Former Pop Idol Will Young has rejuvenated his career to become the darling of Musical Theatre thanks to his much acclaimed turn as the deviant Master of Ceremonies in the award-winning Cabaret.
The musical opened to a full house at Oxford’s New Theatre last night and earned a standing ovation despite the shocking storyline that literally strips bare the rise of Nazism in pre-war Berlin.
Young, his face roughly daubed with white panstick and dressed in leather lederhosen, bids the audience willkommen from the “O” in the word before drawing back the curtains on the decadent and debauched underworld of 1930’s Berlin and its seedy nightclub scene.
He’s the Emcee at The Kit Kat Klub, where the scantily clad dancers offer titillation and sordid fantasy, and a gin-sodden, coke-addicted party girl called Sally Bowles lives life to the full as the venue’s songbird.
Into her life walks a handsome, though bisexual, American writer Cliff Bradshaw who had come to the city to find inspiration. Circumstances throw the two together for a tortuous affair played out in a shabby boarding house or backstage at the club while the world outside is threatened by a terrifying new order.
Throughout the all-seeing, all-knowing nightclub host narrates with a satirist’s eye and a series of now iconic songs written by John Kander and Fred Ebb.
The irrepressible Sally (wonderfully captured by the equally astounding Siobhan Dillon) wows with Mein Herr, and the show-stopping power ballad Maybe This Time, but most of the numbers are skilfully delivered by Will Young’s increasingly louche and unpleasant Emcee.
Willkommen is frequently reprised; the scandalous Two Ladies sees him share a bed with a menagerie of weird and outlandish creatures; and Money exposes the greed of an era that was permissive and out of control. The party had to end sometime but no-one envisaged just how.
By far the two songs guaranteed to shock are the Act One finale Tomorrow Belongs To Me, in which the star portrays Hitler pulling strings to manipulate his rise to power, and the horrendous If You Could See Her whose lyrics have the power to completely silence a theatre.
It is a tour de force for Will Young and it is unlikely that he will ever find a better role suited to him. He delivers a confident performance backed with powerful vocals.
While Cliff and Sally’s world is all about sex and hedonism, the play’s emotional heart comes from a wonderfully underplayed, but hugely compelling love story between an elderly, widowed, Jewish fruitier, Herr Schultz, and Cliff’s rather attractive landlady, Fraulein Schneider.
The performances throughout are beautifully delivered by all. Matt Rawle’s Cliff could do with being better fleshed out but he’s handsome, can carry a tune and does what is asked of him.
The ever dependable Linal Haft is reprising his West End role as Schultz while he is joined for a late-life dalliance by former New Seekers’ singer Lynn Paul who is inspirational.
The company of dancers spend pretty much the entire performance in not very much, leering, posturing and entwining their long limbs either around an industrial set of ladders and steps or around each other. It’s very touchy feely.
Director Rufus Norris, now the recently announced incumbent artistic director for The National Theatre, has produced a dazzling revival that has grown in stature since its debut last year in London. It’s less playful and more hard-nosed than the film version but that’s no criticism.
Berlin was a city of contrasts where its clubs indulged in excess and its streets became temples of morality and social cleansing.
Cabaret runs until Saturday. For tickets call the box office 0844 871 3020 or visit www.atgtickets.com/oxford.