The Future of Cabaret
Updated: Jan 31, 2019
It's Sunday evening and I'm running late, my plus one has arrived at the Shaw Theatre ahead of me and is patiently waiting. “I'm so sorry. I was interviewing Charlotte Wakefield” I explain as my friend Maddie asks why I have a tripod sticking out of my rucksack. We have just enough time to order two over priced miniature bottles of prosecco before we are ushered to our seats.
The thick red curtains draw back to reveal an impressive stage rig of metal and steps. In front of an X factor style lighting wall stand ten equally stylised performers poised and ready to go.
The lights blind the audience as the drum pounds and the vocalists launch a collective “Wo-ah”, from the instantly familiar intro to 'The Greatest Show'.
I sink a little in to my chair. As much as I love the Greatest Showman, and everything Pasek and Paul have ever written, you can't help but tire from hearing their songs everywhere you go. They have fast become the go-to composers that every performer loves to sing at every cabaret, and with this song in particular the promise that “This is the greatest show...” is rarely met.
I see a lot of shows and cabarets, mostly in support of friends who are performing in them, but also in some cases to see an artist I adore; in a typically smaller venue than they would usually be found, where they often offer candour and intimacy. But even I tire of seeing the same people singing the same songs that most cabarets tend to offer.
I give it a minute, and then reconsider my quick judgement. They're doing something different with this. With each pulse of the intro, the ten strong cast switch poses in time with the music. It's looking impressive and its undoubtedly sounding different too. The new arrangement coupled with the style and staging has given this musical theatre standard a very welcomed contemporary edge. I then remembered Ryan Carter's promise when he invited me to his show “It's going to be an evening of reimagined musical theatre”, and he wasn't kidding.
Ryan had reached out to me after I wrote about the impact of his #WatchOutFor movement. He said that he had read my blog and could tell that I was a good guy, he offered me two tickets to his show saying that he normally stayed away from press and bloggers. I understood why, and in the same way that Ryan could recognise the intention and agenda behind the work I do with my blog, I was able to recognise what Ryan is trying to create through his company RyCa Creative.
I set out to be a new voice and new generation of commentary on musical theatre for theatre lovers, while RyCa Creative has its sights set on creating a new generation of theatre lovers. Their mission to make younger people engage in theatre.
'Refresh' has evolved out of this. A two hour set taking some of the most iconic songs in musical theatre history, and revamping them with creative new arrangements, contemporary vocals and gig-like aesthetics.
It's a smart move, following the trend of new musicals like Six, which continues to smash box office sales and has extended bookings at the Arts Theatre into 2020, this is definitely a winning formula. The Arts Theatre is also expanding into the cabaret circuit with it's ongoing programming of it's Above the Arts space. It continues to host one off cabarets and is now home to a resident monthly series That Cabaret.
Across London, other theatres are following suit utilising their 'dark' days by hosting cabarets. The Union Theatre has just announced it's new cabaret series 'Sunday Night Socials' which aims to showcase the very best new British musical theatre writing, with the audience invited to submit questions for host Kieran Brown to ask throughout the show. It is being produced by Kieran Brown and Chris Matanle.
Not to be out done, Paul Taylor Mills launches a whole two week series 'Night Caps 'at the Other Palace as part of his #MTFestUK season next month. He describes it as an intimate and frank cabaret which he will host himself.
New cabaret venues are also still springing up around London, with The Space at Studio 88 recently opened and programmed by Drew Baker from Theatrical Rights Worldwide. Based centrally off Leicester Square it has establishing itself with it's late night 'After Hours West End' series. Last week I watched Steph Parry's cabaret 'The Girl Who Ran Down the Road' there and 'Guys Sing Dolls' featuring Adam Dawson, Alyn Hawke and Ryan Anderson described as “a musical theatre evening where your favourite leading men sing the songs of your favourite leading ladies”. This is when cabaret works best, where you are offered something you can't see anywhere else.
Cabaret is a great opportunity for performers to sing the songs they would never ordinarily be right for or cast in. Steph Parry performed a medley of songs she adores from roles she knows she will never professionally play, even making the joke before she sang 'Waving Through A Window' saying “Well everyone else wants to play Evan Hansen, so I might as well give it a go”.
Audiences and performers both enjoy something different, and it can even help performers get spotted for other work. In my interview with Charlotte Wakefield that we filmed between sound checks for The Crazy Coqs Presents, she explained “Doing gigs like I'm doing now you meet people in the industry and they know your name and they get to know what you can sing. Like in this tonight I'm singing Spring Awakening, Heathers, Carrie, and Dear Evan Hansen, four completely different styles and ranges and it's these sorts of things that get people seeing what you can do.”
Ryan Anderson, who I watched last week in the 'Guys Sing Dolls' cabaret really stood out for me. He has a quirky charm and charisma that he showcased along with his rich vocals. It occurred to me only afterwards, that I had seen Ryan perform in a non-singing role in 'A Beautiful Thing' and as Blake in 'Bat Out of Hell' at the Dominion Theatre where he had passed me by. In a production of that scale, I can be forgiven for not noticing Ryan, which is why cabarets in small intimate venues offer these fantastic opportunities as showcases. Talking to him afterwards, Ryan told me he has taken over a role in a return run of 'Grindr the Opera' at Above the Stag. Having seen the production before, I wasn't planning to revisit it, however having fallen a little bit in love with Ryan and his voice, I will definitely now be booking a ticket as it has now extended until 23rd February.
The Works seems to be leading the way by trying new things. They recently hosted Sharon Sexton and Rob Fowler's brilliant evening 'Vision of You'. An ingenious concept conceived by Sexton and Fowler themselves, its premise is to offer a possible back story for their 'Bat Out of Hell' character's Sloane and Falcon, told through a fusion of classic musical theatre, pop and rock songs. Essentially it is a cabaret which they present as their characters, and for me it represents the evolution of the cabaret. Knowing the appeal and charm that these characters offer fans Sexton and Fowler have tailed the selection of songs that suit their style and voices, and formed a plausible prequel to 'Bat Out of Hell' which depicts the story of how Sloane and Falcon possibly met and fell in love. They have created much more than just a cabaret, they have created a show, and with five announced shows already sold out, and more to come, it's very clear that this is what audiences now want from an evening of cabaret.
- My original blog about Ryan Carter can be found here: https://www.thatstageyblog.com/home/finding-my-feet-and-watchoutfor
Cabarets coming up: 'The Show Goes On' at Studio 88 continues every Monday from 11pm to 1am, with the first Monday of each month being a cast takeover.
The next 'That Cabaret' at Above the Arts is on 8th February at 8.30pm, hosted by Stewart Briggs with Shakira Rattray and Jack Reitman. https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/whats-on/that-cabaret/
'Night Caps' at the Other Palace runs nightly at 9pm between 11th and 23rd February (excluding Sunday 17th) and will feature Tosh Wanogho-Maud, Evelyn Hoskins, Sophie Isaacs, Luke Bayer, Louise Dearman, Rob Houchen, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Claudia Kariuki, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Emma Kingston, Nathan Amzi, and Jordan Luke Gage. https://lwtheatres.co.uk/whats-on/mt-fest-uk-night-caps/
At The Space, 'Jones's Diary: A musical Valentine in Concert' has two performances on Thursday 14th February at 7.00pm and 9.15pm. https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/47-whitcomb-st/the-space-at-studio-88/jones-diary-a-musical-valentine-in-concert
The first 'Sunday Night Socials' at the Union Theatre is 'An Evening with Laurence Mark Wythe and Friends featuring Graham Bickley, Julie Atherton, Ashley Gray, and Shona White on Sunday 17th February at 7.30pm. http://www.uniontheatre.biz/sunday-night-social.html
'Grindr the Opera' plays until 23rd February at Above the Stag. http://www.abovethestag.com/vxl/whatson/grindr-the-opera/
The next 'Crazy Coqs Presents' show will be 'The Songs of Stephen Schwartz on Sunday 24th February at 7.00pm and will feature Charlotte Wakefield, Danny Becker, Matthew Croke, Chloe Hart and Sophie Isaacs. https://www.brasseriezedel.com/live-at-zedel/crazy-coqs-presents-stephen-schwartz
Sharon Sexton and Rob Fowler's 'Vision of You' will be at The Key Theatre in Peterborough on Tuesday 19th March at 7.30pm, with special guests Georgia Carling and Simon Gordon https://vivacity.org/whatson/theatre-and-arts/vision-of-you/
Steph Parry will appear in 'Broadway Meets West End' at Pizza Express, The Pheasantry on 24th March at 8.00pm https://www.pizzaexpresslive.com/whats-on/broadway-meets-west-end-2