Reviews/Musical Theatre

Cabaret revival is dark and dazzling

13 September 2021

“Come taste the wine, come hear the band”, start celebrating a brand new Cabaret at WAAPA, says David Zampatti.

Cabaret, West Australian Academy of Performing Arts ·
The Roundhouse Theatre, 11 September 2021 ·

Revivals of hit musicals have the weight of history to bear. How it was done the first time you saw it; even worse, how it looked and sounded and felt when you caught it at the movies, or how it wheedled its way into the deepest recesses of your cultural landscape.

No tougher assignment than Cabaret; the gob-smacking Harold Prince Broadway hit of 1966, the 1972 boffo box office smash that won eight Oscars and made superstars of Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and its director Bob Fosse, right through to its starring role in the not-a-dry-eye finale of the fifth season of the beloved Schitt’s Creek.

So that’s the glittering baggage you bring with you to the WAAPA 3rd Year Music Theatre student’s production of Cabaret – but the news is good.

The famous, fabulous, numbers are sung and, especially, danced with verve and carnality. “Willkommen”, “Two Ladies”, “Mein Herr”, “Money”, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” and “Cabaret” all get their just desserts from some excellent principals and a tight, bawdy ensemble.

A woman in black dress and short black hair stands singing among patrons at tables.
Emily Svarnias is an emotionally elaborate Sally Bowles. Photo Stephen Heath

David King’s arrangements and the nine-piece band’s playing are as subtly louche as you would expect the Kit Kat Club’s orchestra to be, and Natalie Allen’s wild, deceptively intricate choreography challenges the second of the student’s threats as far as I’ve seen in WAAPA music theatre productions, with some dazzling results.

The set by Nikita Bernado and Jolene Whibley’s lighting were atmospheric and effective, and while the amplification of lead vocals was a little thin throughout, hopefully that will be adjusted as the season progresses.

Sammy Allsop (he alternates with Gus Noakes) is a star turn as the Emcee; tall, glittery and sexy, he gives the brilliant role both the authority and vulnerability it needs to both dominate and entrance.

Emily Svarnias’s Sally Bowles is a departure from the Liza Minnelli template; she’s more emotionally elaborate, more tragic, more knowing, less compact than Minnelli’s Sally – and, while our familiarity with that performance makes Svarnias’s a little harder to assimilate, the payoff is, I think, a more relatable figure than the film version. 

For those – myself included – who know Cabaret mainly through the movie, the biggest surprise in the musical version written by Fred Ebb and John Cander, (book by Joe Masteroff) is the sweet, sad story of the landlady Fraülein Schneider (Hannah Jones) and the Jewish fruit seller Herr Schultz (Sam Moloney) that was excised from the film version and replaced by more nightclub scenes and young thugs with swastikas.

Moloney quietly all but steals the show from his much more extravagant co-stars, and he and Jones give their romance, and its wrenching outcome, great sympathy and charm.

They also deliver on director Tamara Cook’s purpose of giving real flesh and blood to Cabaret’s darker side. Her reading of the text and subtle use of its imagery and metaphors makes this a deep, as well as spectacular production that, I think, will surprise audiences accustomed to its high-gloss decadence.

I can’t help but feel a valuable opportunity has been missed here, though. While the Roundhouse Theatre is a wonderful space, and the audience that tends to go to WAAPA to see its public performances is loyal and discerning, I’d have loved to see this production in a venue more in tune with its style and subject, where a wider, and dare I say younger, audience would have gone gorillas for it, and the performers would have gained a real-world taste of the world they are about to invade.

This Cabaret at, say, The Rechabite Hall would be quite something!

Cabaret runs at WAAPA until September 16.

Pictured top: Third year music theatre students sizzle in “Cabaret”. Photo Stephen Heath

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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