Frances Johnson graduated from the Department of Dramatic Arts in 2020 and was about to begin an internship at the Shaw Festival when the Covid-19 pandemic...
On 3 October, the five DARTcritics embedded in Cabaret Sauvignon saw the production, and reflect on the experience here given their privileged insight into the ideas behind the show.
One critic writes: Rockway Vineyards is where the scene plays out. Guests seated, a three-course meal, and 1920s-style cabaret theatre that tells a story about the Niagara region. Though the company unfortunately had to cancel its last preview performance, on its opening night Cabaret Sauvignon was overall pleasant and witty performance. Writer David Fancy had told us during our embedding experience that the production was meant to display the “taste of the region” of Niagara. However, during the show, I felt that the meaning and message were lost as the lyrics became overwhelmed by the raunchy, sexual choreography. Although well executed, Cabaret became amusing entertainment, rather than providing the audience with a deeper understanding of Niagara.
Once patrons took their seats, meals were presented. The wine was not included as part of the $75 ticket, which I feel was a poor choice since the show was held at a vineyard. One glass would have sufficed to present a more complete package. $50 would have seemed a more reasonable price overall for the show and meal.
Some of the songs were original, but others were taken from musicals such as Tick… Tick… Boom! (“Therapy”) and Cabaret (“Mein Heir” and “Money”). These songs were enjoyable, but did not relate to Niagara. The musical numbers began with some off-pitch harmonies, but grew into dreamlike sounds that captured the audience’s imagination. The number “God is in the House” displayed Louisa O’Keane’s powerful vocals and unique qualities. The work of a sand artist (Moran Arbuthnot) projected on a screen during the song complimented its meaning.
The actors offered superb performances; O’Keane with her German accent and physicality, Eric Morin with his exuberant facial gestures, Karina Bershtyn with her vibrant character personality, and Daniel Abadie with his choreography. The overall physicality of the characters were fascinating. However, there was not enough performance from Zacada Circus. Foot juggler Jorden Moir, who performed as Morin sang “Vesoul”, was brilliant, keeping up to seven balls in the air! However, the pole dancer (Marie Bonin), though exquisite to look at, felt unnecessary.
The three-course meal was outstanding, and the spicy talent, zesty characters, smooth physicality, and rich musical attributes made for an enjoyable evening of entertainment. Overall, however, the show’s quality could have been higher; a longer rehearsal period might have helped with this.
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Another critic writes: Oh, Niagaropolis: you may be a sweet land filled with milk and honey, but sadly this is all you’ve got. Full of lofty ideas and concepts, Cabaret Sauvignon’s attempted creation of a socially observant and stimulating circus-world leaves much to be desired.
A catchy, upbeat first number introduces the fictional world of Niagaropolis, where dreams come true, providing you have luck, money, and leverage. However, it quickly becomes apparent that this fantastic number is Cabaret Sauvignon’s ace up the sleeve, and is played far too soon. With no real story to speak of, a cast of characters that are two-dimensional, and a haphazard set of musical numbers, Cabaret Sauvignon fails to illuminate the beautiful world it so carefully constructs in its opening.
The grandiose game plan behind the show was to perform cabaret-inspired numbers, open a dialogue on socio-political issues in Niagara, and provide profit streams to the organisations collaborating on its creation, neXt Company Theatre, Zacada Circus, and Rockway Vineyards. Hearkening back to a raunchy, sensual, politically charged theatrical form — cabaret — that strokes its audience as it slaps them, it aims to enrich the community it represents onstage.
In theory, Cabaret Sauvignon should dish up entertaining and edifying entertainment, but it does not come together in a satisfying way. The show tunes, although exceptionally well performed, feel disjointed and awkward, with no apparent logic uniting them. Furthermore, it is surprising that out of 18 songs only 6 are original material. In a homespun production such as this, from a company with a history of creating unique and hard-hitting material, it is disappointing.
Despite the collaboration with Zacada, Cabaret sports very few circus acts, and even fewer are remarkable, with the exception of Jorden Moir, a foot juggler whose stage personality and skill make his short act a highlight of the show.
Full of great ideas – most memorably Daniel Abadie’s performance of an original song about migrant workers in the Niagara region – Cabaret Sauvignon lacks follow through. Minimal dialogue leaves the audience with only song as a means to relate to the people onstage, and the lack of original numbers makes it hard for audiences to connect the evening directly to Niagara.
While its agenda to get money flowing through local industry is admirable, Cabaret limits its audience demographic with the $75 per seat ticket price (lavish meal included). It is hard to square this high cost with the show’s stated concern for community members who rely on food stamps and charities.
Cabaret Sauvignon does not yet follow through on its big dreams. But it has the potential smarts, talent and ideals to make a lasting impact on a community in need of such commentary. If Cabaret can overcome its initial setbacks in this first run (which included short rehearsal time, creative staff changes, and performer illness), it has the potential to become a force for change in the Niagara region.
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Another critic writes: “Cabaret Sauvignon”, I was told, “is about a city full of social inequality, exciting opportunities, political satire and social commentary.” I had prepared to be shown a side of Niagara Falls I had never seen before. I was ready to have my eyes opened, to be thrown headfirst into the dark side of Niagaraopolis — the city of sin.
What I instead found was almost three hours of overly sexualized – and sometimes a bit awkward – dinner theatre that had me questioning the use of a stripper pole, instead of questioning the treatment of the lower classes.
That’s not to say the production wasn’t entertaining — it was, just not in the way we were led to believe it would be.
Writer David Fancy talked at our first meeting about original music, appearances by the talented members of Zacada Circus, and how the show would make you examine yourself as a citizen, and re-evaluate most things you think you know about the city you live in. He mentioned how the show was filled to almost overflowing with social and political commentary, criticisms of the way our society is run, and how he really wanted to expose the underbelly of a city that is thought to be such a utopian society.
There were *maybe* five or six references to politics, (which in a show of 18 songs and a three course dinner, really isn’t a lot) and even then, they weren’t anything that couldn’t be found in the funnies section of a Sunday paper. The songs themselves were entertaining, but a few of them were taken, almost word for word, out of other musicals. I also felt as if some of the solos were… disproportionately given out. The show’s director starred in his own production, a line which I don’t think should ever be crossed. The acting sometimes seemed deliberate and staged, and the sparse dialogue sounded as though it was being forced out, almost as though the actor was trying too hard to remember the lines.
That being said, there were several parts of the evening that far exceeded expectations, including a stand-out performance by Karina Bershtyn, who played the role of Dipsy – I found her character to be delightfully quirky. She and fellow cast member Eric Morin (Le Chat) had constantly strong vocal performances, and they were engaging and natural – very enjoyable.
My favourite part of the show, by far, was the foot juggler, Jorden Moir. He is, he told us in a quick interview after the show, one of two people in the world who can do what he does at his skill level. He manoeuvred as many as seven glow in the dark hacky-sacks around his body using his hands and feet, something I will definitely never forget seeing.
I felt sadly let down by the rest of the Zacada performers; a sand artist, a pole dancer, and two contortionists. With all the talk of circus performers, I had expected something a little more… Well, more. The contortionists’ performance was repetitive and simple — nothing spectacular.
There were a lot of choices made in this production that I questioned, but none more than the pole dancer. I suppose they could have been trying to make a comment on how pole dancing is an art; that it’s not just for strippers. But it seemed out of place, and frankly, a little awkward. I was more afraid of the pole falling over than blown away by the so-called dancing.
I’m happy I was able to be there throughout some of the production phases of this show, but I honestly think I would have enjoyed the show a bit more not knowing anything about it, or about what kind of message neXt Company Theatre was trying to send. Because, honestly, I don’t think they were quite successful. It seemed as though they played their sexuality card a few too many times. I was actually quite uncomfortable on more than one occasion. It looked like the director didn’t trust the words of the song to properly communicate the phallic reference made in a verse; he also had to show us through sexual movements, unnecessary gestures, and more sexual movements.
All in all, Cabaret Sauvignon turned out to be a cute production, leaning much more heavily on the idea of showmanship than neXt’s ideals. Overall, the experience of embedded criticism was a great one: I learned a lot, got to see behind the scenes of a brand new show, and had a delicious gourmet three course meal.
And I really wish I knew how to foot juggle.
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Another critic writes: After the long anticipated wait to finally see the Cabaret Sauvignon performance, the day has come and gone. Being embedded in this performance has been a great experience and made the wait for the performance day almost unbearable. After speaking with David Fancy and seeing the actors in action at their rehearsal, a picture was painted of the show for me. Although not exactly what I had in mind, Cabaret Sauvignon did not disappoint.
We were informed when speaking with Fancy that the show was based on political situations. We were sought to believe that this was the main focus of the show, but politics didn’t shine through as much as the sexual characteristics of Niagaropolis. Although this wasn’t necessarily disappointing, I feel that we were expecting something much different.
There were some aspects that stood out for me, one being the pole dancer. I feel the underlying motivation to having this feature in the show was to inform viewers that pole dancing is and can be an art form, regardless of the negative connotations stripping has in our society; this was made clear to me after Marie Bonin’s performance. Jorden Moir’s foot juggling was also an aspect that I enjoyed; his performance was extraordinary.
Being embedded in this project made it possible for us to get a preview of the actors and actresses’ stunning voices; we left the rehearsal hall with goosebumps and were particularly impressed with the voice of Eric Morin, who played Le Chat. Unfortunately due to reasons beyond the creative team’s control, not all the performers lived up to expectations. We later were informed that the opening show had been cancelled because an actor had lost their voice, and wasn’t completely better during this performance. With this new information I understood the change in the level of singing, and left pretty impressed that they were all able to pull everything together considering the hand they were dealt — as they say, “the show must go on.”
During the performance, the layout of the room — with the stage in a corner and tables in a semi-circle around it — obstructed some audience members’ views of the stage. A further concern was that those of us who were sitting with our back to the stage had difficulty trying to see the show. Because food was served between acts, we needed to move our chairs back and forth repeated times.
In general I have mixed feelings about the Cabaret Sauvignon performance: although witty, energizing, well-performed, and enjoyable it is hard to look past the concerns I’ve raised here. Being embedded in this project made it easier for me to understand that unexpected events do happen and that the performance must continue, even if it means it isn’t 100% perfect. David Fancy did inform us that this was very much an experimental project from which the company is going to learn and which will hopefully improve in the future. Regardless of the shortcomings I still enjoyed the production overall.
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Another critic writes: Niagaropolis, on more than one occasion, promised all those who visit a life of perpetual bliss. It did not deliver.
Cabaret Sauvignon, written by David Fancy, directed by Daniel Abadie, and performed at Rockway Vineyards in St Catharines, is a cabaret-style show performed while spectators enjoy a three-course meal. The show revolves around the world of Niagaropolis, a city without vice or sin, where the world is your oyster.
The show opens with Frau (Louisa O’Keane), Le Chat (Eric Morin), Dipsy (Karina Bershtyn), and Moustache (Daniel Abadie) walking onto the bare stage to introduce the production with a flashy, high-energy opener that set the tone for the rest of the show. A series of musical numbers with accompanying acts including sand painting (by Moran Arbuthnot) and pole dancing (by Marie Bonin) were punctuated by entertaining acting interludes and by the meal itself (sweet potato and smoked bacon tart; chicken chimichuri; apple crumble with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream).
The show was very entertaining, and I had a really good time seeing it. There were many exciting visual elements, good quality performances — and the food wasn’t bad either. However, from the perspective of someone who saw the show come together, Cabaret Sauvignon was not at all what I expected it to be.
In meetings with David Fancy, Daniel Abadie, and the cast, the focus of the production seemed to be making a statement about social and cultural issues in the Niagara area. But topics ranging from the use of migrant workers in the wine industry to the capitalistic nature of the tourism industry were not nearly as evident as expected. Furthermore, when these subjects were presented, they were overshadowed by overt sexuality and sexual imagery.
On top of this, the quality of the show as a whole was below what you might expect for $75. Due to illness in the cast, the performances, while good, were not at the same level as we saw in rehearsal. Rockway Vineyards is a beautiful property, but the performance venue itself was very small, and aesthetically displeasing. Given the small audience size and four performance dates, it makes sense that the venue would be less than extravagant, but again this choice did not really connect to the themes of the production.
Cabaret Sauvignon was entertaining and really funny, as someone who saw the rehearsal process, I expected more. On a positive note, the wine was very good.
7 October 2013: “Step right up and come on in, a city without vice or sin!” Welcome back to the weird and wonderful world of Niagaropolis, a madcap musical romp of a city, and the focal point of neXt Company Theatre’s production with Zacada Circus, Cabaret Sauvignon.
Last week we had the opportunity to shadow a rehearsal led by director Daniel Abadie and musical director Corey Wachala, and what an opportunity it was! Actors Karina Bershtyn, Eric Morin and Louisa O’Keane are funny, funky and full of big talent; and although we were disappointed not to meet the circus performers (they did not get unpacked until after our visit, folks), this brief peepshow of what is to come left us anticipating an evening of glamour, glitz and more show tunes than your grandma’s CD collection.
In our conversations with the cast, it came as a shock to us that most musical productions in Canada have a rehearsal process of only two to three weeks. But Bershtyn and O’Keane, graduates of Sheridan College and Randolph Academy respectively, are right at home, picking up choreography and throwing in the odd jazz hand. “I’m a musical theatre girl through and through,” says O’Keane, who also performs in a dinner Show that takes place in downtown Niagara Falls called Oh Canada Eh?
Playing the role of Le Chat, Eric Morin has had a much more traditional theatre background, graduating from Ryerson University before going on to perform with companies across the nation. The life of the cabaret may seem like a funny fit, but Morin’s killer vocals and dynamic presence in the rehearsal hall assure us that he is fired up and ready for everything the circus has to offer. “You need to be passionate and thick skinned to be in the theatre,” he says.
Wachala and Abadie have been very flexible and patient with each actor in order to solidify and tighten the group dynamic. In particular, Wachala exhibits a precise and clear directorial style when working with the ensemble, allowing a free-flowing dialogue between actor and director.
As ritzy and jazzy as the name suggests, Cabaret Sauvignon seems to be a fast-paced, snappy and just plain fun production. The ensemble reiterated to us how honoured they were to be singing and working with brand new musical ideas. Most notable are a sweet little number performed by Bershtyn as the tipsy Dipsy called “Wine (Why?) Don’t You Love Me?” and the dreamily smooth and gentle ballad titled “My Prayer,” sung by Morin.
Our hopes were set high for this unique show. Great music with colourful voices, superb dancing and choreography that embodies the spirit of old school cabaret, and more than a bit of wit are enough to make Cabaret Sauvignon worthy of its showbiz name. With only a four day run, Rockway Vineyard was sure to be filled to the brim with wine connoisseurs, theatre lovers and circus enthusiasts alike.
We left eagerly awaiting our opportunity to see Cabaret Sauvignon, to see if the illustrious world of the cabaret and the sparkling city of Niagaropolis will amaze its audiences and leave them cheering for more. We believe it will.
— Katie Coseni, Brittany De Silva, James Keating, Hayley Malouin, Rachel Romanoski
31 September 2013: Niagara is a city of showmanship, casinos, wine, and tourists. A place where you can sit and watch one of the greatest natural phenomena in North America; buskers and street performers abound; and you can get seven pounds of fudge for less than you’d think. There’s more than a bit going on, and Cabaret Sauvignon, a show by neXt Company Theatre and Zacada Circus, aims to capture this and other aspects of Niagara’s thriving spirit and culture with good food, good wine, and a foot juggler.
Yeah, that’s right. A foot juggler.
Cabaret Sauvignon is a spectacle of 18 songs performed at Rockway Vineyards over a gourmet three course dinner, where we are taken on a journey through the magical (and imaginary) world of Niagara-opolis; where anything is possible- as long as you’re of the appropriate social status.
We were very fortunate to be able to sit and talk with David Fancy, the producer and writer, during the production process. He talked to us about the struggles of pulling everything together – from scrambling to replace music directors to having only a two week rehearsal period. It seems that the cabaret, which has a history of being fast-paced and full of surprises, is living up to its name.
“We wanted to do something that was very accessible, but that still maintained our political perspective, which is a certain quality of intervention, a certain quality of commentary, of inviting us to look at the world around us with a little bit more complexity…”, says Fancy.
And how would one accomplish such a feat? With jugglers, contortionists, and sand artists, of course.
Zacada Circus has been working with neXt Company Theatre since 2005. Before that, the owners of the circus, Kosta Zakharenko and his wife Christine Cadeau, toured with Cirque de Soleil for nine years. They have trained many of the performers in Cabaret Sauvignon themselves, and it promises to be a very entertaining evening. We mean, the idea of being served chicken Chimichurri with Yukon Gold & Comfort Cream Gratin while watching a circus performer juggle with their feet sounds like one heck of a show.
Tickets for the show are running at $75, which includes the meal. While the common theatre-goer might not bat an eye at this price, the average university student, such as ourselves, may find it a bit dear. When we asked David about this, he told us: “The reality of operating a small theatre company that has not achieved operating funding status… is that we have no revenue. We needed to generate a circumstance where we could generate additional money” Now, that’s not to say that the company is out in the street begging for pennies, or getting ready to sell their kidneys on the black market – neXt Company has other productions throughout the year with little-to-no admissions price.
It seems that the most important thing about each show that neXt Company produces is their message – in Cabaret Sauvignon, the idea is to bring light to the social injustices that still exist in our “utopian” society, and work to make us responsible citizens, while at the same time making us laugh and providing incredible entertainment. Cabaret Sauvignon promises to be a thrilling and enlightening experience, with one of the fanciest meals we’ve ever seen in our lives. We look forward to attending a rehearsal this week, and getting a closer look at the behind-the-scenes goings-on. And, obviously, we look forward to telling you all about it.
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