With its World Premiere at the 2011 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Der Gelbe Stern (The Yellow Star), written by Alexis Fishman and James Millar and directed by Tanya Goldberg, is a promising but as-yet under-developed cabaret show.
At the cusp of the Weimer Republic and Nazi Germany, Erika Stern (Fishman) is one of Berlin’s top cabaret acts. But this is all coming to a close, as we sit in on her final performance.
Erika sings to her audience rousing tunes (Heil Hitler, Ja Ja Ja), humorous anecdotes (No Wonder She’s A Blushing Bride), and songs of heartbreak. She tells stories that are lewd, she makes fun of the Nazi administration, she relishes in the spotlight. Backed by a three-piece band, Fishman’s robust and versatile voice give sensational colour to music of the era.
Erika tells us about her romantic relationships which are crumbling in the abusive face of Nazi power, but Fishman doesn’t quite manage to give the situation enough urgency, or Erika enough vulnerability for these themes to truly connect to the enormity of the situation. Perhaps it is Fishman never lets down Erika’s confidence and sexual energies, always exuding an almost overconfidence in the part so that we are more privy to Erika the performer, rather then Erika the individual. The most powerful moments of the production are those few where Fishman does show a vulnerability.
In its current form, the show relies too much on our knowledge of the eventual horrific tragedy of the holocaust, and fails to quite reach an emotional resonance of its own. Fishman ably exudes sex and confidence that we relate with cabaret rooms of the era, but it seems the show tries to reach for more than that without being entirely successful.
The titular yellow star as mentioned in the blurb is absent from the production, and we are never quite sure of Erika’s fate. We are told we are in a cabaret in Berlin, but it is never established the role we are taking on as the audience. We are told tonight will be Erika’s last show, yet as Erika tries to brush over the sadness of her final night, we are not given enough of the history to understand the cause and the effects of this final show; I found my knowledge of the Nazi banning of Degenerate Art wasn’t enough to fill in the gaps.
Performing just two shows (with opening night cancelled due to the ash cloud which wrecked havoc on Australian airlines and Cabaret Festival staff – handled admirably with just one other performance cancelled) in the shared ArtSpace theatre leaves no room for set dressing, and the visual tone of the piece must be established through costumes and sparse props alone.
Designer David Fleischer does well with Erika’s sexy corseted costume and punctuations of red in Nazi symbolism, although the modern microphone does cut through the historical placement. Lighting design for the Festival was precise and versatile, playing to the tone of the different songs with ease, and these design elements of costume and lights with Fishman’s performance had some moments of stunning visual images.
In its current incarnation, Der Gelbe Stern (The Yellow Star), draws its strength from Fishman’s sexual confidence and powerful voice, while falling down on the book and vulnerability. With some more work on establishing the pertinence of the scene and the time, this could be a powerful intimate piece of theatre.
Der Gelbe Stern (The Yellow Star)
by James Millar and Alexis Fishman
Part of the 2011 Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Dates: 22 - 24 June, 2011
Times: 6:30pm (22 & 23) & 9:00pm (24)
Duration: 1 Hour