Hadestown and Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club are truly extraordinary, wonderfully artistic pieces of musical theatre
Mr. Saturday Night
Based on the 1992 film, similarly written by star Billy Crystal alongside Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz, this review is as timely as Crystal’s character Buddy Young, Jr.’s attempts to make amends with his daughter Susan, seeing as Mr Saturday Night enjoyed its final Broadway performance on September 4th. Following the same plot as the aforementioned film, Mr Saturday Night revolves around a has-been comedian, Buddy Young, Jr. (Billy Crystal) who attempts to reclaim his fame decades later. While the film utilised prosthetics in order for Crystal to play both the past Buddy and the present Buddy, Crystal’s current age makes the plot that much more poignant and impactful.
Ultimately, Mr Saturday Night is pleasant enough. Its plot is unchallenging to follow, and the script is reliably humorous. Having said that, the pacing makes the overall show feel meandering and aimless, with the forward thrust of the show failing to kick in until towards the end of Act 1. The show seems to overestimate the affection that the audience might have towards Crystal’s character, indulging in multiple flashback sequences which seem superfluous and not necessarily as compelling as Crystal’s present-day relationship with his 40-year-old daughter (Shoshana Bean).
With music by Jason Robert Brown, the score suits its performers well, which is a testament to Brown’s musical ability. This especially services Shoshana Bean – a well-documented vocalist – whose solos are undeniable standouts, but also allows less natural singers Crystal and Randy Graff (who plays Buddy’s wife, Elaine) to have their spotlight moments. Chasten Harmon as Annie Wells was also incredibly likeable, especially in the face of Buddy’s chauvinistic dismissal of her ability.
The only performer who seems to really struggle with the singing aspect is David Paymer as Buddy’s brother Stan, whose Act 2 number “Broken”, which comes at a highly significant pivot-point in the plot, falls flat as he is clearly uncomfortable with acting musically, resulting in a stiff performance that fails to satisfy emotionally or musically.
Ultimately it feels as if little has been done to actually update the film’s narrative to suit the 3-decade gap between the two projects. It feels as though the narrative is overly lenient upon Buddy, despite the dismissive and rude way that he treats many other characters and is frequently only focused upon himself. Unfortunately, Bean’s performance as Buddy’s irate, overlooked daughter makes for a far more compelling story, which should have formed a larger part of the musical. Buddy’s story never truly feels as if he has lost out, as he himself does not seem damaged by his estrangement from Susan, while she certainly does. Even at Buddy’s lowest, he has not lost the love of his wife and is merely placed back to where he was at the beginning of the show.
A pleasant enough evening, with Crystal at his stand-up best but it could have delved more into the relationships at its centre.
Mr Saturday Night closed on Broadway on September 4th. So regardless of your thoughts on this review, you cannot see it now, and therefore can’t disagree with me about it. Unless, of course, you saw it as well. In which case, feel free. Opinions are plentiful.
If there’s one word that could be used to describe Hadestown, it’s epic. Not only is it based upon Greek mythology, which is literally the genesis of epic poetry, but its creative vision is simply extraordinary. With book, music and lyrics by Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown is based upon the story of Orpheus and Eurydice and Orpheus’ quest to liberate her from the Underworld. At its heart, it is a love story – both between these two characters, still played by original cast members Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada, but also that of Persephone (Jewelle Blackman) and Hades (Patrick Page). More than that, however, it also boasts political commentary, making references to climate change and class relations.
There’s something about Hadestown that just feels shockingly unique. The musical score is rooted in folk, blues and jazz, with absolutely soaring vocal arrangements that simply transport the audience. It really matches the extraordinary, fantastical scope of the story and the heightened nature of Orpheus and Eurydice’s love. The settings of Hermes’ jazz club and Hadestown both feel gritty and confronting, helped by Michael Krass’ industrial costume design. Overwhelmingly, the audience feels part of the action on stage. The simplicity of the design is soon dispelled with a simply jaw dropping transformation towards the end of Act 1 that, when coupled with the soaring notes of “Wait For Me”, feels as if the very world is being ripped asunder. The sheer scale and stark, cruel industrialism of Hadestown is simply brutal. A stunning piece of set design by Rachel Hauck, and a transformation which is aided by Bradley King’s lighting design, which sees sweeping rocking lanterns that create a gorgeous, breathtaking effect.
It is notable that so many original Broadway cast members remain at the Walter Kerr Theatre, since most of them first played these parts in London’s 2018 run and Patrick Page (Hades) having started his journey with Hadestown way back in 2016’s Off-Broadway iteration. For Eva Noblezada this has only enhanced her performance. There is a sense of surety and confidence that comes from completely inhabiting a character. One never gets the sense watching her that she is playing a part, and Act 2’s “Flowers” is phenomenally transporting. Similarly, T. Oliver Reid (originally an ensemble member in the London production) commands the show as the energetic, charismatic Hermes, and Patrick Page has a chilling sense of authority as the understated Hades.
On the other hand, however, Orpheus is reduced to mere caricature. Reeve Carney’s performance almost resembles a bad impression of George McFly, in a way that is genuinely distracting to whatever else is happening on stage. Coupled with interesting vocal choices, it is this part of the show that prevents a 5-star rating as it reduces the realism and credibility of the central relationship that the audience are expected to root for.
Hadestown is a massively unique and impactful story, with beautifully emotional music and an enthralling set and cohesive creative vision.
Hadestown is currently playing at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway and is currently booking up until 28 May 2023. Tickets can be purchased here. Hadestown is also currently on a North American tour. More information can be found here.
The hype and secrecy surrounding Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club might seem extreme and almost insurmountable, but it truly is something that needs to be experienced to be believed. This is the definition of theatre as art. A truly spectacular production with incredible performances and plenty to analyse. That’s the glory of revivals: the opportunity to re-examine familiar works and how the entire feeling of the piece can be altered by the slightest twist in focus.
Initially starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley, the Rebecca Frecknall directed production was met with a highly positive reception, leading the 2022 Olivier Award nominations and becoming the record-holder for most Oliviers won by a revival in Olivier history.
There are many things that are remarkable about this production. Firstly, is the immersive nature of the venue. The performance starts as soon as audiences enter the theatre, with musicians and dancers alike bringing the Kit Kat Club to life and surrounding the audience members in the unbridled carnality and expressiveness that our story takes place in. The theatre space itself is intimate, with only a 550 seat capacity, presented in the round which really draws out the emotion in each character’s performance, and the show never feels limited by a lack of scenery, merely challenges the audience to fully examine the character’s words and actions.
This production also seems keenly, acutely aware of its basis. Cabaret was originally performed in 1966 and is derived from Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin, based on his real-life experiences in the dying months of 20s Berlin. Isherwood’s relationship with Jean Ross, a cabaret performer, with whom he shared a room mirrors the dynamic between Clifford Bradshaw (Omar Baroud) and Sally Bowles (Amy Lennox), though admittedly the true relationship was far too thorny to fully display in 1966, despite both John Kander and Fred Ebb, as well as Christopher Isherwood, being open homosexuals.
Despite Bradshaw not having a queer identity in the original, and remaining fairly ambiguous in subsequent productions, this iteration is unashamedly, unreservedly – nay, deliciously, joyously queer. The sensuous, bestial carnality of the Cabaret is indiscriminate in its gender preferences in a glorious gyration of unencumbered, unfettered sexuality.
It is this sense of freedom and expression, coupled with the touching – and later forbidden and taboo – love between landlady Fräulein Schneider (Vivien Parry) and Jewish fruit shop owner Herr Schultz (Richard Katz), that stand in uncomfortable contrast with the increasing profile of the advancing Nazi party throughout the musical, as represented by Ernst Ludwig (Stewart Clarke). Making Bradshaw’s queer identity explicit actually makes his discomfort and terror in the face of the Nazi party that much more visceral and impactful, knowing that Isherwood, upon whom he was based, was forced to flee Berlin as Nazi power increased and many of his homosexual contemporaries ended up dying in concentration camps.
It’s here where the theatricality truly shines. The no-holds-barred sexuality and expressive dress becomes more restrained, the ensemble becoming an indistinct mass of plain, ordinary suits. The party is over. The ability to express oneself has ended. The cabarets are closed. The world is less bright. The effect is startling, and the imagery shocking and, alarmingly, relatable even to present day.
Believe the hype. Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club is truly unmissable.
Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club welcomes new cast members Callum Scott Howells, Madeline Brewer, Sid Sagar, Danny Mahoney and Michelle Bishop on 3 October. Tickets can be purchased here.