Enjoyed Chicago? Add sex, Nazis and a devastating emotional wallop and you have Cabaret. The same team wrote the music for both (John Kander and Fred Ebb), and the wittily-worded tunes have a way of worming themselves into the top ten on your mental radio for a few weeks - or years - after you hear them.
Inspired by Christopher Isherwood's salty, semi-autobiographical vignettes of decadent 1920s Berlin (Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin - both intriguing records in their own right of a crazy nexus of history), Cabaret is the story of a disintegrating nation, told through the subplots of two romances. The first is between an outsider (Isherwood, thinly disguised as a young American from the home state of the writer of Cabaret's book) and the dappy good-time girl Sally Bowles; the second is between Isherwood's landlady and an elderly tenant. The spiky, malevolent presence of the Master of Ceremonies (Will Young) broods over all, but it is not until the end of the first act that we realise even he is subordinate to the terrible power of the rising Nazis.
It's an excellently crafted show, produced with such perfect professionalism that it's hard to notice. For me, there was not one jarring note to interfere with the suspension of disbelief. Music is on key; choreography is slick; sets are atmospheric; dance is acrobatic; acting is fine and direction pacy and minimalist; I held my breath for nobody. Lyn Paul and Linal Haft were frankly gorgeous as the elderly couple. Paul's strong, sweet, haunting voice makes her songs some of the highlights of the evening, and Haft underplays the dangerously sentimental part of the gentle grocer into adorability. Matt Rawle manages to bring a really charming, unassuming sincerity to the part of the naive young American, and Siobhan Dillon is a mad, ridiculous, hyper Sally Bowles - as she should be - with a hypnotic charisma in Sally's serious moments, which is harder and more admirable and essential for the part. And she is a stunning vocalist, whether being funny, sad or raunchy-the songs go straight to your spine. Another stunning vocalist is Will Young, the Emcee, who as celebrity poster child for the show I was expecting to be overrated, but who surprised me with his power and versatility and particularly with the lovely timbre in his 'I Don't Care - Very Much'.
It is Cabaret's quick cutting between comedy and horror that opens you up; it is its humanity that takes you down. Characteristically, the Nazi signature tune is the beautiful 'Tomorrow Belongs To Me', a lovely, pure, folky, alpine tune that enables you to begin to see dimly how an inhuman ideology captured a generation. Fräulein Schneider's weakness wouldn't be seen in Hollywood: it is too hideously human.
It's all powerful material and it is masterfully performed, and I suspect I wasn't the only person in tears when the audience rose in an ovation at the end. If you're emotionally fit and can get tickets, go go go - it's a beautiful, shattering, fabulous show. If I could stand it I'd see it again.