Performance Preparation Academy – Cabaret

cabaret poster A4Cabaret was performed by Performance Preparation Academy at the Bellerby Studio Theatre, Guildford.

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★

Musicals don’t come much better than Kander and Ebb’s masterpiece about Weimar Germany in the early 1930s, the rise of Nazism and the terrible price the Jewish race -– and the world – was about to pay.

Friday’s atrocities in Paris added frighteningly topical ballast to PPA director Richard Mulholland’s programme claim that “the state of world affairs in 2015 bears an uncanny resemblance to that of 1930” and that Cabaret will be relevant “as long as human beings continue to persecute and kill each other in the name of misplaced nationalism or religion”.

This thought-provoking but incredibly vibrant show could hardly be a bigger contrast to Baby, the schmaltzy Maltby and Shire musical which PPA’s third-year students, some of them appearing again, performed with relish at the Academy’s homely Bellerby Studio the previous week.

The swastika is the horror background to two romances, a bumpy one between a posh-totty airheaded, third-rate singer glamorous enough to top the bill at Berlin’s seedy Kit Kat Club, and an impoverished American writer; the other a doomed one between a middle-aged gentile and the humble Jewish fruiterer who rents a room at her boarding house.

The proceedings are presided over by the Emcee, a saucy but menacing figure in a part made famous by Joel Grey, in the Broadway original of 1966 and again in the multi-Oscar-winning but much-altered 1972 movie.

The Bob Fosse film made Liza Minnelli’s Sally Bowles a singing sensation when the part, as originally conceived, didn’t call for it and totally ditched the touching last-chance-at-love story between Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz.

The stage show has many more layers and in Mulholland’s inventive production, the small Bellerby space is transformed into a smoky, decadent club, enabling the gorgeous Kit Kat girls to mingle and flirt with the audience.

The songs, of course, are deservedly legendary, from ‘Willkommen’ through ‘Don’t Tell Mama’, ‘Perfectly Marvellous’, an exciting and dynamic treatment of ‘Money’, an unusual and moving take on ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’ with the showgirls turning into sombrely-attired mothers cradling babies, right through to the title song, soaringly performed by Robyn Pescetto’s Sally.

Pescetto, who shared the main role over six performances with Melissa Coleman, got the Sloanie accent spot-on too but was a tad slow on picking up her cues.

Also doubling up were Helen Slade and Lauren Chinery as Fräulein Schneider, while Jessica Stephens and Laura Banks had great fun with the brassy prostitute, Fräulein Kost.

Stephens made a terrific job of Kost but it was Slade’s nicely-aged and movingly performed Schneider that particularly impressed. Her two solos, ‘So What?’ and ‘What Would You Do?’, were both heart-wrenching and she wrenched our hearts.

It was a shame that Dan Stark looked more matinee idol than ageing suitor and failed to convey the Jewishness of Herr Schultz.

Andrew Patrick Walker clearly enjoyed himself as the Emcee, catching every side of this complex character, James Hudson did his best with the wet role of Cliff Bradshaw (a part based on novelist Christopher Isherwood, on whose story Joe Masteroff’s book is framed) and Tayler Davis’ sinister Nazi, Ernst Ludwig, was right on the money.

So, too, was the dramatic staging of the gas-chamber ending, still as shocking as ever, even when you know it’s coming.

And oh those Kit Kat girls! Too many to mention, but nobody could say they didn’t make an impression, as did Lewis Butler’s lively choreography.

The set, with part of the action played out on a shelf above the band of three (Tom Turner on piano, Alice Robinson on bass guitar, Christian Woods on drums), was also imaginative in a revival of their show which, for the most part, would have delighted the composers.

A ‘Perfectly Marvellous’ couple of hours, in fact, and tomorrow certainly belongs to these gifted youngsters. Let’s hope they get the chance to make the most of it.

Jeremy Chapman


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