The performers on The Drum’s stage at Theatre Royal Plymouth rightly owned the room for every minute of ‘Cake – the Marie Antoinette PLAYlist’, the one-act contemporary musical, set during the 18th Century amid the French Revolution.
Directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie (‘In the Heights’, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’) the hip-hop/ballet dance fusion gripped from the first few minutes as the cast introduced a glamorous Paris – the Paris we think of today – before Renee Lamb (‘Six’) as real-life figure Jeanne (de Valois-Saint-Remy) narrates the truth about Revolutionary Paris, and her role in history, during a time of extreme financial and social difference and deprivation; the rich in ivory towers, the poor in the gutter. Asides and nods from Jeanne, directed at the audience, alluded to current similarities in the world. Lamb’s connection with the audience as she sashayed through the cast, talking, rapping and singing, whilst dancing, was mesmerising.
The subject of the play’s title (Marie Antoinette) is performed by ZiZi Strallen who is as comedic as she is a powerhouse of a vocalist. The scenes between Strallen and Lamb were a joy to watch, particularly on their night out.
Ah, but then there was the role of the Cardinal (Travis Ross) whose physicality was as deft as the character was hilarious, particularly when caught between Marie, Jeanne and B Terry’s double-crossing and enigmatic Nicole character.
The cast rarely sat still, performing contemporary dance around the stage to a captivated audience; the main props appeared to be drum-shaped seats and endless microphones (tossed and caught effortlessly between the players), as well as a woolly hat and an undergarment.
I admit to being more than a little unsure of what to expect from the play, when I first heard the announcement. The dichotomy of the smaller venue, where I’ve watched many performances for under 5s with my family, and the sensually suggestive posters of a ‘are they wearing clothes?’ cast, played havoc with my expectations. I’ve seen shows at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, but that was at a weekend on holiday, not a Tuesday night in my hometown; the venue is too intimate for eye aversion.
Thankfully, the (dressed and) confident performers translated and perfectly executed the idea (Paul Taylor Mills) and book (Morgan Lloyd Malcom) about a key moment in Marie Antoinette’s life, onto the stage in a nearly full house; the standing ovation confirmed this is a musical play definitely worth seeing. To paraphrase a song from Jeanne, the show is ‘filthy good’.
More than once, I found myself making comparisons with the iconic Victor Hugo novel and theatre production of ‘Les Miserables’, though Jeanne is a real figure, while Jean Valjean the fictional protagonist of Victor Hugo’s novel. ‘Cake’s PLAYlist’ beautifully uses music and lyrics (Tasha Taylor Johnson & Jack McManus) to share a modern retelling of a huge moment in history with the morality that one person can make a difference, could spark a revolution.
The story is also about needing friendship, as Marie and Jeanne skirt around the idea of their similarities and differences, evolving their characters into larger issues of morality. Enter the idea of trusting the wrong person, money (diamonds) being the root of all evil and the one hour and ten minutes flew by; it was all too soon before the cast were singing together in perfect harmony as a marching drumbeat, reminiscent of a pivotal moment in French and world history, closed the show.
‘Cake – the Marie Antoinette PLAYlist’ is Les Mis for Gen Z.
At Theatre Royal Plymouth’s The Drum Theatre until Saturday 8th April. A glorious must-see, inclusive, show for age 14+
Cast: Zizi Strallen, Renee Lamb, B Terry, Travis Ross, Ope Sowande, Megan Bryony Gibbs, Lukas Hunt and Amie Hibbert Book: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm Music and Lyrics: Tasha Taylor Johnson & Jack McManus Direction and Choreography: Drew McOnie, Based on an idea by Paul Taylor Mills Theatre: Theatre Royal Plymouth Performance date: 4th April 2023 Buy tickets