Musical theatre is one of those rare cultural phenomena that can inspire the deepest love or the deepest loathing in otherwise similar people. Thankfully, I’m of the tribe that would sell my mother for ‘Les Mis’ tickets, so Musicality’s first cabaret of the year seemed like the perfect antidote to a miserable Sunday evening.
Still aglow from the national recognition brought by their appearance on Channel 5’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”, the musical theatre society’s reputation precedes it, and so this year’s intake certainly had some big (jazz) shoes to fill. Talent wise, there can be no question that there are some astounding voices amongst the Cabaret singers, and the ambitious program tackled everything from the semi-operatic “Love Never Dies” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s offering of the same name, to the tongue in cheek “Schadenfreude”, from Avenue Q. However, some of the most successful numbers were those performed by the entire chorus, notably the finale from Rent where the full force of the 50 odd singers completely commanded the attention of the room.
Despite the clear talent in all the performances, experience was noticeable in the more seasoned singers, and there was at times an atmosphere of first night nerves, shakes, and awkward exits, that would have been more forgivable if the first night wasn’t also the only night. It is a shame that the shaky limbs may have been less apparent if not for the bright, unforgiving and unvarying lighting in The Den. Although each number stood alone, each song is a narrative in itself, and as such asks its audience for an emotional investment: jumping from heartfelt, to witty, to soaring empowerment, but with no corresponding atmosphere, the emotive power of the lyrics were, at times, prevented from being fully realised.
That being said, the selection of songs, from the very familiar to lesser known examples (a charming number from Urinetown was a surprise hit) worked excellently as a cohesive collection. The choreography too was understated but effective, and ensured that there could be no accusations of indulgent campery, even if it seemed a little under rehearsed. In all, Cabaret marks the beginning of Musicality’s year with great promise, and the success of the group numbers is a credit to the energy and enthusiasm inspired by this year’s creative team.