From the start we are as dazzled by Cabaret as the young American abroad is overwhelmed by the risqué and decadent subculture of Berlin in the 1930s.
As musical theatre Cabaret is, quite simply, superb. Big, brassy numbers belt out in true nightclub style, complete with scantily clad boys and girls strutting their stuff. This is not the show for your conservative grandmother.
Holding it all together is German Sascha Halbhuber, perfectly cast as the mysterious, sensual, mocking Emcee, his very presence a commentary from the sidelines. He is polished, expressive and very much in control.
As Sally, Samantha Peo flits across the stage like a glittering dragonfly, sampling the surface. She is strident, demanding, unpredictable, charming – a creature of the night. No wonder bemused American Clifford, a nuanced portrayal by Bryan Hiles, is swept away by her.
It’s a gaudy half-life, tawdry and no doubt brief – Samantha conveys that with poignancy in her more revealing moments when the brittle façade drops. Her final number, Life is a Cabaret, is heart-rending.
Against the overt and deliberate sexuality of the Kit Kat Club, which enfolds the action like a tent with its provocative players constantly present and watching, is the down-to-earth romance of the elderly couple, Herr Schultz, delightfully played by Peter Court, and pragmatic Fraulein Schneider, finely characterised by Charon Williams-Ros. She instils both humour and pathos into her role.
Confident Kate Normington is a constant chuckle as Fraulein Kost, plying the oldest profession from across the hall.
The lights are bright, even glaring, but the dark shadows are gathering. Another perfect casting is Lyle Buxton as the rigid young Nazi Ernst Ludwig. The sudden revelation of his swastika armband blazes like a beacon – and the music falters. Ominously you see the dark pit beneath and the bleak future ahead, the bombs that will shatter this ephemeral and artificial lifestyle. An on-stage band, brassy with sax, trumpet and trombone, keeps the action upbeat. This is a production that doesn’t put a finger wrong.
Whether you like the content and storyline of Cabaret, with its jaded decadence, blurred genders, drink and drugs, is up to you.
As a show it is finely crafted, fast-moving, highly polished, perfectly cast, with performances that radiate poignancy and pain. It dances on the edge of the abyss and it is memorable.
Cabaret, by Fred Ebb and John Kander, produced by the KickstArt Company, directed by Steven Stead, was staged in Durban last year and deservedly swept the Durban Theatre Awards. It is sure to do so here too. The age restriction is PG13.