What: Cabaret – the Musical
When: 2nd May, 2017
Where: Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne
Playing at Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne until May 20th, 2017
Tickets and information can be found here: www.cometothecabaret.com.au
Cabaret was as a kid back in 2002 or 2003 with Human Nature‘s Toby Allen as Emcee. I don’t remember much about that show, except for a lot of interaction between him and the crowd – so I essentially went into David M Hawkins’ 2017 production of Cabaret with a blank slate.
Perhaps I’m ill-educated in the ways of history, but I found the production overall to be confusing, clunky and overall disconnected. I’m not too sure what I mean by that – perhaps it needs to be dumbed down for people like me, although the summary in the programme helped a great deal. All I can think is it may come down to the multi-purpose set. The introduction of the Nazis seems to come from nowhere, and during some scenes (especially those at the Kit Kat Club) I wasn’t sure if what was happening was a dream, located in the club or home, or something else all together. Clifford (Jason Kos) seemed wholesome and then you see him smoking crack, making out with girls and boys etc and while I understand part of the plot is getting caught up in the theatrical, exuberant Berlin lifestyle, but I never felt that shift (if it were ever intended). As the show went on, things became clearer, but scenes still didn’t flow seamlessly as expected.
The story of Cabaret is ultimately an overall depressing one. None of the characters get that happy ending, but the role of the Emcee is to lighten up the story and provide that comedy that is usually necessary to provide story light and shade. I’m not knocking Paul Capsis’ performance as Emcee, because he is terrific in the role and gives his all, but I did feel he was underutilized, and thus overshadowed by supporting characters. And while the final bow is taken by the main star, I felt like he didn’t deserve that credit. There wasn’t enough of him and in this production, I felt like his character seemed out of place and unnecessary which is a real missed opportunity of his talents. He would appear at the most random times, which didn’t seem to make any sense overall.
This of course goes back to what I said earlier about that weird disconnected feeling. It’s a shame, as if they had have gotten the Emcee right, the production would be move successful overall. In terms of the cast though, every one gives their all and I cannot fault any performances. I did think at first that Chelsea Gibb as Sally Bowles would not live up to the Liza Minnelli’s original performance, but man, did she ever – making the song, Cabaret the highlight of the entire show! She understands the intricate of the song and builds that tension, drama, light and dark shades before belting out those high notes. You could have heard a pin drop as the audience sat in complete silence, all eyes on her build.
A key factor is Cabaret is the relationships – Sally and Clifford, Fräulein Kost and Rudy (although, many a boy passes by) and Herr Schultz and Fräulein Schneider. The courtship between Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider was adorable and I could have happily watched a musical of that unfolding. It is sweet and kind, and it’s sad a story like theirs could be built on truth.
The production design and set is well thought out. The cast is quite small (with some actors playing multiple rolls) but everyone in the company is well utilized to make it seem larger than is. I ultimately think of black costumes, lingerie and over-the-top, harsh make-up, but the glitz and glamour in the set design and costumes surprised me and was a refreshing twist on the classic ideal.
In summary, I loved the cast, the production value, costumes and songs, but more use of the Emcee and better flow would make for a much stronger production. I know of a lot of people who loved this show but Cabaret is suited to a very specific audience member and that may not be me. I’m no prude, but the risque sexual content of the show may offend some people – that’s the nature of the show. If drugs, sex and brief nudity isn’t your thing – tread carefully and don’t bring children.