"Samantha Barks emerges triumphant as Sally Bowles" said one of the posters. Well, there was certainly plenty of Samantha emerging tonight as Sally, and it says much for the production that her cleavage wasn't the most memorable thing in it. Samantha, you may recall, came third in I'd Do Anything, the BBC's casting show for Oliver! And I bet now she's glad she did, as while I thought she would have made the best Nancy she makes a fantastic Sally, occupying the role just as thoroughly as Liza Minnelli. (It is probably not coincidence that she got to meet Minnelli during the BBC show.) And as far as co-stars go, I have trouble imagining Rowan Atkinson as Fagin (I know everyone says he's great: I just can't see him in the part) while the Emcee in Cabaret is a role for which Wayne Sleep is brilliantly suited. While I'm sure they've ramped up the choreography for him (especially in If You Could See Her) it came as a slight shock to find he can sing too. The dancing in general was first-rate, with the routine for Mein Herr especially stunning, with the dancers hurling themselves (or being pushed) from the top of a tall flight of steps and being caught by their colleagues. A cliche of team-building exercises perhaps (I'm suddenly remembering the bit in Mean Girls) but to do it look convincingly and without hesitation must have taken a lot of practice.
Back to Samantha, because it's very much her show as Sally. She can act, she can sing, she can dance, she looks fabulous: why would anyone want to cast anyone else in the role if she were available? She really can act: I know she showed acting skills in I'd Do Anything, but to show them in a three-minute song is one thing, to show them in a two-hour show made up of songs and dialogue is quite another. She was always completely believable as the vulnerable but determined Sally Bowles: and it's nice to hear the lines spoken by someone English rather than American. (OK, ner-ner-ner-ner-ner, she's Manx rather than English if you're a pedant.) Diction clear as a bell, which is always nice. And as we were only three rows back I can confirm that she has a very wide variety of facial expressions.
The production, by Bill Kenwright, was terrific. The set was extremely versatile, with a grid of rooms at the back which served as Fraulein Schneider's rooms to let, as private parts of the Kit-Kat Club, as streets and shop windows. Some of the Kit-Kat Club routines were wonderful: no, actually all of the Kit-Kat Club routines were wonderful. Tomorrow Belongs To Me still chilled, and the ending with the former denizens of the club being herded into a gas chamber was a magical piece of theatre. As the Emcee puts it in his final appearance, "I bet you've forgotten all about your own problems, just as I promised". Oh, and the programme is full of excellent pictures of real 1930s Berlin decadent nightlife.
So to sum up: Oliver's loss was our gain. Cabaret is worth seeing just for Samantha Barks, but it's so much more than just a star vehicle, star though she undeniably is. I'm only sorry that I'm rehearsing tomorrow and doing a concert on Saturday so can't try to see it again. Mind you, there is Glasgow next week...... Oh, just go and see it.
UPDATE: I did in fact manage to see the matinee today. I got a seat one row further forward than last time (what, me, obsessive about viewing lingerie-clad ladies? it was cheaper, darling) and enjoyed it all just as much, There was a larger but rather less responsive audience (mind you, getting into the Kit-Kat Club mood in mid-afternoon must be hard enough for the pros onstage, never mind the Edinburgh matriarchs in the stalls). There was a girl of primary school age sitting behind me, who was asking her Mum intelligent if innocent questions about the Nazis at the interval. And now I wonder whether the intelligent but innocent questions about prostitution, abortion, homo- and bisexuality and the whole Berlin nightclub scene came later on the way home, or whether modern nine- or ten-year-olds no longer need to ask them ("Mummy, we did a project on troilism today in school...") Wayne Sleep's diction wasn't quite as clear as on Thursday; Sam got her fur coat caught in a chair briefly (which didn't faze her in the slightest); and the acting, singing and dancing throughout were as brilliant as before. Henry Luxemburg was Cliff; Jenny Logan and Matt Zimmermann were wonderful as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz; but the best acting moment of the show, as before, involved none of them. While Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider are singing about marriage after he has just told Fraulein Kost that they are engaged, we see the latter in one of the grid of rooms sitting on her bed clearly contemplating her own unfulfilled life of prostitution, and gradually breaking down in tears. The focus of the show is all on the older couple singing, and it says much for Suanne Braun's dramatic abilities that on neither occasion could I take my eyes off her. (And before you say it, she was fully clad all the time.) Seeing a show for the second time is a good opportunity to see how well the minor characters act, as well as how the principals act when they're not the focus of attention. Full marks all round, for Sam and for the others.
And if Samantha Barks is this good at eighteen, what lies ahead?