Last fall, the Lovers of Zeppelin performances made quite the splash, marrying the moving language of dance with the raucous, classic rock sounds of Led Zeppelin. The Lovers Cabaret dancers set the bar high for themselves from the get-go.
Lovers of Hendrix opted for a more story-based approach. Dance numbers and rock’n’roll were still the primary ingredients, but this production saw the Cabaret branch out in a number of new directions: narration, acting, vocal pieces, body painting (!) and the inclusion of male dancers.
“In order to change the world, you have to get your head together first,” Mary says, recounting the famous Hendrix quote and establishing the theme for the evening in the narrative introduction. The quote serves as a useful capsule summary of the show – one character’s personal account of her trials and tribulations, as well as those of her friends and family, set in the late ‘60s, a time of social upheaval and sexual revolution.
“Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” started off the musical side of things, serving as the background as Mary (played by Marlie Collins) introduced her friends Karen (Regan Calicetto), Janis or “Sky” (Kristin Whale), and other characters.
One of my personal highlights from the show was the use of the lyrics from “Castles Made of Sand”, which were spread throughout the performance, spoken a few lines at a time by different characters. The words provided a sense of unity, however abstract, to the story unfolding, hinting at themes of pain, change and the inevitable passing of time.
“Purple Haze” kicked things up a notch and saw the ensemble cast take command of the stage, dancing a dance reminiscent of a witches’ circle evoking spirits and casting a powerful spell. The momentum was maintained with a mesmerizing number for “Foxy Lady”. Collins’ vocal solo of “Amazing Grace” which ushered in the intermission was another standout piece.
The rest of the evening included body painting and a house party atmosphere where the psychedelics flowed freely while “Red House” and “Gypsy Eyes” heightened the on-stage dance trip. The strongest dance performance of the night was almost without question Regan Calicetto’s rendition of “Fire”. To put it as plainly as possible, she danced like “Fire” sounds – fast and loose, energetic, unpredictable and bordering on the out-of-control, yet somehow so precise throughout it all.
Unfortunately, the sound quality during the majority of the spoken parts left much to be desired. The lack of volume didn’t help keep the audience’s attention, as they were stoked to a fever-pitch by rollicking dance numbers and rock music only to be left straining to hear what was happening story-wise in between dances. Though the addition of Marlie Collins and her powerful voice was definitely a coup for the show as it brought another very potent element to an already strong format (when compared to last year’s Lovers of Zeppelin) and made for some variety, some of the narrative and acting scenes fell flat. While I understand these elements were introduced to beef up the story portion of the show and provide context, I couldn’t help but feel as though most of these scenes hampered the overall flow.
One thing is for certain – Vanessa Young (director and producer), Ashley Sweett (assistant director and head choreographer), Lineke Van Kleek (assistant choreographer) and Rachel Coombs (PR and marketing director) are not satisfied with doing the safe, same old thing. Having now seen two different Cabaret performances, it’s clear the drive to create innovative and original entertainment is at the core of the company. Along with the audiences at the three Lovers of Hendrix performances – two of which sold out – I look forward to what The Lovers Cabaret will come up with next.