her character is prickly and unlikeable, even pious. But you warm to her, you sympathise with her. And the emotion she unleashes during "Lot's Wife" has to be heard to be believed. It blew the back wall out of the theatre, chilled me to the bone and ultimately moved me. She's surrounded by a host of excellent performances (Anna Francolini as Rose Stopnick is a joy) but she leaves them all in the dust. If the Tony debacle is repeated over here with the Oliviers, I swear before holy God....


Blood Ray said...

Re Cabaret, did they use the book from the Broadway revival? Were the songs the same?

Eric said...

Oh, how happy I am that Tonya moved you.
I'll say it again: as Caroline, she gave us our generation's Merm in Gypsy, Lansbury in Mame, Channing in Dolly...

and I hope your returning theatre partner wasn't too much of a twit. ;-)

Popcultureboy said...

Cabaret used for the most part the revival's book but added back in "Why Should I Wake Up?" and an earlier rendition of "I Don't Care Much", sung by Bobby. And they'd removed the German section from "Married". And because of the repositioned intermission, the Kick Line was also gone. Other than that, all the same.