Big hopes, bright dreams and the lures of fame and success, with seven women's personal and professional lives hanging precariously in the balance. Making it in the Big City has never been easy, and at this establishment, there's just as much drama behind the scenes as there is in the spotlight throughout this ambitious, yet awkwardly-executed stage play.
Set in modern-day Detroit, Soul Kittens Cabaret focuses on a club that is heavy on talent and sex appeal, but is struggling business-wise, thanks to back-door deals, shady characters and shaky practices that impact an eager newbie (Sara-Allison Duke), the flamboyant club owner (Joe "Miss Sophia" Taylor) and its veteran performers (Silena Murrell, Crystale Wilson, Monifah Carter, Tondy Gallant, Erica Smith and Nicci Gilbert). Being human, all of them are motivated by a Good Conscience and Bad Conscience, so the women, like many in real life, alternate from being encouraging girlfriends one minute and acid-tongued, back-stabbing vipers in the next. The men (Terrell Carter, Donald Gray, Dave Tolliver, Blu Mitchell and Taylor) also have their own demons to slay, so coincidentally, the performers at the Soul Kitten Cabaret become caught up in those battles as well.
Without giving too much away, Brandy (Duke) is a talented, yet naïve dancer who finds her way to the Detroit club, where she meets immediate resistance from the ladies since she's there to replace one of them. Along the way, she falls in love, learns how unglamorous things really are for Soul Kittens and gets exposed to seedy elements like drug use, extortion and exploitation, which sends them all on a collision course to disaster until they find a way to unite, forgive and move forward.
With an intriguing premise and familiar faces from the film and music industry, ....Cabaret has built-in advantages that many new productions wouldn't, starting with the ability to put a pair of award-winning and super-famous talents on the cover. However, fans of Faith Evans and Fantasia Barrino may be disappointed to learn that their appearances amount to a brief dialogue between their two characters and one song apiece. Period. And although the cast has undeniable chemistry and skills, the pacing from one scene to the next is excruciatingly sluggish and the storyline leaves a lot of gaping holes and inconsistencies. Also, for it to be set in a cabaret, there is very little dancing on-stage and the musical numbers are haphazardly sequenced. In fact, the characters, who purportedly make their living as dancers, aren't seen even practicing their choreography, so the allusions to their occupations start and end with skimpy costumes (not that male viewers will mind).
Running about 40 minutes too long, Soul Kittens Cabaret clocks in at just over two hours and is written and directed by Nicci Gilbert, an evolving actress and entrepreneur best known as the lead vocalist in the female R&B trio Brownstone. She deserves kudos for her vision and remains a charismatic natural onstage, but the lack of cohesion and polish reduces the Soul Kittens Cabaret to a regular dive when it had the potential to be an lauded landmark. Marginally Recommended.
By Melody Charles