CABARET. Directed by Steven Stead, with Sascha Halbhuber, Bryan Hiles, Samantha Peo, Charon Williams-Ros, Peter Court, Lyle Buxton, Kate Normington, Duane Alexander, Reg Hart and Malan le Roux, Marleé van de Merwe, Jodie Renouf, Londiwe Dhlomo, Suzzi Swanepoel and Carmen Pretorius. Musical direction Evan Roberts and Justin Southey. Set design Greg King. Costume design Neil Stuart-Harris. Choreography Janine Bennewith. Lighting Tina le Roux. Sound Mark Malherbe. At Theatre on the Bay until October 6. ASTRID STARK reviews.
SEXY, dirty, malicious, gentle, conniving, beautiful and tragically flawed almost sums up the complex personalities in this flirty production with a big heart. I have always enjoyed Kander and Ebb’s music and lyrics, but it’s the storyline that still fascinates me after all these years.
At Berlin’s bohemian Kit Kat Club the opportunistic performers find it never too late in the evening to turn a trick and make a buck. The girls are saucy and the men sleek and sly as the emcee shrieks, “the audience is beautiful. Even the orchestra is beautiful!” The champagne and money flow and the nights are silky and sensual. The music is loud. Life is great. But something is very wrong. The Weimar Republic is crumbling. The Nazi movement is bubbling up like a stinking mud that will eventually swallow all their hopes and dreams. A couple’s long-awaited love is ripped apart. A girl falls from grace and a writer’s fantasies lie in tatters. Sounds a bit heavy, but it’s mostly fun and games.
Samantha Peo is the beautiful boozy Kit Kat Club singer, Sally Bowles, who falls in and out of men’s beds as she nurtures her fear of her fading looks in a world where it is truly everything to a working girl. Peo is grace and tragedy personified and she is perfect for the role. She portrays Bowles’ multi-faceted character skilfully, and she can sing.
I last saw her in the production of Chicago for which she won a Naledi. She is a skilled performer. Her beautiful figure and face is utilised to its fullest glory by costume designer Neil Stuart-Harris. Her outfit changes are plentiful with each one more rich and silky and gorgeous to look at. In fact the entire cast looks delicious in satin, blood-red silks, black lace, virginal white bloomers, and lots of leather and straps and stockings.
All except for Bryan Hiles, Clifford Bradshaw; the hapless writer is dressed in a dull-as-dishwater suit describing his character’s state of mind and position in life. He is poor, shy and nervous, until he meets the characters of the Cabaret. Hiles’ performance is great and he brings a bit of stability to Peo’s outrageous character, but not for long.
The emcee is all leather and whips, oozing sexuality, leery sneers and cynicism: wonderfully portrayed by Sascha Halbhuber.
The sub-plot, involving a love affair between Fräulein Schneider, Charon Williams-Ros, an older woman who runs the boarding house that Cliff and Sally live in, and Herr Schultz, Peter Court, an elderly Jewish fruit shop owner, threatens to steal the limelight, this despite their minor roles and far more subdued characters. Both portray the doomed relationship with heartbreaking honesty.
Court’s, It Couldn’t Please Me More, or as I call it, “The Pineapple Song”, is so utterly charming in that lovely gentlemanly way of long ago. Williams-Ros, too, has a beautiful voice.
Lyle Buxton as the German, who later reveals himself as a wicked Nazi, is engaging and a reminder of how charismatic the Nazis were in order to convince the country that they only want what is best for all. And he too can sing! Kate Normington as the conniving, but cute, prostitute that loves to tease Fräulein Schneider is fun to watch.
The song-and-dance routine with a girl in a gorilla suit, If You Could See Her, is funny and touching as it concludes with a strong message, “if you could see her through my eyes … she wouldn’t look Jewish at all”.
Then there are the dirty, sexy, raunchy Kit Kat girls who you just can’t take your eyes off. And the live orchestra truly is just the cherry on top of a rambunctious and highly entertaining show.
One criticism would be that at times the cast were perhaps directed, or felt influenced, to turn up the snarls and ugly side of their personalities. At times this leads to peculiar and ugly sneers that continue for just a little too long. It is understandable that this is done to reveal the ugliness lurking beneath the surface, but this at times feels overly exploited, and over-the-top. Even when Peo sang the much-awaited Cabaret, it felt a little over-dramatised.
The final rendition of Willkommen is loud and wonderful and despite it being quite a long production I felt reluctant to leave the seedy underbelly of the Kit Kat Club. I highly recommend this if you’re in the mood for a spectacularly entertaining visual and aural extravaganza.
l Shows are Tuesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 4pm and 8pm and Sunday at 6pm. Tickets are R100 to R325. Booking is open until October 6. To book, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or 021 438 3300. See www.theatreonthebay.co.za