Cabaret at the Winter Gardens promised an interesting night, with headline names in the leading roles and a contrast between the eponymous razzmatazz and some very dark themes. The result was both entertaining and thought provoking.

Will Young was reprising his award winning performance as Emcee from previous runs of the show. He recently told the Evening Gazette the character was ‘a clown and a psychopath’. It’s easy to see what he meant, there’s a pierrot like appearance with the white face make up and a physical performance that at times borders on slapstick, but particularly in the second half of the show a more sinister edge. The audience generally laughed in the right places, but it was a bit disconcerting when people nearby were tittering at commentary on the rise of the Nazis.

On this run Young is joined by Louise Redknapp. As Louise Nurding she was of course part of R&B group Eternal so the strength of her vocal performance was never going to be in doubt. She belted out the signature tune of the musical near the end of the show with great stage presence. Her acting performance was solid enough as cabaret performer Sally Bowles, if more of a straight role than Young’s mercurial character.

Some of the other singers were not up to same standards as the two leads, but that was perhaps to be expected in a production with stars who have had successful careers in the music industry. Several of the acting performances were endearing though, particularly the love story involving Mrs Schneider and Mr Schultz.  Anyone who has seen the film will know that there are some ‘adult’ dance performance, and there is also some nudity so discretion is advised in taking younger musical lovers.

The set was very eye catching, with a nod to James Bond in the opening set-up. What was particularly impressive was the way in which scene transfers were handled. One in particular where the props were subtly moved in time with Emcee’s song was very effective. As might be expected given the nature of some of the songs the live orchestra was first rate.

Overall I thought this was a show that improved as it went on. The first half was absorbing enough but a little pedestrian in places. After the interval with some of the perhaps necessary scene setting done it began to move with more pace and address big issues. The light and shade of a rousing rendition of ‘life is a cabaret old chum’ and a final scene suggesting the death of many of the characters is stark but effective.

If you have been to other recent blockbuster musicals at the Winter Gardens (Sister Act, Dirty Dancing etc) this is a much more nuanced offering. It is arguably all the better for that. Whether or not you are a Will Young or Louise Redknapp fan get yourself to the Winter Gardens before the run ends on Saturday. You’ll be eternally grateful you did (sorry…).

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