Sunday, 31 October 2010


Gabrielle Maes & John Sharpley
The Hall @ The Arts House
Friday (29 October 2010)
Published in The Straits Times on 1 November 2010.
The German Kurt Weill (1900-1950) is a composer hard to pigeonhole. Does his music fall under classical, jazz, popular, Vaudeville or an inimitable all of the above? The abiding thread of his theatre music, the subject of this cabaret, was mostly satirical and often carried social messages.

Unstable years between the World Wars, the crumbling Weimar republic, Depression and Prohibition, all factored in his iconic collaborations with playwright and librettist Bertholt Brecht. An Homage To Wayward Women was the theme of Gabrielle Maes’ one woman tour de force in nine Weill songs accompanied on piano by composer John Sharpley.
Fallen women might have been a more apt description but one gets the hint. Alcohol, heroin, prostitution and bawdy language all featured in Maes’ chameleonic portrayals. The script was drawn from true to life sources, revealing the seamy and tragic side to the inner city, its grime and low living.

Playing the stuffy school-mammy, vamps and tramps to condemned serial killer, she shifted comfortably between roles and nine costume changes. Her theatrical voice was a model of clarity and when singing, made each part her own without imitating the nasal whine of Lotte Lenya, Weill’s widow and most celebrated interpreter.

Mack The Knife, Pirate Jenny and Tango-Ballade, all from The Threepenny Opera, were familiar numbers with their stinging words and insistent beat. The ever-present Sharpley coloured each with improvisations of his own, ensuring that nothing sounded repetititious.

Playing interludes between pieces, he also accompanied tango dancers Moneir Bardai and Karen Seah. Their two items showcased the duality of the dance form, both eroticism and brutality were milked to equally poignant effect. Chandran Lingam’s direction kept the show’s 80 minutes taut and fast-moving.

As a streetwalker
Alabama Song (looking very much
like Lotte Lenya here)

It was the showmanship (or is it show-womanship?) of Maes that moved the most. Love that has lost its lustre brought out a heartrending I’m A Stranger Here Myself. To close, she donned rags and false teeth for a wino panhandler’s suitably leering Alabama Song (from The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny) as she exited the high-ceiling tavern-like venue to appreciative applause.

It was not Halloween yet, but the decrepit factor of Weill’s scenarios was chilling enough.

Applause for all

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I prefer the raw version of the cabaret to the slicked up version presented at the Arts House. You may want to read about that version at this link: