Cabaret: Musical mockery

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The Independent Culture



AS LP Hartley wrote at the beginning of The Go-Between, "Broadway is a different country: they do things differently there." He didn't really, but if his novel were turned into a musical (don't even mention the idea) the merciless Forbidden Broadway team would be lampooning its pretensions within minutes of the curtain coming down. If you think that idea for a musical is downright silly, try this. The company rework Judy Garland's song "The Aitchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" from The Harvey Girls as "The Ashkhabad, Tbilisi and Kiev Express", a dreamed-of final sequence for a musical of Anna Karenina.

Gerard Alessandrini's hit musical revue began life in 1982 and, although annually updated, his winning formula remains the same. Take a show, its star or its creative team, steal a tune, and write tart and terrific lyrics to burst the balloon. Worried that something so culturally specific won't travel? After all, few of us have seen this season's Broadway shows. Well, don't be. Virtually everything on Broadway, from Cats to Sam Mendes's revival of Cabaret (over-sexed and over there) either originated here or is now playing here. You sure as hell don't need a glossary to get the references.

Sondheim's lyrics are hilariously buttonholed in "Into the Words" while Cameron Mackintosh is pilloried to the tune of "My Favourite Things". After listing things to sell when the box-office flags - "Sweatshirts and T-shirts and blankets and mittens" - it ends: "It's pounds 45 to get into the show/And pounds 45/To leave." Sophie-Louise Dann crawls on her knees for a hilarious (and perfect) hatchet job on the vertically challenged Elaine Paige in Sunset Boulevard: "One foot more/And you'd see my face..."

Christine Pedi, meanwhile, is a one-woman cast album rasping away as a fiercely funny Elaine Strich, an ear-blasting Ethel Merman, a very mannered Barbra Streisand, a deranged Carol Channing and a viciously funny and manic Liza Minnelli: "Do the words `Third Reich' mean anything to you? Without them we wouldn't have had all of those Nazi musicals, like The Sound of Music and Cabaret..."

Disney gets hammered with a swipe at the indignity of actors playing animated figures in Beauty and the Beast, with Alistair Robins rendering "Be My Guest" as "Be Depressed". Nor need you have seen The Lion King to get the joke about "Circle of Mice" (bold-voiced Mark O'Malley), or Alvin Colt's deliciously silly shoestring re-creations of its eye-widening costumes - here all loo-brushes and vacuum-cleaner hoses.

There are cracks at classic revivals - everyone except Trevor Nunn is likely to find the Oklahoma! jokes funny - and some numbers, like Philip George's marvellously staged summary of Les Miserables, are revivals in themselves. There are more lightning costume changes than a catwalk show and, in the confines of this 80-seat theatre, considerably less space, but that adds to the fun. This irrepressible gang of four, plus Paul Knight on piano, leap into loving but vengeful satirical gear at full throttle.