Review: Cabaret at Astra Hall

From 26th February to 2nd March, UCD Musical Society ran an adaptation of the Broadway musical Cabaret. Cabaret is based on a book by Joe Masteroff and the 1966 Broadway production of the same name, directed by Harold Prince, and has won multiple accolades in the industry, so how does the Musical Society adaptation fare?

The musical is set in the years leading up to Nazi-occupied Berlin, the story follows the dazzling English cabaret performer, Sally Bowles (Caoilfhionn Ni Dhulaing), in the steamy Kit Kat Club, and her relationship with Clifford Bradshaw (Andrew Murray), an aspiring American novelist freshly arrived in Berlin. The drama is absorbing from the very first scene of a hypnotised-looking boy brokenly playing a German song. Following this sombre scene are delightful performances by the Club’s “girls and boys”, which are sufficiently sensual. They mesmerise the crowd and draw them into the glittery glam scape, and perfectly bring to effect the sordid nature of the establishment.

Ernst Ludwig (Colin Gilligan), who is a rich patron of the city and Cliff’s first friend, recommends the accommodation run by Fraulein Schneider (Taylor Fewer), wherein Cliff encounters the seductive Fraulein Kost. Cliff is drawn to the Kitkat Club by Ernst, and spends the night indulgently with some of the Club’s dancers, wherein his bisexuality comes to light. He comes upon Sally Bowles, the lead singer in the Club, and their adorable conversation is interrupted by the institution’s proprietor, Max. The next day, Sally is kicked out by Max, and in search of a place to stay, comes to Cliff’s humble abode. Sally’s charming demeanour wins against Cliff’s weak protests and they start cohabiting.

As the story evolves, performances by the Kit Kat Club’s dancers are still enticing, yet there is an undertone of uncertainty, to reflect the ‘politics’ becoming more pervasive. Herr Schultz (Pádraic Ó Brolcháin), an admirer of Fraulein Schneider, plans to marry her. They have an engagement party, to which everyone is invited, from Sally and Cliff, to Kit Kat Club’s dancers and even Max, along with Ernst. As the night progresses and everyone if having fun, Ernst gets to know that Herr Schultz is Jewish and it is revealed that Ernst is a Nazi officer. Tensions arise as Fraulein Schneider’s happiness at being engaged turns out to be short-lived, and even as Herr Schultz assures her that the ‘politics’ will pass over, he has to depart shortly because of the same ‘politics’. Meanwhile, Sally and Cliff are facing problems with their engagement, but Sally’s pregnancy reunites them. As is deemed a defining part of a showgirl’s persona, Sally is aloof from the “politics” around her even as it affects her happiness as well. Being engaged to Cliff Bradshaw is the “best thing that ever happened to her” yet she cannot come to terms with the fact that Kitkat Club, and Berlin itself, were changing with the Nazi powers and leads her life in deliberate ignorance, thereby self-sabotaging her relationship with Bradshaw. Everything falls apart after the engagement party, with Cliff’s rising detest for Ernst and Nazi presence to the point that he decides to go back to America. Sally decides the opposite and stays in Berlin, and returns to the Club, heartbroken.

“They mesmerise the crowd and draw them into the glittery glamscape”

Every performer in the musical has done an outstanding job. Ruairi Nicholl’s portrayal of the near-omnipresent Emcee of the Kitkat Club is absolutely brilliant. When he is not running the cabaret, one can spot him in the shadows of the set, and his quips at the audience lend the performance a greater charm. Murray’s role as Bradshaw is flawlessly executed, with the acting as well as singing making him the star of the night, a first rate debut in a UCD Musical Society production. Taylor Fewer and Pádraic Ó Brolcháin as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz respectively break the audiences’ collective heart with their unfinished love, while Caoilfhionn Ní Dhulaing is perfect in the role of Sally Bowles, and her performance of the song ‘Cabaret’ is particularly arresting.

Every part of the production by the Musical Society, from make-up to the costumes and set, demands appreciation. It is indeed a successful production by the Society, and every member of the crew, from Producer Aishling Byrne, Director Cian Gallagher and Choreographer Leah Meagher, to tech and prostups, have done a commendable job. Overall, Cabaret was a brilliant success.