Rufus Norris's production of Kander and Ebb's spectacular take on Christopher Isherwood's stories of 1930s Berlin first opened at the Lyric in 2006. This revival's casting has provoked anticipation: Michelle Ryan, once of 'EastEnders', is Sally Bowles, love interest of Isherwood's proxy, Cliff Bradshaw and star of star of seedy cabaret joint the Kit Kat Club; Will Young, first winner of 'Pop Idol', plays the club's Emcee. One falls flat; the other excels.
It's a strong production, staging tight, slick numbers in a hard, flexible set whose design is laced with hints of German Expressionism. The band, mounted high at the rear of the set, does justice to the iconic numbers ('Wilkommen', 'Mein Herr', 'Maybe This Time' et al) and the satirical routines have convincingly sharp edges.
Young proves a compelling ringleader, his voice expressive, his presence snaring the necessary combination of charm and grotesquerie – now cod-Von Trapp, now Mr Creosote.
The show's conspicuous weakness lies in what should be its central relationship, between naïve American newcomer Cliff and iconic demimondeuse Sally. Matt Rawle's Cliff feels a little jaded from the off and Ryan's loud, smiley, glib turn fails to capture Sally's combination of charisma, cunning and sadness. This leaves a significant gap, admirably filled by Siân Phillips and Linal Haft as landlady Fräulein Schneider and her Jewish suitor Herr Schultz.
Their rich performances bring this relationship rightly to the fore, especially when the rise of the Nazis becomes dramatically crucial in the story's second half. As the show builds to its sucker-punch climax, Cliff and Sally come to seem like the silly children Cliff suspects them to be, with Schneider, Schultz and the Kit Kat cast the tragic victims of history.