BWW Review: CABARET / KABARETT at Théâtre De Poche

BWW Review: CABARET / KABARETT at Théâtre De Poche

The shadows of Kurt Weil, Kander and Ebb, and Bob Fosse are hanging high over the early summer theater season in Paris with two exceptional productions, Berlin Kabarett at the Théâtre de Poche Montparnasse, May 24th - July 15th, and the ECM presentation of Willkommen im Cabaret at the Théâtre des Variétés, June 24th - 25th.

More a play with songs and a musical revue than an actual musical, Berlin Kabarett uses period songs by Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht alongside original songs by Stéphane Corbin, who also plays Fritz and the alternate piano accompanist. His provocative compositions blend very well with the period pieces, which also include a Maurice Chevalier song.

Giving further authenticity to the piece is the presence of Marisa Berenson, very believable as Kirsten, the ruthless owner of the Cabaret. Looking very glamorous and Marlene Dietrich-ish at the age of 71, Berenson, who played the Baroness Landauer in the film by Fosse prior to leading Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, turns out to be a capable singer and dancer with a magnetic stage presence.

Playing her son Victor is Argentinean singer, dancer, and acrobat Sebastian Galeota. Trained by Fosse's assistant Chet Walker at his international musical theater company, Galeota is a quadruple threat who stops the show with every one of his numbers, but even more notably with "Ich bin die fesche Lolo".

French musical regular Jacques Verzier, recently seen in Wonderful Town in Toulon, who previously played the MC in Cabaret and who is bound to play Valentin in the forthcoming French adaptation of Kiss of the Spiderwoman, commands an equal presence as Karl. And of course the musicians Simon Legendre at the piano, Loïc Olivier on the drums, and Victor Rosi playing the cornet are also very much part of the action, doubling as actors as was traditional in Berlin Cabarets.

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The very intimate, miniscule, red-adorned theater is perfectly fitting for the setting, allowing for frequent interactions with the audience, and Stéphane Druet has gone even further than the Broadway musical in depicting the moral decadence, particularly vivid in the nasty matron, who denounces her cross-dressing son to the Nazis, even though, as we are to understand through the stories told through songs, that she never really liked him and so originally dressed him up as a girl.

This very intense, non-stop 90-minute adult musical entertainment is now sold out, but will be reprised toward the end of the year at the same Théâtre de Poche.

Meanwhile, far from a mere school production, this year's ECM (Musical Theatre School) gala titled Wilkommen im Kabaret at The Théâtre des Variétés was a brillant compromise between the original stage musical and the Bob Fosse Movie. Stressing less the love affair between the older couple of Herr Schultz and Frau Schneider, adding on the character of the baroness Natalia Landauer played by Marisa Berenson in the movie, and turning most of the duos and trios into ensemble numbers, director Ned Grujic (Fame, Hairspray and Adams Family in Paris) gives us here his most creative effort to date... even the poster is beautiful !

Not all innovations were as successfull : the adding on of an MC Girl in the opening number is questionable. Giving her the title song and taking it away from Sally Bowles is clearly a mistake.

Giving "Mein Herr" to Frauline Kost make sense, however, since this important character never had a song in the show and having "What Would You Do?" sung by the character of Cliff Bradshaw gives the great torch song a new twist.

"Two Ladies", "Money" and "The Gorilla Song" work well as ensemble numbers, brilliantly choreographed by Linda Faoro and her colleagues. But even if the dancing is apt and the singing more than adequate--and in some cases, such as the MC and Cliff's duet "I don't care much", quite spectacular--it is in the acting that this young cast shines brightest.

Standing out are Clement Rafferty, who makes a devinely decadent MC Boy, handsome and charismatic Baptiste Juge as Cliff Bradshaw, Renaud Monthoux, giving a nuanced performance as Herr Schultz, and Clémence Aubret, very convincing as Frau Schneider. This level in acting is seldom found in French musical theater, even in the most professional productions and we must give credit to the excellent teatchers of the ECM School for that.

The presence of a live band on stage is also a definite plus and the choice of having all the actors wear Comedia Del Arte whiteface makeup helps bridge the songs happening within the Kit Kat Club with those going on outside. This latter choice also alludes to the original makeup and cross-gender costumes worn by the chorus in the original stage versions of Fosse's Pippin and Chicago.

While paying tribute to the master himself, these two productions show us once more how complex that period was, and, even more so, how indebted so many Broadway musical are to these foundational, generations-inspiring pieces.

Thanks to the genius of Kander and Ebb, Cabaret can indeed be done successfully in so many different ways. Witness the Roundabout Broadway Revival and its Folies Bergères incarnation, the last London production and the Berlin German-language version. We can only regret that, with the exception of the Leicester Curve fully staged version of a few seasons ago, we have been treated to the same concert version of Chicago worldwide for the past twenty years now!

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From This Author Patrick Honoré

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