Welcome to the Cabaret

March 18, 2022 | By More

★★★★★   Full on

Magnusson Centre: Thurs 16 – Sat 18 March 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

EU Footlights has wandered down the hill to the Edinburgh Academy Magnusson Centre where their Showchoir’s Welcome to the Cabaret is as good a portmanteau production as any I have seen.

The cabaret banner provides a wealth of possible material which is not just well chosen, but impeccably programmed – and presented with just enough between-song business to help it all hang together without being cheesy. But it is the company and band which truly make this fizz.

A scene from Welcome to the Cabaret. Pic: Lou Collins

Such a show – a few select musical hits under one banner – appears an easy fix when you need a show in a hurry: Big tunes, no complicated sets and easy wardrobe options. Just add singers, choreography and a backing band and away you go…

Not really. In reality it can be as hard to pull off successfully as any big show. Okay, the lack of set helps a lot, but song choice can be a minefield. Many such shows have suffered from not knowing what to leave out. Then there is the tricky job of sharing the songs our equally.

Creative Director Amy Stinton and her team have got their choices for this one just about right. All the big tunes you would expect under such a title are there – Wilkommen from Cabaret, Sparkling Diamonds from Moulin Rouge, Show Me How… from Burlesque, le Jazz Hot from Victor/Victoria and All that Jazz from Chicago.

But you have to wait to get razzled and dazzled.. And wait. And wait some more. Those five make up the totally delicious finale to the whole thing in a seamless mash-up medley which is real credit to MD and musical arranger Falk Meier.

A scene from Welcome to the Cabaret. Pic: Lou Collins

Opening the show with Magic To Do from Pipin, it doesn’t take a huge amount to spin this into a coherent evening as it picks a host of numbers about being in a show. Not such an ask, given the navel gazing nature of much of musical theatre. And when things could be clunky, Ruby Loftus strides on as a producer type, demanding this, that or the other from her team.

After Tom Steed leads it all off with Magic to Do, Loftus gets in amongst it with Another Hundred People, from Company. And gosh Loftus can sell this song. It grows and builds and grows some more as she ramps up the angst.

Ellie Anderson brings an uptight Bonnie to the stage for Picture Show, from Bonnie and Clyde, with the ever excellent TJ Gardner bringing all his considerable authority as Clyde. Again, this is all about telling a story and ensuring that it still makes sense when divorced from the surrounding musical.

Strangely, If My Friends Could See Me Now from Sweet Charity is the hardest sell of the night and Cerys Burnside struggles slightly to keep the tension up. It’s maybe a function of how good what came before had been and it would have been a stand-out in a lessers show. But here it just feels as if it could step up a notch.

A scene from Welcome to the Cabaret. Pic: Lou Collins

Gardner returns for hilarious Hard To Be the Bard from Something Rotten and from here on in there is hardly a step wrong. Jemima Jayne skewers Think of Me from Phantom, Rosie Fletcher gives a lightness of touch to Show Off from Drowsy Chaperone and Allison Lavercombe sings Waving Through a Window from Dear Hanson as if she were channelling Joni Mitchell.

Then there are the numbers which are all about song and dance. Cell Block Tango from Chicago, of course, sees Gemima Iseka-Bekano, Freya Nates and Zoë Murdoch with Burnside, Fletcher, and Anderson in a thoroughly disreputable performance that does choreographer Emily Bealer proud.

All there way through there are performers who catch the eye and the ear in the chorus, who you are waiting and hoping will get suitably big turn. Fiza Owais opens Act 2 with Our Lady of the Underground from Hades-town and her lively and dynamic vocal delivery is well worth the wait.

Abby Harkness has gorgeous clarity to her delivery and, with Zoe Murdoch, ensures that Work of Art from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie stands out far more than it should.

A scene from Welcome to the Cabaret. Pic: Lou Collins

But not before Iseka-Bekano takes it all the way to town with a performance of Bring On the Men from Jekyll and Hyde that is positively scorching. Her voice, her moves and her characterisation all work together to ensure that the whole piece absolutely flies.

Most numbers are not solos, however, with the ensemble adding consistently strong support. Not always easy, choreographically, on the tiny stage. And all the while the band deliver a performance which ensures that the actors on stage are able to give their best.

All told this is not so much a selection of fine show tunes, but a heartfelt celebration of the art of cabaret, performed by a young company which is, quite simply, on fire.

Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes
Magnusson Centre, The Edinburgh Academy, 42 Henderson Row, EH3 5BL.
Thursday 17 – Saturday 19 March 2022
Evenings: 7.30pm; Sat mat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

ENDS

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