CABARET: The Story of Eva Cassidy
Review by JENNA KRETZMANN
Every small town needs at least one globetrotting performer. One who comes from humble beginnings to star in lead roles, returning after a few years to share their talent and knowledge amongst ‘their people’. As a born-and-bred East Londoner, I can attest to Kerry Hiles holding this status within the Slummies community, and her performance in The Story of Eva Cassidy proves why.
The emergence of biopics has been deemed a ‘phenomenon’ by film enthusiasts. Think of Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), Rocketman (2019) and the much-anticipated Elvis (2022). They all chronicle the rise of huge showbiz stars, incorporating their music to accompany the film plot.
Similarly, The Story of Eva Cassidy uses a wonderful cabaret performance to chronicle Cassidy’s beautiful but tragic life. However, her story is slightly different to that of Freddie Mercury or Elton John; she only gained fame and fortune following her death in 1996, at the age of 33. Her story is one of love, loss, passion, and resilience – all set against the backdrop of folk, jazz, and the blues.
Walking into the venue, one is instantly transported to a 1980s jazz club. The dim lighting, smoky hue, and fully stocked bar all add to the setting of Cassidy’s story. Together with guitarist Kurt Slabber and drummer Chris Thorpe, Hiles juggles the roles of lead singer and narrator whilst playing a double guitar almost the size of her petite frame. We, the audience, were enthralled.
Entering the show, I knew little of Cassidy’s life, yet I refrained from the Gen-Z urge to take to Wikipedia, choosing to rather let the production do the talking. However, mad Googling ensued after leaving the theatre and streaming her Spotify mix.
Hiles and fellow writer Amanda Bothma (another East London theatre hero) portray Cassidy’s story delicately. Particularly interesting is that Cassidy never wrote her own songs. Her most famous album, Songbird, is a collection of covers: Fleetwood Mac’s Fields of Gold, Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, and Fever by Peggy Lee, to name a few. In true Hiles fashion, she does more than enough justice to the music and at times gives the original artists a run for their money.