This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com
Broadly defined as a prominent group of people who follow hedonistic lifestyles, perhaps known as Bohemian in English or Demimonde in French, Habwelt is used here to describe a group of seven women living in Berlin during the Weimar Republic of the 1920s to early 30s and, as a postscript, during the Third Reich through to the outbreak of World War II. They are performers, writers and political activists. This piece of musical entertainment, running for around 80 minutes, is divided into seven sections, each showcasing one of these extraordinary characters. Of course, as the show makes clear, these women and other similar groups were already heading for a full-on collision with Hitler’s Nazis, who would regard them as depraved and seek their destruction. Berlin during this period is very familiar from the writings of Christopher Isherwood, adapted for the musical Cabaret. The influence of the director/choreographer of the film version of that show, Bob Fosse, is clear in the look of this show and in the style of the dance routines. We enter the theatre with the seven ladies already on stage, wearing only short petticoats and black stockings, as they will do for most of the evening. They include the Communist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg (Alma Fournier-Carballo), dancer Anita Berber (Samantha Clark) and cabaret performer Blandine Ebinger (Stephanie Hampton). The most internationally famous of the seven, Marlene Dietrich (Sarah Bradnum) sings the familiar Honeysuckle Rose and Falling in Love Again, but most of the other songs, all from the 20s and 30s are rarely heard in this country. Their music and lyrics are of a very high quality, beginning with the chorus number Kick Out All the Men (from the Reichstag etc), written by Friedrich Hollaender, which establishes the bold political and feminist tone. Hollaender also contributes the stunning Liar Liar, heard later in the show. A strong lesbian theme runs throughout, which is exemplified by the anthemic Lavender Song (we’re not afraid to be queer and different…”) written by Mischa Spoliansky, as is When the Special Girlfriend, beautifully sung by Gabriella Schmidt, playing the cross- dresser Claire Waldoff. Other songs, varying widely in styles and moods, come from Hanns Eisler/Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. There is serious quality here and lovers of musical theatre may find it worth more than double the ticket price just to hear these rarities performed live and performed so well. Making up the performers are Alyssa Noble (also the show’s choreographer) and Julia Cugini. Here we have seven exceptionally talented young singers/dancers/actresses, performing superbly both as individuals and as a company. A five piece band accompanies the singers, with Peter Mitchell as musical director. Several excellent dance sequences include a chorus line tap routine and director Patrick Kennedy along with his choreographer work a small miracle in achieving so much in this tiny space. The links between the musical numbers are intelligent, informative and, occasionally, extremely moving, evoking the feel of the era perfectly and the sense of helplessness in the face of the on-rushing storm. The show ends leaving us wanting more and there is obvious scope for developing it further, incorporating a fully-formed book. In the meantime, it is already a small gem.