Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thoughts on Zen Zen Zo's 'Cabaret'

One of the few aspects I liked - the artwork.
Zen Zen Zo are once again dipping into musical numbers to attract an audience. I saw their sell-out rendition of Cabaret last Thursday and (naturally?) I wasn't impressed. Not entirely the company's fault, but overall I disliked the story, songs, dancing, and the obnoxious attempts to take it beyond what was required.

Musicals have a reputation for being cheerfully gay and Cabaret is fruity, but not happy. The story was decent, moderately depressing because despite the toe-tapping numbers it's still about racism and the mood is undeniably dark with the impending genocide and Holocaust looming overhead. It also imparts a sense of emptiness because no-one in the play ends up happy (except the Nazis?) and there are a lot of broken dreams thrown around.

Emma Dean leads the Zen cast in the opening tune 'Willkommen'.

Zen Zen Zo try to emphasize points with symbolism, but as usual it's murky and vague. In one scene two lovers talk about their sensitive position among the possible Nazi occupancy on the city. One holds a basket of oranges, and says 'have an apple'. At this point a woman near me snarled in a very matter-of-fact voice "They're not apples, they're oranges!". I was thinking the same thing, meanwhile one character on stage looks like he's juggling in slow motion by waving the oranges in a circle. To represent an Anti-Semitic attack he then changes from the orange to a brick. Luckily I got so bored during this I read the synopsis on Wikipedia, because suddenly the cast on stage were horrified at something for no apparent reason, as the juggler upstage is still moving in slow motion. I know hipsters everywhere will tut and smugly tell me 'it's symbolic' - but in an attempt to make it avant-garde the company has drenched it in stupid symbolism that really detracts from the urgency of this scene. There were lots like that (that I won't go into because this paragraph looks long on my phone) and overall I think it was a flop to try and symbolise something that's so easily understood to begin with - the ending was another disappointing moment as it really failed to indicate the fate of the Cabaret.

During the interval I almost broke down into tears then purchased some pretzels. That was the highlight.

So it's a musical, but how are the songs? This was my first encounter with the show, so I can't really comment on if the arrangements were exceptional or not, but overall I was not a fan of the score. The songs sounded too similar to each other, and too many seemed redundant and didn't progress the story (although I may be biased since the first act went for a devastating 100 minutes and I was not prepared). The choreography and overall staging of the songs were lacklustre, entertaining for some brief moments but after fifteen or so numbers the dancing became tiring and unusually repetitive. The songs were either sung without any movement on stage, or drenched with the scantly-clad androgynous ensemble having a loud 'n' proud orgy on stage.

Don't confuse this with the performers though - the band were simply on fire, funking out like nobodies business and bursting with energy that was snappy and cheeky. The chorus were bang-on tune and executed their parts and harmonies well, and all the soloists were pleasant - it's undeniable that the cast are talented and can bend their bits to almost contorting lengths. Emma Dean stole the stage through her charming portrayal of the vixen-diva Sally Bowls, with her wonderful acting and ferociously powerful voice. She is an absolute gem and I hope we see her in other musical roles (I can see her as Lucille Frank!).

The wonderful Emma Dean as Sally Bowles and Matthew Hadgraft as Cliff Bradshaw.
I haven't been to the Cremorne Theatre in ages, and while it's intimate and small, the staging seemed pretty half-assed. It was just two draw across curtains and a set of curtains at the back that functioned as either a bed or window. The lighting and sound were acceptable but I can't remember thinking they was stunning or particularly noteworthy (especially seeing several shows this week that shined in these areas).

In the end it's preference, and I unfortunately didn't like this rendition, but I can certainly see why it's selling well. Zen Zen Zo's typical patrons will enjoy their usual sexual adventures, passionates of the score and story will find a good execution here, fans of Emma Dean will be more than satisfied by her stellar performance. It's a decent job but not something I'd recommend.

Tickets for Zen Zen Zo's 'Cabaret' ranged from $30 to $50, and was showing from 4th to 20th of August, 2011. Book by visiting QTIX Website or by calling (07) 136 246.

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