Fringe Review: Macabre comedy hidden behind sequins at “Cabaret Abnormal” 


(Image courtesy of Viva Diverse Productions)

Viva Diverse Productions of Melbourne, Australia presents Cabaret Abnormal, a comedic variety show, with macabre burlesque and murderous musical numbers.

Producer and hostess Mikki Michelle, accompanied by master of ceremonies Elias Hilwaji and The Continentals jazz band, provide an evening of dark comedy, sexy improv, and musical entertainment. Although the acts revolve loosely around the strange, the dark, and the uncanny, its tone is surprisingly light, jazzy, quirky, and comedic.

Loosely choreographed, Cabaret Abnormal is driven by light-hearted improvisation and is dependent upon audience enthusiasm. Cheering throughout the show, buying the M.C. shots, and removing performers’ clothing with one’s teeth are all highly encouraged. This production is full of little surprises that are sure to make you laugh. While the show does not quite come across as “creepy,” the performers’ talents and joie de vivre are nevertheless a pleasure to experience.

The show is built around the theme of “abnormal,” because “things are a little more interesting when you’re strange.” Mikki Michelle asks in her darkly sparkly pierrot costume, “What is abnormal?” Each act’s interpretation of strangeness varies, from uncanny dolls and voodoo witches to sadistic violence and norm-breaking defiance. The most personal and poetic interpretation of “abnormal” emerged in Tristan Ginger’s monologue: breaking free of the boxes we are put into (sometimes literally, as in Magenta Haze’s act).

From the description in the Fringe program, one might expect a creepy, off-putting show, with Tim Burton-esque characters or Halloween-inspired acts. What one should expect, however, is closer to macabre humor hidden under spotlights, sequins, bright colours, and jazz. Even the only cringe-worthy act, involving broken glass, was performed atop a leopard print blanket. Aesthetically, there is little darkness to be seen. Instead, the show puts a quirky twist on the visual decadence of burlesque, with just a hint of tackiness. For example, the pianist’s ensemble of tails, briefs, socks, and bejeweled cheeks embodies the light-hearted, mis-matched nature of this show.

Overall, the it is more rooted in sexy fun and a “let us entertain you” attitude than about seriously delving into the strange and disturbing. Therefore, it dramaturgically falls short of its potential, barely grazing the surface of abnormality.

Best described as a variety show, Cabaret Abnormal is comprised of vastly diverse acts, barely held together by its vague umbrella theme of “abnormal.” The flow is rather choppy, as transitions between numbers are mostly improv and killing time while the curtain is drawn. These transitions fail to link one act to the next, especially between funny and sombre acts. While the hosts sometimes struggle to conduct the audience’s energy, however, it brings a level of authenticity to the performance.

The individual acts themselves are all entertaining and pleasurable to watch. Both Mikki Michelle and Elias Halwaji enchant the audience with their soulful crooning. Punchy, petite Magenta Haze’s acts are full of outrageously dark humor and sexy fun, with clothes flying into people’s faces and unsuspecting audience members being tied up onstage. Her physical comedy is captivating and her innocent doll character receives many “awww” moments. Tristan Ginger, skilled boylesque dancer, adds a personal touch to the show with his monologue about breaking free of the boxes in which manhood and burlesque try to put him. He says, “Burlesque tells me to be more polished – but I’m not silverware.” His striptease is wonderfully gender-bending and sexy.

The Continentals’ musical performance is also worth experiencing. Having live jazz accompaniment throughout the show contributes to its already playful, joyful tone.

The least convincing performance is Michelle’s character. As hostess, she fights to keep the room under her spell, but the character is underdeveloped physically and her stage presence is not perhaps quite as strong as the other performers’.

The Wiggle Room is an intimate space with exposed brick and red velvet curtains, a true cabaret venue and an ethnographic homage to the historical art of striptease. It provides the perfect stage for Cabaret Abnormal, which takes full advantage of the proximity of audience to performer, especially in improvisation and crowd interaction. The only down side to the intimacy of the space is the attention it draws to details such as patchy makeup application. The makeup design was successful but would have made a more effective impact if more care had been taken in the application. Intimate spaces are unforgiving toward such details.

Cabaret Abnormal contributes to keeping burlesque alive, body-positive, and dynamic by putting their own twist on the classic art form. Overall, the show’s purpose of fun and entertainment is well met. It is definitely recommended to any person who enjoys up-close-and-personal fun, casual improv, glitzy dance numbers and dark humour. While produced under the loose theme of “abnormal,” it is essentially a burlesque show at heart, so if you enjoy the art of striptease and live jazz singing, you’re bound to love this production.

By nature, this show’s performers feed off audiences’ energy and applause, so the more enthusiastic you go in as an audience member, the better it will be, guaranteed; so bring friends, take advantage of the bar, and get ready for a good time.

Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Fringe Contributor Celine Cardineau

Viva Diverse Productions presents “Cabaret Abnormal”

When: June 2-17, 2017
Where: The Wiggle Room, 3874 Saint-Laurent, H2W 1Y2
Duration: 60 minutes
Admission: 10$
Box Office: | 514.849.FEST (3378)

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Celine Cardineau

2017 Fringe Reviewer at Montreal Theatre Hub
Celine Cardineau is a multidisciplinary artist from the United States. She is going on her fourth year at Concordia University, studying Studio Arts and Theatre Design. At the moment, she works primarily in painting and in building props and puppets, but she also enjoys illustration, photography, scene painting, and costume design. However, her strongest interest is in collaborating with other artists, no matter the medium. Learning to give and to receive critique is a personal priority for Celine, hence her passion for seeing, discussing, analyzing and reviewing productions.