REVIEW: Spiegel Fest opens with a powerful cabaret

Jennifer Ward-Lealand is an absolute powerhouse.

Her latest work to hit Taranaki, Delicious Oblivion, opened on Thursday night at the Crystal Palace Spiegeltent, and wow, what a show.

Delicious Oblivion is everything you want from a cabaret. It’s beautifully beguiling, it’s bathed in seductiveness, it’s highly emotional one moment, sweet and charming the next, and it’s wrapped in breathtaking music that is just as relevant today as the day it was composed.

Delicious Oblivion
November 21 and 22
Spiegel Fest
Reviewed by TARYN UTIGER

Ward-Lealand, director Shane Bosher and musical director Robin Kelly use the 70 minute show to explore the Berlin cabaret music scene of the 1920s and 30s, in this wild rejig of the Weimar songbook.

Backed by an extremely talented live band of five, Ward-Lealand opens the show with the 1931 cabaret hit, It’s All a Swindle. Draped in a luxurious burgundy fur coat, with her hair slicked back, the packed house is immediately captivated by her and her voice.

By the time she finishes Friedrich Hollaender’s delicate yet powerful song Münchhausen, Ward-Lealand has already shown us humour, sass, strength, and most importantly, the depth of her impeccable storytelling skills. She embodies every single song she sings, taking the audience on an emotional roller coaster, making us relate to music written almost 100 years ago.

In fact, one of the remarkable things about Delicious Oblivion is just how modern the content of the songs feel. Nearly every tune is filled with political corruption, unjust situations, or the suppression of women – issues that make headlines every week in 2019. Although written decades ago, these songs speak to the powerful social and political movements happening around us today.

Then comes the Alabama Song, originally written as a poem by the great German playwright Bertolt Brecht, who saw theatre as a tool for political and social change. Ward-Lealand is simply bewitching in her performance of this grungy song. She’s dark, drugged, and even the way she retreats from the microphone tells a story. The beat of the exceptional music radiates through the bones of the audience, while the lighting bathes the stage in deep red and haunting blues. There’s talent everywhere, and the audience knows just how fortunate we are to be seeing this.

Surabaya Johnny is a highlight of this cabaret. This raw song is perfect in the hands of Ward-Lealand. The violence, the internal struggle, even the whispers; they make the audience feel. The emotional intensity of Ward-Lealand and the five-piece band is the key to the success of Delicious Oblivion. Each song is truly, deeply performed, rather than just played or sung.

It’s not all about the emotion though. There is a skillful balance between those heavy moments and the lighter touches of hope, sexiness and humour. Ward-Lealand slinks into the audience, and sits on the laps of captivated audience members, twirls their necklaces and strokes their faces. Later she’s sprawled on the piano, seducing musical director and piano player Robin Kelly. She’s a joy to watch in the dark moments, as well as the light.

Delicious Oblivion is truly a special piece of music and theatre. It’s a bewitching show that leaves you agreeing that “Truth is as hard and tough as nails, that’s why we need fairy tales.”

Delicious Oblivion is a part of Spiegel Fest in New Plymouth. For more information or for tickets visit