Rufus Norris's 2006 revival of this Kander & Ebb classic blew me away with its dark, fiercely energised and full-frontal vision of Weimar Berlin as a society gyrating its crotch at the edge of the abyss – at once a drug-fuelled hotbed of rampant, polymorphous perversity and a fertile seedbed for Nazism whose rise emerged in pointed conjunction with the spread of neurasthenic kinkiness.
Now the show is back in a re-imagined version in which Norris and his choreographer, Javier de Frutos, often find fresh and arresting way of expressing the same conception, with certain key numbers staged completely differently.
It's Will Young's Emcee who now sings “Tomorrow Belongs To Me”, the fascist portent of this anthem chillingly revealed as he switches from a pretence of sweet-voiced youthful purity into a mad, malign puppeteer. Jerked by his strings, a chorus of traditionally dressed rustics becomes a mountingly militaristic, pistol-toting mob who decorate him with a scribbled Hitler moustache at the climax of the first half.
At the same time, the production seems to have some lost some of its dangerous edge (the depravity can look a bit strenuously dutiful rather than driven).
Young, of Pop Idol fame, sings beautifully and has bags of stage presence in his leather hot pants.
A whiff of Frank Spencer, though, rather than an odour of corruption and moral ambiguity clings to this master of ceremonies whose mock-”don't-mind me” ingratiating manner lacks sufficient irony and doesn't confuse or challenge the audience with contradictory signals.
But he can't be accused of lacking guts or aplomb – whether grotesquely bloated with balloons and scoffing currency for the hyper-inflation satire in the “Money” song or giving an achingly wistful rendition of “I Don't Care Much”, while adrift and off-duty in a dressing-gown, he makes a genuinely distinctive impression.
Michelle Ryan, by contrast, signally fails to rise to the occasion of Sally Bowles. Instead of showing us the emotional flakiness and need behind the heroine's show of worldly bravado, she gives us a wholesome, healthy girl who is about as “divinely decadent” as a lacrosse match followed by a hearty cream tea. Deficient in either charisma or sense of inner conflict, her performance of both “Maybe This Time” and the title number is painful in quite the wrong ways.
The show is still worth seeing for its bold imaginative sweep and for Sian Phillips's deeply touching Fraulein Schneider, even if coming to this Cabaret is not quite what it was, old chum.
To 19 Jan 2013; 020 7492 99930