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A Night at the Cabaret NODA Report

I wrote after seeing the MAOS production of 9 to 5, “I enjoyed my first visit to the Wycombe Arts Centre and look forward to seeing what these talented ladies do next”, so it was with some high expectations I returned over a year later to see this self-curated show. It was worth the wait as this fine group of ladies put on another production to show off their singing and dancing talents and a real sense of a community who love performing together.

A Night at the Cabaret is a strong concept for a musical review where the ladies are in charge, and it sat comfortably in the Wycombe Arts Centre as a sexy nightclub setting. What the former congregation might have thought about the content added to the fun especially as a “Sweet Transvestite” emerged from the pulpit. Set up in Cabaret style with the audience seated at tables added to transformation and while there was very good use of the central aisle and occasional use of four small platforms amongst the tables to add to the intimacy and engagement, this could have been developed more to cover set ups on the stage are in front of the old altar.

It required a confident and sassy Cast to deliver each routine while giving everyone a moment in the spotlight and building to a glorious finale. The excellent choreography, good consistent costumes and a lovely contrast between the ballsy sexy numbers and the gentler reflective ones made for a very well-balanced programme.

There were some minor technical issues with bringing up personal mics late and slow lighting changes around changeover between numbers which could have been covered better by developing the linking narrative and back stories more on the auditorium’s platforms. It was a good idea to give each performer a stage name and an amusing programme backstory and these could have been explored in short interludes between each number.

Cast

Mel Brown delightfully set the tone as compere Helga with a wonderfully sustained Germanic characterisation, lovely clear diction and a cheeky delivery of “Wilkommen” which set the tone for the whole evening as well as supporting in several other numbers.

Katy Mitchell added to that sense of location as the club owner Kitty with a strong sense of being the person you did not want to get on the wrong side of if you wanted to stay working.

Lucy Newell as Amelie really shone in her numbers especially in Act 2 with a wonderful duet with Caoimhe Sweeney as Emerald, in “Show me how you burlesque” and with a lovely husky seductive tone and powerful, playful and passionate delivery of “Bad Romance” which was a show highlight. Sweeney also duetted with great charm and control  in the jazz harmonies of “That Man” with Anna Hughes. Hughes returned as Blanche in a delightfully romantic lament sung well with a plaintiff tone and underlying passion to really sell the song and the feelings.

Willow Randall’s two songs presented a very different modern pop feel with a full-on rock chick vibe with a touch of Suzi Quatrro about her in “Out Tonight” strutting the stage with a truculent attitude. In “Back to Black” she showed a darker soulful side in a tribute to Aimee Winehouse full of emotion sung from the heart and building to great end.

Clare Bond’s soulful and emotional delivery of “Sweet dreams are made of this” was well sung although she was rather static at the microphone and the song benefited from the interesting chorography of the ten girls behind her as the song progressed.

The men in the cast had weaker voices than their female counterparts but played important supporting roles in several routines. Nick Blanks led the singing in “From now on” for the Finale of Act 1 with an American accent but the song only really took off and burst into the powerful conclusion when joined by the rest of the cast for the rousing choruses. He was joined by Ian Simpson to accompany a sensuous dance routine in “El Tango de Roxanne” with Dan Pritchard surrounded by five gorgeous ladies in a tempestuous routine. The fourth man in the cast, Charlie Collier made a big impact in his stockings and high heels emerging from the pulpit for “Sweet Transvestite” to great comic effect and revelling in the outrageous behaviour to hold our attention despite Lewis and Randell doing the level best to draw our attention away from him!

Indeed, Ruby Lewis naturally grabbed your attention whenever she was on stage and not just because of her sexy costumes and amazing collection of tattoos. She demonstrated throughout she has developed the Triple Threat of being able to act, dance and sing. She stood out in all the Ensemble choreography with great physicality and silky movements. She was always acting in the role of Pixie Piper using her eyes and smile to expressively connect with the audience. And then when she finally let loose to sing on her own in “If I ain’t got you”, we heard her strong vocal in an expressive delivery which showed she was feeling the sadness of the tale. Finally, she brilliantly led the whole cast in a wonderful evocative “All that Jazz” which closed the show in an extraordinarily impressive fashion, a star emerging from the chorus line.

The Ensemble of singers and dancers were very well used with Suzanne Cornish, Jacqui Pirie, Helen Denham, Sue Jackson- Cook , Shirley Jenkins-Panya, Natasha King, Sarah-Jane Brett, Sharon Quinn, Clare Barley combining in various groups to lead the vocals. “Lady Marmalade” used the four platforms well for an immersive and sexy encounter with the ladies of the night. “Fever” was sultry and sexy but some of singers need more power in their delivery.  “Big Spender” was well conceived and set up but might have benefited from more interactions between the card players and the dancers. Well done to Sarah Jane Brett ( I hope that is right) for ensuring the old adage The show must go on was upheld by performing with a broken ankle and the adaptions to allow her to do so. There were some lovely harmonies in the trio for the reflective “Mad World”  which made a pleasant contrast with the more boisterous numbers. “Gold Dust” was perhaps the least successful song of the show with a poor sound mix and a lack of my familiarity with the song meaning it was harder to follow the three pairs of singers.

The nature of the show allowed a full company to be given roles to play in support of the main singers and dancers with Debbie Palmer, Grace Collier and Lisa Richardson all fitting in well and hopefully encouraged to return to the stage with MAOS next time.

There was a glorious celebratory feel to the encore of the speakeasy classic “Bad Guys” and a real sense of camaraderie and togetherness from the company which transmitted to the audience and drew them to join in.

Creatives

Katie Newell deserves huge credit for the conception of this show and the marshalling of such a large cast of twenty-four. The first half set the scene well with the chosen numbers and use the auditorium creating a sultry (but not sleezy) nightclub feel and the second half exploded with some outstanding performances from the main stage. There was a good mix of powerful upbeat songs and quieter reflective tunes and some good touches of comedy to create a varied feel. The short narrative backstory elements could have been developed more and used to cover set ups on the main stage by deflecting attention away from the darkened stage. It would have been great to follow a couple of character stories in a linking story arc rather than just use the set up to showcase the wonderful talents of the company. But the overall effect was excellent, and the audience reaction confirmed its success.

Caoimhe Sweeney certainly got the best of the talented cast and lead from the front in her own songs. There was a good mix of songs with recent pop songs, classic musical theatre songs and songs that really gave the dancers a chance to shine. The mix of music and vocals was generally very good except in Gold Dust. The contrast between “Willkommen”, “Sweet Transvestite”, “Bad Romance”,  “Back to black” and “All that jazz” could not be more marked in musical styles but they fitted together beautifully to give a unity to the production  and were very well sung.

You can always tell the choreographer and dance captain as they naturally stand out in all the routines and Willow Randell was no exception moving with elegance and precision and at times leading the ensemble through the routines. The whole choreography team including Helen Denham, Katie Newell and Lauren Cocklin did an excellent job in creating varied routines on the stage, using the chair props well and making the most of the Pulpit and central aisle to add variation. The cast showed bags of confidence and self-belief which is required for such an immersive and sexy show.

The Production team of Katy Mitchell , Jacqui Piri, Martin West, Gideon Rainey and Katie Newell had created a good nightclub atmosphere with the black tabs and table dressing. The occasional late bringing up of personal mics did detract from the opening of some songs and a couple of times the  reset of the main stage in the half-light seemed slow but these were minor faults in a first-class production. The costumes were excellent with a consistent feel despite the variations and good use of colours to add touches in some songs. The period microphones, cigars and cigarettes and telephone all added to the sense of location and period.

The Programme by Sally Williamson was attractive and glossy with lovely dual bios for character and performer. I was surprised that none of the chosen music was credited in the programme. The NODA factsheet (Factsheets - NODA ) says:

“If the intention is to stage (that is to say with costume and/or scenery and/or movement) a revue or compilation show, then if any of the content originates in a musical play, permission (which may or may not necessarily be forthcoming, depending on the circumstances pertaining to the individual show from which the excerpt comes) must be sought in advance from the copyright owner and, if permission is granted, an appropriate fee is likely to be payable. If the song(s) or music do not emanate from a musical play, then it is probable that their performance could be covered by a PRS licence. This should be checked in advance with the PRS.”

I assume that the rights were cleared but I would have expected any licence to use music to require credits to be included in the programme.

This was a first-class show demonstrating what a talented group of singers and dancers MAOS has and created a most enjoyable evening’s entertainment in this unique venue. I am already looking forward to seeing the Witches of Eastwick fly across the vaulted church ceiling!

Thank you

 

Nick

Nick Humby - NODA Representative - London Region - District 14

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