Berlin – Cabaret of Desire

Silo Theatre, Auckland

10/11/2006 - 16/12/2006

Production Details

Conceived by John Verryt, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Paul Barrett
Directed & designed by John Verryt
Music directed by Paul Barrett

Song translation by Paul Barrett, Lauren Jackson and Jeremy Lawrence

Following the huge success of JACQUES BREL last year, Silo Theatre explores the decadent world of Kurt Weill and German Cabaret of the 1930s in BERLIN. We aim to re-treat the kaleidoscope of Weill’s musical experience for an urbane audience who have never encountered his work before. 

Kurt Weill wrote music rich with a pre-Nazi Germany sensibility that still manages to be timeless. Dark, sardonic, passionate, sexual and rebellious – this is music on the edge. He is best known for the pop standard MACK THE KNIFE, which has been recorded by hundreds of musicians including Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, The Psychedlic Furs, Ella Fitzgerald, Robbie Williams, Nick Cave, and even Westlife and Kevin Spacey. 

Propaganda. Sexuality. Power. Intimacy. Bold emotion. This is the musical experience of 2006 – eat your heart out Ute Lemper.

JENNIFER WARD-LEALAND as Sabine Leutenegger
ANDREW LAING as Freddi Klein
LANA NESNAS as Angelique de la Manche

AARON CODDEL on double bass
TIM HOPKINS on clarinet & saxophone

ANDREW MALMO: lighting design

Theatre , Music ,

Disturbing den of cultural release and caustic commentary

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 13th Nov 2006

In his directorial debut, John Verryt has collaborated with an outstanding team to create a sophisticated weave of sleaze and political commentary: an easy marriage in most countries even today; but ripe for the foundation of Berlin – Cabaret of Desire.

Pre World War II, Berlin was one of the last cities to fall to the Nazis in the 1930’s, and as she became a powder keg of defiance against Germany’s decline into fascism, many were driven to her underground clubs to escape, survive and stay sane.

With this potent setting, Berlin – Cabaret of Desire is – like its predecessor, the 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret – an evocative historical snap shot. Unlike Cabaret, Berlin tells her stories directly, exquisitely and exclusively, through the actual songs written by the great lyricists and composers from that explosive time.

Thanks to primary research by John Verryt, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Paul Barrett (the team credited with the production conception), some of the most compelling songs from these note worthy commentators – in particular Kurt Weill, Mischa Spoliansky and Frederick Hollander – have been given a new platform, via the 28 compositions chosen for Berlin.

The songs are beautiful and lose nothing by being sung in English, thanks to the work of translators Paul Barrett, Lauren Jackson and Jeremy Lawrence. Their lyrics make many contemporary singer-songwriters’ efforts seem generic, self indulgent, plastic, and void of enduring significance.

With rich source material and effective visual and musical direction, Berlin hits the mark. Each song combines sublime composition and excellent performance to paint a picture and cause reaction. Intelligently strung together, Berlin’s musical journey gives layers of illumination for the senses, at times colourful, glamorous and entertaining, then exposing, scathing and biting.

Verryt’s design and Andrew Malmo’s lighting capture the underground atmosphere well, transforming The Silo into a dimly lit club, with cabaret seating, bar and stage, all cloaked in black fabric and gold-latticed overlay. The den is comfortable, spacious and long, and Verryt uses it all, bringing the cast into the audience at times throughout the evening, giving Malmo new angles to work with.

Musical Director Paul Barrett (also pianist, MC and support singer), and the boys in the band (Aaron Coddel on Double Bass, Tim Hopkins on clarinet & saxophone and Barry Widerstrom on drums & percussion), are tight and smooth throughout the night.

But the moment when you feel truly transported to a club in Berlin is when the three decadent divas stride on stage. Thanks to costume designers Elizabeth Whiting and Victoria Ingram, Sabine Leutenegger (Ward-Lealand), Freddi Klein (Andrew Laing) and Angelique de la Manche (Lana Nesnas) look divine and sexy, and very much of the period, draped in velvet and sparkles, though flesh appears frequently.

And so begins the entertainment from two ménage à trios of talent: three players on one side, three singers in the other, and in the middle, maestro Barrett, who flows between both camps.

In keeping with the escapism of the time, the ensemble’s movement and choreography, under the guidance of Marianne Schultz, is coloured by sex in neon, rather than sexual innuendo, with hands often firmly clasped on each other’s cleavage and crotch.

There is a sense of comradeship and trust between cast and musicians that depicts what must’ve been the backbone of survival for all in the actual clubs of the 1930’s. This familiarity cements the atmosphere of Berlin, not just through the songs, but also through the chat, the jokes, between them. The veiled cynicism in the ‘encouragement’ from parental figures Freddi and Sabine, as the younger Angelique, with her intoxicating eyes, performs Sex Appeal (Frederick Hollander), sets up a particularly effective dynamic.

Newcomer to the Auckland theatre scene, Nesnas is slightly tentative during her first solo, Peter Peter (Rudolf Nelson), but by I Don’t Know Who I Belong To (Frederick Hollander), she is in control. As she sings, "Now I intend to be playful, love’s better that way", she disappears in the dark, swallowed by the crowd. Later, she wanders back through the audience, singing at her best, the ballad Youkali (Roger Fernay and Kurt Weill), which features a delicious glockenspiel moment from Widerstrom.

Laing is totally at home from the moment he saunters into Berlin. He laps up the opportunity to compare ordinary "banality" with gay unconventionality during The Lavender Song (Frederick Hollander), commenting with provocative frankness, many would like to "round us up and send us away, that’s what you’d like to do." Later in the evening, in a more sombre vein, he walks the room, and sings with stirring honesty, Oh How We Wish That We Were Kids Again (Hollander).

An absolute highlight, in terms of the lighter side of Berlin’s cabaret, is Spoliansky’s gender-bender, Maskulinum-Femininum. Dynamic duo Laing and Ward-Lealand, shine with humourous material, and indulge in systematically undressing cross-dressing, exploring the possibilities for a hermaphrodite, before ending up back where they started.

Ward-Lealand also strikes up a sizzling partnership with Nesnas in the second half, as they feed off each other throughout Spoliansky’s cheeky When The Special Girlfriend, then again in their sensual tango to accompany Laing’s A Little Yearning (Hollander).

Ward-Lealand is again the mistress of comedy in Hafen-Kneipe (Joachim Rigelnatz). As she revels in the mischief of pissed seamen in the bars of Wapping, there is a show stopping leggy moment that you have to see to believe.

In complete contrast, Ward-Lealand delivers an emotional punch when she sings Weill’s most famous song Mack The Knife. Unlike so many famous recording artists, including Ella Fitzgerald and Robbie Williams, who have turned it into a gooey upbeat tune, her performance remains true to the song’s story: a list of Mack’s cold calculating atrocities.

She brings those same qualities to the politically charged Munchhausen (Hollander), and its bitter refrain "liar liar…" As Berlin’s songs expose more of the expanding madness of Hitler, she makes reference to the zig and the zag, and effectively summarises what drew so many frightened souls to the clubs: "Life is hard and tough as nails that’s why we need fairytales".  The song is devastating, so to break the mood, the ensemble throws them into Mandalay, (Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill) a short, sharp uplifting fairy-tale to close the first half.

By the end of Berlin I feel a little sick as I wonder how – so soon after this moment in history I have just ‘visited’; this den of cultural release and caustic commentary – did Germany and the world allow The Third Reich to continue, rise, prosper, persecute and murder so many, before it was stopped.


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