Cabaret has experienced a revival over the past ten years across the globe. And let’s be honest, that’s yesterday’s news. Intelligence, wit and humour are now seamlessly woven through story, song and dance to illuminate the inherent theatricality of this highly subversive genre which is no longer the lesser companion to quality theatrical performances.
At its best, cabaret puts the ‘adult’ back into ‘adult entertainment’ and does so with a sense of élan. History is replete with brilliant resources from British Vaudeville through highly polished French erotica to burlesque and belly dancing rituals and plenty more.
At the top of their game are cabaret performances that are inclusive of LGBT punters, use multiple languages and most importantly have a range of diverse acts that create a space for the bodies on stage – not to be consumed by lecherous eye culture but which actively, defiantly and unashamedly return the voyeurs’ gaze. Cabaret is, at its voluptuous heart, focused on not merely defying, but completely annihilating the cumulative stereotypes of the ages.
Having mulled over what it possibly could have been in regards to the current standards of performance-making, then, I am very disappointed with last night’s production of If I Only Had a Heart.
Red and black seem to be the colours of the night and while the set is adequate (nothing brilliantly imaginative but vaguely sufficient), the opening outfits of our three songstresses in beautiful lingerie seemed to do little more than offer an advertisement for their sponsor and some weak titillation for the front row. As the hour-long production proceeds they adorn themselves with various other layers, so bland that they do nothing to support the various characters they are attempting to create on stage.
A few feeble attempts at raunchiness (aimed almost exclusively at one individual in the front row) doesn’t quite raise the sex appeal or scandal-o-meter to any mind-blowing heights and the little choreography included is less than average. It may also just be opening night nerves but as a group there seems to be a distinct absence of camaraderie during the night and an obvious lack of team showmanship for the ensemble pieces.
This was all a real pity because the voices of Rebecca Wright, Cherie Moore and Jessie Cassin are very good. Moore in particular is exceptional in her vocal consistency and Wright’s later song choices allow her innate fire to come to the fore.
On the whole all three have made excellent solo song choices and are supported by skilled musicians including Sam Jury, Sung Jin Hong and Robert Picot.
But the collection of mostly forlorn love songs are given hardly any curation. It’s a mish-mash of sentiment; highs and lows that swing from oldies like ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’and ‘Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart’ to recent favourites such as ‘Hold Me in Your Heart’and ‘My Crazy Heart’. If there was ever any doubt, the recurrence of that vital organ in every song seems to have been the sole unifier of the night, dictating a musical menu that is less than inspirational.
If I Only Had A Heart could have been excellent. There isn’t any doubt that all three performers have powerful vocal instruments and potentially strong personalities to match. But within the rather conservative and almost offensively safe space, there really is nothing new in this scenario for anyone to sit up and take notice. A sleepy evening of crooning love songs with a few jazz elements thrown in for good measure but cabaret this is not.
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