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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

CABARET CONVERSATIONS (article first published : 2002-10-6)

Currently running in The Royal Hotel’s Backstage is a production perfectly suited to this intimate venue. Last seen in the sell-out Bare Essentials on the same stage, Melanie Roberts and Evan Roberts appear with Alan Bowen to present Cabaret Conversations.

The programme offers a range of musical styles featuring songs from artists such as Robbie Williams, The Peddlers, Frank Sinatra, Cole Porter, Barbra Streisand and Sammy Davis as well as numbers made famous by Sting, Bryan Adams, Karen Carpenter and the Beegees.

Highlights for me were Evan’s beautifully sensitive What Kind of Fool Am I? and Alan’s wistful Mr Bojangles. Other enjoyable numbers were How Fragile We Are, Solitaire, Windmills of My Mind and Teach Me Tonight.

The arrangements are excellent and Melanie is in fine voice, having seemingly developed two ranges – the one a light and breathless mezzo, the other a gutsy and stirring lower register. I particularly liked her opening to I Am what I Am. Unlike many other singers on the local circuit, one can always rely on her perfect diction.

Surprise of the evening is the multi-talented Alan Bowen who mainly plays the bass but is equally adept at the guitar, drums and other percussion instruments. I doubt it will be long before he becomes a regular figure on the entertainment scene.

The three balance each other well and it’s a highly enjoyable evening’s entertainment with some cool and sophisticated jazz numbers.

The opening, which depicts the normal mild chaos that goes on backstage before a show goes up, appeared contrived and distracted the audience, thereby impeding the production from getting underway when it really started. I also found the final medley disjointed and not powerful enough for a closing number.

Cabaret Conversations is billed as a lighthearted look at the many “conversations” that take place on and off stage between musicians and their instruments, singers and their songs. This promised to be a fascinating concept but wasn’t explored to the full. Not many people are aware of such musical “conversations” or of the expression used when hanging an exhibition of a “dialogue” between artworks. But once the observer’s attention is drawn to this synergy, appreciation is heightened.

Jenny Sander has designed an attractive and glitzy set which incorporates a striking black and white fabric printed with the names of big cities, such as New York, Tokyo, London and Rome. It also covers the bar stool, the music stand and even turns into a costume or two!

The show runs without an interval and introduces a new feature to the Backstage which gives the venue an added intimacy. There is a raised rostrum against the mirrored wall allowing those tables to have a clear and unimpeded view of the stage. Looks to me to be a very good idea but, being accident prone, I would like to see some sort of low railing to stop people stepping off by mistake.

For starters, there’s a lightly flavoured Chicken and Shrimp Roulade set off by its peppered fruit confit or Picked Mushroom and Spinach Terrine. Main course options are Crumbed Breast of Chicken served on an Apricot flavoured Ginger Sauce or Seafood Delight, which I chose, served with a tangy sweet and sour sauce. For dessert, there’s Duo of Chocolate with Orange Segments.

Cabaret Conversations runs until October 26. Bookings on 031 333-6000. – Caroline Smart




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