Oh Cabaret! Sussex University Musical Theatre Society (SMuTS) is at it again. This week’s musical spectacular was truly one of a kind.
Directed by Joshua Clayton, the Goodbye To Berlin adaptation, Cabaret!, sent the sold-out audience roaring throughout the performance.
The play is set in 1930s Berlin, at the wake of the Nazi’s ascent to power, and follows three different story-lines all originating at the Kit Kat Klub, a seedy night-club. The main plot revolves around Clifford Bradshaw (Alex Knapp), an American writer from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (coincidentally Knapp is also from Pennsylvania) who meets a German Ernst Ludwig (Sam Longville) in a train station who convinces him to rent out an apartment and spend New Year’s Eve with him at the most hopping club in the city.
There he finds a lover, Kit Kat Club performer Sally Bowels (Dara Meunier-Patterson) who — out of a desperate need for attention, affection and adventure — seduces naïve Bradshaw into staying in Berlin with her and living an extraordinary life in the exciting underground night-club scene. Bradshaw rents an apartment from Fräulein Schneider (Lily Oliver-Cork), who has a story-line of her own as she runs her small inn and deals with rowdy young adults that seek her hospitality.
Schneider gradually falls in love with sweet old Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz (Andrew Crouch), who brings her delicious fruits as symbols of his affection, until one day he presents her with an engagement-worthy pineapple that sets their relationship in motion.
The third narrative of the performance can be viewed as an entr’acte that, differently from what happens in other plays, actually serves a purpose in the weaving of the story-line, with small eye-catching raunchy cabaret numbers. If you don’t think this university’s Musical Theatre soc has it in them, you are oh so very wrong.
From the dancing to the singing, to the dirty innuendos, the cabaret girls and boys give a much needed break from the dramas inside the lives of Bradshaw and Bowels, including an unexpected pregnancy, Bradshaw not being able to find a job, Bowels’ swelling resentment for having quit cabaret and the sheer reality that their relationship was built foundationless and on a drunken night in the Berlin underground.
The second half of the performance gets even more dramatic as the reality of its setting finally takes its toll after we find out Ernst is a Nazi at the end of Part I. The stage settings suddenly change, red Nazi flags drape down from the dais and suddenly the illuminated Kit Kat Klub becomes significantly more disturbing.
The contrast between the dance and song numbers and the flags renders the somewhat light-hearted play about unexpected love — or rather finding true love in the most unconventional of places and ages — confusing for your consciousness.
You want to enjoy the antics of the master of the ceremony (David Amey) since they are quite funny, but a knot in your stomach forms as you begin to realise the Holocaust has dawned onto Berlin. The stark juxtaposition between the two realities makes the performances even more powerful, and the MC was easily one of the best actor/singer/dancers with his Frank-N-Furter mystique and overwhelming confidence to be out on stage with nothing but a bowtie, white braces and black trousers throughout the entire performance.
Not to say that Dara Meunier-Patterson wasn’t hands-down the best singer, I particularly loved “Don’t Tell Mama” and “Perfectly Marvellous” out of the bunch, when she effortlessly pulls off the role of unruly and unsubordinated wild child before she gets “caged in” by loving Bradshaw. And let’s not forget about our two favourite elderly lovers, Herr and Fräulein, who call off their engagement because of the political implementations that would have rendered their love and lives near impossible.
Crouch pulls off yet another marvellous performance (did we have any doubts?) this time moving the crowd to tears with his constant bestowment of fruits as signs of hope and happiness (mazel!), only an actor like Crouch could have moved an audience with an orange.
The final number is the most powerful as our flamboyant MC gets marked with a downward pointing triangle (to signify homosexuality) and Herr Shultz with a yellow star. His cheerful lines hitting every angle of your heart as he speaks about the Nazi dictatorship “Just children. Mischievous children on their way to school. You understand. I know I am right—because I understands the Germans. After all, what am I? A German!”. The two take centre stage as the lights due out, their faces motionless, the spotlight changing shades giving them a pale undertone–– it was as if you could already see their fate.
It’s safe to say all the actors were spectacular, the costume designs superb, stunning choreography (done by multi-talented Dara Meunier-Patterson as well), and the live orchestrated music by vocal coach and musical director Megan Bowen (in a matching Cabaret Sophia corset) would have put Le Chat Noir to shame.