CABARET -- THE MUSICAL. A KickstArt production. Directed by Steven Stead, with Samantha Peo, Sascha Halbhuber, Bryan Hiles, Kate Normington, Peter Court and Lyle Buxton. Set design Greg King. Costume design Neil Stuart-Harris. Choreography Janine Bennewith. Lighting Tina le Roux. Musical director Stefan Lombard. At Theatre on the Bay until October 6. STEYN DU TOIT reviews.
ENGLISH playwright and theatre director John van Druten wrote the script for the Broadway play I Am a Camera in 1951. Inspired by the Christopher Isherwood novel, Goodbye to Berlin, the title is a quote taken from the novel’s first page: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”
Van Druten understood that Isherwood’s novels, in essence, captured the silent revolution that transformed German society when its norms and standards were subverted from within. I Am a Camera, in turn, went on to inspire the musical Cabaret by John Kander and Fred Ebb in 1966, as well as the film version starring Liza Minnelli in 1972.
Four decades later the KickstArt Theatre Company’s interpretation of this classic theatrical work can be seen at Theatre on the Bay.
Set in Berlin’s seedy Kit Kat Club in 1931, the story revolves around an English cabaret performer, Sally Bowles (Samantha Peo), a jaded good-time girl.
After arriving in the city for some foreign writing inspiration, an American novelist named Clifford Bradshaw (Bryan Hiles) falls in love with her and they move in together.
Bradshaw’s elderly landlady, Fräulein Schneider, also finds love and becomes engaged to a Jewish greengrocer, Herr Schultz.
But as 1931 saw the beginning of the rise of national socialism, the story is bound to have an unhappy ending right from the outset.
This is where the role of the master of ceremonies (Sascha Halbhuber) at the Kit Kat Club is crucial. This character serves as a constant metaphor for the tenuous and threatened state of Germany throughout the show.
He is a mechanism by which the laissez-faire attitude of the Weimar Republic is transformed into the Fascist intolerance of the Nazi regime.
The indications are all there: in the dialogue, the lyrics and the progressively darker tone of the music as the work progresses.
German musical theatre star Halbhuber embraces his role as the emcee in a theatrical and camp way – including drag performances. This certainly gets laughs from the audience: however, you do wonder if this casting is not tantamount to denying the serious core of the premise behind Cabaret.
Samantha Peo’s performance as Sally is as competent as the roles she has portrayed over the past number of years in productions such as The Rocky Horror Show, Hair, West Side Story and Chicago.
Kate Normington, one of our most experienced musical theatre talents, touches as Fräulein Kost. And Bryan Hiles’s understated acting makes for a refreshing antidote to the tawdry glitz of the seedy nightclub scenes.
When it comes to the supporting cast, and considering the show has arrived after an extensive Joburg run, you sense the lack of tight, cohesive ensemble work.
A production needs a director’s controlling hand even more when it has been on the road for some months if it is not to appear tired and lacklustre.
After staging Cabaret last year for the first time, KickstArt’s production won 11 Mercury Durban Theatre Awards – including Best Production of a Musical, Best Director and Best Designer.
This is their first opportunity to showcase work nationally.
l Performances are Tuesdays to Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm and on Sundays at 2pm and 6pm. Tickets are R100 to R325. To book, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or 021 438 3300. Group discounts are available as well as corporate bookings, call Tracy at 021 438 3301. PG 13. See www.theatreonthebay.co.za