Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s production of Cabaret, first performed on Broadway in 1998 and revived at Studio 54 in 2014, is renowned for its innovative staging and gritty take on the play. The tour is performed on a proscenium rather than a thrust stage, with the audience seated in the auditorium instead of cabaret tables; although this does necessarily detract somewhat from the immersive experience of the original production, this is nevertheless a play which sweeps the audience off their feet and places them firmly in the raucous, glamorous, dangerous world of 1930s Berlin.
Despite the altered staging, Robert Brill’s set remains as close to the Broadway production as possible, evoking grit and glamour in equal measure. The set remains the same for most of the production, with small changes in lighting and props used to evoke different locations – not only is the set beautifully designed, but the background of the Klub’s staging implies that wherever one goes and whatever one does in the world of the play, the cabaret isn’t far away.
This impression is furthered by the constant presence of Randy Harrison’s magnificent Emcee, who prowls around the stage at all times; sometimes disguised, sometimes as himself, he watches the action unfold and even helps it along, providing the other characters with props almost like a stage manager. Not only does this remind us of the cabaret’s presence, the constant temptation for Sally and Cliff to join in with the debauchery happening around them, but the constant surveillance and interference also bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the reality of life in Berlin under the growing influence of the Nazis.
The darker aspects of the play are handled well, particularly by Shannon Cochran and Mark Nelson as the doomed lovers Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz; their rendition of ‘Married’ (Reprise) is heart-rending. Andrea Goss is outstanding as the doll-like Sally Bowles, entertaining and emotive in equal measure as she explores Sally’s descent from cabaret star to starving alcoholic. Above all, this is a production which balances light and dark, as the audience learns first-hand what Sally and the other characters already know: that the cabaret can take you away from your troubles and into a world of beauty and joy. However, this production asks, when those troubles are serious – pregnancy, poverty, the rise of the Nazis – even if it is possible to ignore them, is it right?
- Music by JOHN KANDER
- Lyrics by FRED EBB
- Based on the play by JOHN VAN DRUTEN and stories by CHRISTOPHER ISHERWOOD
- Co-directed and Choreographed by ROB MARSHALL
- Directed by SAM MENDES
- Golden Gate Theater, San Francisco
- Until 17th August 2016
- Review by Nicola Watkinson
- 12 July 2016