Director Rufus Norris and the stars of Cabaret took a break from rehearsals today (11 September 2006) to launch the Kander and Ebb revival to the press. Anna Maxwell Martin (pictured), who plays Sally Bowles, and her fellow principals James Dreyfus (Emcee), Michael Hayden (Cliff) and Sheila Hancock (Fraulein Schneider) attended the event at the St Mark’s Church rehearsal space in Marylebone, while members of the ensemble performed extracts from the musical, which opens on 10 October 2006 (previews from 22 September) at the West End’s Lyric Theatre (See News, 13 Jun 2006).

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Cabaret turns Weimar Berlin into a dark and sexually charged haven of decadence, its morally ambiguous inhabitants determined to keep up appearances as the real world - outside the sanctuary of the Kit Kat Club - prepares for the chaos of war. Based on the stories of Christopher Isherwood and the play by John Van Druten, it has a book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb.

Anna Maxwell Martin, who makes her West End musical debut playing the sultry singer immortalised by Liza Minnelli in the Oscar-winning 1972 film, told Whatsonstage.com today: “This is a role I have always wanted to play, but I thought they would be looking for an actress who is known for musical theatre work. Then I auditioned for Rufus and he liked what I had done with the role, amazingly, so I was cast.”

She continued: “I have never seen the film before. I just know the stage show, and I think Sally is a really complex, fun, savvy character who I really thought I could play. This is it, I think, in terms of my musical career. But I have enjoyed this experience immensely so far. Who knows, by the end of the run, I might come out shouting ‘I want to play Maria!’”

Rufus Norris said: “We have been rehearsing for four weeks so far and have one more week until we go into teching and dressing before the previews. It seems to be going well, but I can’t really say for sure until we run it through properly. It’s still too early to give a real picture of how it’s going to be. It will be very different from the film, but at the same time we have replaced some of the songs from the musical with songs from the film.

“It is a book-led musical, which makes it very different from musicals which are sung all the way through, such as Evita. With Cabaret, there is about ten pages of dialogue between each song so it can’t rely on the songs to carry it through, the acting has to be very strong. I am very pleased with all the elements we have brought together, the cast and company are all excellent. John Kander is coming to see the show before it opens, and he has been happy for us to put our own interpretation on it as long as we are open about what we are doing. If you see me strung up from the poster outside the Lyric then you’ll know it didn’t go well!”

The musical premiered on Broadway in 1966 and in 1972 was made into an Oscar-winning film starring Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles, Michael York as Cliff and Joel Grey as the Emcee. The stage musical was famously revived by Sam Mendes at London’s Donmar Warehouse in 1993. That production later transferred to Broadway, where it ran from 1998 to 2004. This new production of Cabaret is designed by Katrina Lindsay, choreographed by Javier De Frutos and produced by Bill Kenwright Ltd.

- by Caroline Ansdell