Life is a Cabaret!

What good is sitting alone in you room? Come hear the music play . . . A quote from the show’s title tune, this is the sentiment which will be ringing out around Melbourne now that the new revival of Cabaret has opened. Bringing risqué and experimental pre-WWII Germany to the historic Athenaeum Theatre, this production shows off some of the most incredible talent that Australia has to offer providing a platform for local audiences to experience the creativity of Paul Capsis and musical theatre powerhouse Chelsea Gibb.

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This Cabaret takes the production back to its original roots. While it employs the same staging technique as the recent Broadway revival, converting the front few rows into immersive cabaret tables extending the action into the audience, the production has returned to the original material dropping the well-known numbers ‘Mein Heir’ and ‘Maybe This Time’ – true to the pre-film versions of the musical.

It would have been an absolute treat to see the incomparable Chelsea Gibb as Sally Bowles perform these famous songs, however she still gets her time to shine with ‘Don’t Tell Mama’ early in the work and finishing the night with arguably the production’s most well-known number ‘Cabaret’. This number comes at an interesting time for the character Sally Bowles. She has just made the decision to abort her child, Germany is falling under Nazi reign and she has just pushed her partner away back to America. Yet, she finishes the night singing an upbeat number. Rather than jumping straight into this jarringly positive song, director Gale Edwards and musical director Lindsay Partridge have made the decision to start ‘Cabaret’ with an exhausted and defeated Sally Bowles. As the song goes on, she begins to reflect the words that she is saying a little more only emphasizing the great tragedy which the audience knows is going to unfold for these characters during the upcoming War. It is an incredibly clever approach to end the production and ultimately ends up more terrifying than the traditional jarring ending.

Leading this cast alongside Chelsea Gibb, is cabaret extraordinaire Paul Capsis. Capsis was born for this role, reinterpreting the Emcee as a camp commentator on the goings-on of Germany during this time. Largely hidden from the world in his Kit Kat Klub, Capsis has the freedom to poke fun at the serious issues the characters are going through providing, not only contrast, but also extra meaning to why each character acts the way they do. ‘If You Could See Her’ is the perfect example of why he is at the top of his craft. The audience has just seen the inevitable breakdown of an engagement as Fraulein Schneider discovers that her fiancé, Herr Schultz, is Jewish, yet in comes the Paul Capsis’ emcee to sing a song extolling confusion around why the no one else can see how beautiful my Gorilla partner is. It is a weird parallel that delves deep into the psyche of the time and gives the audience a greater understanding of the pressures of the time.

These two stars were supported by such a strong ensemble who transitioned in and out of being major characters in the day-to-day story of Clifford Bradshaw and the girls of the Kit Kat Klub effortlessly. Providing a much-needed comedic touch in the more serious moments was Debora Krizak. There is hardly a situation that this woman couldn’t turn into a comedy with her clever physicality and willingness to do absolutely anything (and I mean anything) to get the audience rolling in the aisles. She shines amongst an already incredibly strong ensemble as Fraulein Kost, as does Matthew Manahan in the few moments he takes command of the stage in ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’. Unfortunately for this stunning voice, Paul Capsis comes in and steals his thunder with the final refrain of the song – but his performance as Rudy is memorable well outside the theatre doors.

At the heart of this production, and the heart of the set, is a condensed band who have to bring everything from the romantic songs of love to the loud, brash and brassy cabaret numbers to life. And they do so with a musical style that immediately transports the audience back to pre-war Berlin.

Opening night proceedings were marred with some technical difficulties around the sound which affected Chelsea Gibb right before she sang the title number, Cabaret. A suggestion from the audience to ‘Go off and get your mike fixed. We’ll wait’ was received with such enthusiasm from a crowd who wanted to see Chelsea Gibb hit full stride in this iconic, that the lead did just that before returning to the stage to raise the roof.

While Cabaret may be quite unlike any other musical you will see, the talent on stage is phenomenal which means that you have to get tickets to this new production while it plays in Melbourne for a strictly limited season. If the standing ovation last night was anything to go by, those tickets will disappear very quickly.

Tickets for the Melbourne season of Cabaret are available from http://www.cometothecabaret.com.au

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