ON THE RECORD: The Original London Cabaret Starring Judi Dench

By Steven Suskin
25 Nov 2012

Lotte Lenya, in New York, gives what might be the definitive reading of Fraulein Schneider's solos "So What?" and "What Would You Do?" Lila Kedrova, though, does just as well. Lenya brought a sense of history to the performance; an Austrian-born Berliner married to a Jew, she had in real life lived through the era. Her performance of "What Would You Do" is built on frustration and anger. Kedrova gives us exhaustion, hopelessness and resignation: she is indeed grown old and tired, "with neither the will nor wish to run." While I would not have expected her to be on a level with Lenya, she is just as moving. (Mind you, Kedrova was better known at the time by virtue of her film performance as Madame Hortense in the 1964 international hit "Zorba the Greek." While billing doesn't tell us much, Kedrova was one of two stars billed above the title; Lenya, initially, had fourth star billing below the title — in smaller-sized print than the actors playing Sally, Schultz and Cliff.)

Herr Schultz is played by Peter Sallis, who was apparently a favorite of Prince during this period; in a four-year span, he played Sipos in the London She Loves Me, Dr. Watson in Broadway's Baker Street, and the London Cabaret. Sallis is most familiar, nowadays, for voicing Wallace in the "Wallace & Gromit" films. As much as I associate the role of Schultz with Jack Gilford, this "Meeskite" seems far more tender to me. The M.C. is Barry Dennen, an American import best known as the boyfriend/roommate of 18-year-old Barbra Streisand, circa 1960. (He later recorded Pontius Pilate in the original 1970 concept album of Jesus Christ Superstar, recreating the role in the original Broadway production.) He makes an interesting M.C., but sounds like a creative actor as opposed to the otherworldly creature devised by Joel Grey. Cliff is played by Kevin Colson, who after a long hiatus returned to the stage to star in Aspects of Love. The New York Cliff, Bert Convy, is preferable — although the role is problematic. Cliff's one solo, "Why Should I Wake Up?," has always struck me as remarkably unsuited to the character and the show.

And then there's the band. This London recording sounds crisper and rougher than the original, I suppose in great part due to the onstage musicians. On the New York recording, the Kit Kat Band sounds like a perfectly marvelous quartet of Local 802 musicians. On the London recording, the girls gleefully honk and blow and pound in a manner which suggests that they were hired by the Kit Kat Club for reasons other than musicianship. The U.K. musical director was Gareth Davies, with Hal Hastings presumably in attendance during rehearsals.

So the question "I already love the Broadway cast album so why should I listen to this one?" doesn't quite apply to Cabaret. Especially with Judi Dench.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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