Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome… Im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret!
It is possibly one of the most famous opening lines in musical theatre – and John Partridge can’t wait to deliver it when the classic musical arrives at His Majesty’s next week.
The EastEnders star is taking on the role of the enigmatic Emcee, master of ceremonies at the notorious Kit Kat Klub at the heart of decadent Berlin in 1931, during the rise of the Nazis.
“He’s a showman, he’s an orator and he’s extremely fun to play,” said John of the character, who is central to this classic, which features dazzling costumes and choreography alongside classic songs such as Money Makes The World Go Round, Maybe This Time and, of course, the title song, Cabaret.
“He is really a metaphor for the wider political climate in Weimar Germany at that time.
“We only ever see him in the Kit Kat Klub; a scene plays out and then I come on to educate, inform and entertain, to confirm to the audience what it is they’ve just seen,” added John, who also won Celebrity MasterChef in 2018.
“He holds up a mirror and reflects back not only what has been seen on stage, but also the audience’s reaction to it.”
And it is a very compelling story, centred on a young novelist, Clifford Bradshaw, who meets performer Sally Bowles in the Klub. Their relationship is the launching point for the wider story of that disturbing era.
John said: “It was written more than 50 years ago and deals with extreme political themes – anti-Semitism, far‐right politics, how far our political landscape can change in a short amount of time.
“To be taking this show around the country right now, as our own political landscape is so volatile, delicate and fractured, feels extremely timely and relevant, maybe even more so than when the show premiered.
“It is so skillfully crafted. The story is so strong in this show that it could be a play on its own. It really is hard hitting; it is not what you expect it to be.”
John, who is one of the West End’s most prolific leading men, having starred in shows including A Chorus Line and Chicago, asked Cabaret producer Bill Kenwright for the Emcee role.
“I turned 48 this year and the time was very much now,” he explained.
“I had to grab this one. As an actor, there are very few roles that you are absolutely right for.
“I feel the Emcee is somebody I know well, somebody that I understand and somebody that my skillset, my life experience and my performance experience – the good, the bad and the ugly of it – I can wrap up in this role. That is very rare.
“And I lived in Berlin for 10 years. I know Berlin very well. I met my husband there. I speak German fluently. I’ve actually been to the Kit Kat Klub, which is still alive and well and fully functioning in the heart of Berlin. I have been on many occasions. So I bring all of that to this production too.”
John is loving touring and also performing alongside Kara Lily Hayworth who plays Sally Bowles – the role made famous by Liza Minnelli – and stage legend Anita Harris, who plays Fraulein Schneider.
“I think Kara is an amazing talent and in some ways she’s still undiscovered,” he said.
“She’s a beautiful actress, very naturalistic. I think she’s very special and I think people will really love her performance, as I do.
“And my darling Anita Harris! People, I think, will be very surprised to see her in this role. It is an extremely moving performance and very different from what people will have seen her do in the past. I really feel this is one of the greatest portrayals of this role ever. I really do.”
John has been a stalwart of musical theatre for much of his career.
Having gone into Cats when he was just 16, he has performed in more than 20 West End shows and done more than 30 major musicals.
But he freely admits he is “taking his foot off the pedal” when it comes to acting.
“The food side of my life has really grown since Celebrity MasterChef,” he explained. “My very first book comes out at the beginning of next year and I’m immensely proud of that. It’s called There’s No Taste Like Home.
“My food story has really helped me reconnect with myself, and I’m keen to develop that side of my life. In order to do that, I need to invest the time in it.
“Plus I’m married and I have a husband that I adore and I never see! Touring is hard work.”
Another reason for easing back is the fact John has now been sober for two years after battling drink and drug addiction.
He said: “It has had a profound effect on me. In some ways, I think I used to enjoy acting and performing because I enjoyed the escapism of it. I enjoyed being somebody else because I wasn’t sure who I was.
“In becoming sober, I have learned a lot about the person that I was running away from. I’ve realised that he’s not quite as bad as I thought he was. My desire to step into other people’s shoes and other people’s lives has lessened.”
John is at pains to point out he’s not saying he will never act again.
“However, I am approaching my 50th year, so I have to ask: ‘What do I want for the next 10 years of my life?’” he said.
“I, at least, want the option to examine other possibilities. In order to do that, I need to give myself a little bit of time.
“But there is one other role that I am going to play next year. I can’t tell you anything about that right now… I’m really excited about it, though!”
Before that mystery is revealed, though, is the week-long Aberdeen run of Cabaret, which the actor is looking forward to.
He said: “My Mum’s Irish and my Dad’s Scottish. I’m a good mix of both the Scots and the Irish. I’m Celtic through and through, so I love being in Scotland.”
Cabaret is at His Majesty’s Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday next week. For tickets visit aberdeenperformingarts.com