At the Kit Kat Club the women are beautiful. Even the band is beautiful. On every table there is a telephone where the ladies, or the boys if that’s more your thing, will maybe call to speak to you. If you’re lucky the delectable cabaret singer Sally Bowles will even call you over for a drink or two.
Set in 1931 Berlin, Cabaret follows a young singer Sally Bowles (Samantha Peo) and the new friend she makes out of her need for a roof over her head, Cliff Bradshaw (Bryan Hiles). Bowles works at the seedy nightclub The Kit Kat Club, where she sings and sways a bit to the music. The girl has pipes but the real dancing is done by the girls and boys of the club, and Emcee, the Master of Ceremonies.
The audience is always kept slightly unnerved. Where most burlesque dancers draw in the audience with a sensual smile, the dancers of the Kit Kat Club deliberately alienate with grotesque facial expressions and taunting leers – a surreal twist given just how beautiful they are. Truthfully, from some angles they look like zombies on the right side of decomposition.
In this award-winning production of Cabaret – produced by Durban Theatre company KickStart – every second is designed to entertain, shock and enthral the audience. The set changes usually conducted by black clad stagehands are instead utilised as another way in which to define the ‘difference’ of the boys and girls from the Kit Kat Club, who swish around in their vintage lingerie and cut-off tuxedos putting together the next scene before crawling back into the holes from which they came. It is a scene in itself. In fact the steamiest bedroom scene takes place during just one such changeover.
Sally Bowles is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG). The film critic Nathan Rabin, who coined the term, defines this stock character as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” The theatre version of Sally Bowles fits even better in this definition than Liza Minelli’s version in the 1972 film. Throughout the musical Sally remains adroitly, carelessly fancy-free, even in her darkest moments. Her iconic solo, Maybe This Time, can be considered the MPDG theme song. But unfortunately for Sally, reality – especially the harsh one facing those in 1930s Germany – trumps sweet fantasy every time. Her solution, whether conscious or unconscious, is that things will never be different for Sally Bowles, because Sally Bowles never changes.
Cabaret plays off in a time where the Nazis were rising in power and influence. Cliff’s German landlady Fraulein Schneider (Charon Williams-Ros) realises that her impending union with a Jewish fruit vendor, Herr Schultz (Peter Court), might cause more heartbreak than happiness due to the political climate. In What Would You Do she in turn breaks every audience member’s heart with her decision to dissolve the relationship in order to take care of her own welfare.
In a cast seething with talent, it is Sacha Halbhuber as Emcee who is the star of the show. Despite his own cynicism, such is the emotion of his song If You Could See Her that you feel he could almost have persuaded Fraulein Schneider and Sally Bowles to pursue the possibility of happiness. And that’s despite dancing with a gorilla in a dress.
Immensely sad. Incredibly beautiful. Impossible to miss.
Jana van Heerden
Cabaret runs at the Theatre on the Bay 14 August to 9 September 2012.