Cabaret in South Africa: perfectly marvellous

by Meagan Dill

A dimly lit room, scantily clad performers onstage, drinks flowing, cigarette smoke rising, a live orchestra... Welcome to the world of cabaret. Today, this form of entertainment is a rare find. It was most prevalent as a trend from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century in countries like France, Germany, the US and more. Luckily, modern film and stage culture has revived cabaret somewhat – take, for example, Moulin Rouge, Burlesque and Chicago. But of course, there is one crucial item missing from this list: the legendary stage musical (and later movie) Cabaret.

Cabaret is set in 1931 Germany and revolves around Berlin nightclub the Kit Kat Klub. The lead performer at the club is Sally Bowles: charming and charismatic, but also jaded and often deliberately ignorant in order to preserve her rosy view on life. She falls in love with a travelling American writer named Cliff Bradshaw. But complications, of course, ensue in this and other relationships in Cabaret. Add to that the sinister undertones lent to the musical by its historical context (concerning the Nazi’s rise to power), and the result is a show with just the right balance of seriousness and cheekiness.

The musical is based on a 1951 play called I Am A Camera, which is in turn based on a novel entitled Goodbye to Berlin. The play gets its title from a line that appears on the first page of the novel: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.” Interestingly, the character of Cliff is said to be based on the writer of that original book, Christopher Isherwood.

The musical adaptation was first performed in 1966 on Broadway; the following year it won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. The 1972 movie version (in which Liza Minelli gives an iconic performance as Sally) is rated 97% on movie critic website RottenTomatoes.com.

South African audiences will be able to experience this spectacular show later this year when a local production goes on a national tour. It will be running for two months at Montecasino in Johannesburg before moving down to Cape Town for another two months. This critically acclaimed production was originally staged in Durban last year by local performance art company KickstArt. It stars Samatha Peo as Sally, Bryan Hiles as Cliff, Charon Williams-Ros as Fräulein Schneider and Peter Court as Herr Schultz. German musical theatre star Sascha Halbhuber also makes a special appearance as Emcee. The show is directed by Steven Stead.

Tickets for the Montecasino shows (7 June to 5 August 2012) can be purchased at Computicket with prices ranging from R75 to R325. The Cape Town leg of the tour (10 August to 7 October 2012) will take place at Theatre on the Bay. No price information for the Cape Town shows was available at the time of going to press but interested parties can check regularly at KickstArt-Theatre.co.za for more details as they become available.

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