My answer to the question “do you like clichés and kitsch” would appear to be “only in large quantities”. That is, if Komische Oper Berlin’s re-imagining of Nico Dostal’s 1933 operetta Clivia is anything to go by. What was probably satire in 1933 has been turned into a loving pastiche of the golden era of Hollywood musicals of the Fred-and-Ginger type, created with huge affection and an exceptional eye for detail.

Christoph Marti as Clivia © Iko Fresse / drama-berlin.de
Christoph Marti as Clivia
© Iko Fresse / drama-berlin.de
The plot is standard operetta rom-com nonsense, with US industrialist E W Potterton shooting a film in the South American country of “Boliguay” as cover for an expedition to protect his mining interests; bureaucratic necessities cause him to stage a fake marriage between his leading lady Clivia Gray and the Boliguayan gaucho Juan Damigo. Things spiral rapidly out of control when Clivia and Juan actually fall for each other and the action speeds up from there.

Music director Kai Tietje has thickened out Dostal’s original instrumentation and transposed the title role down an octave or so to suit the unusual talents of cabaret star Christoph Marti. It’s an extraordinary, barnstorming performance: Marti has so perfected the body language and facial expression of a Hollywood diva of yesteryear that I can’t imagine any female singer of today daring to go so over the top in exaggerated femininity. From the initial “look at me” in the entrance number “everybody’s talking about Clivia” to the swish of Ginger Rogers coming down the great staircase to an insanely high-speed fluttering of eyebrows at the end, Marti nails the style completely. And the visuals are matched by his voice: smooth, honeyed, with variations of phrasing inflecting every line with meaning.

The cast includes three of the four founding members of German-Swiss cabaret group Geschwister Pfister: as well as Marti, leading man and Latin lover Juan is sung by Tobias Bonn and Juan’s cousin Yola by Andreja Schneider. There’s no doubting that Marti is the star of the show, but Bonn makes a decent foil and Schneider displays as fine comic timing as anyone as she heads a group of “the Amazon army,” toting rifles while wearing something looking alarmingly like 1950s Pan Am air hostess uniforms. Schneider is not a small lady, but she is game enough to turn herself into a surprisingly nimble hoofer when the time comes for the dance routines.

Andreja Schneider, Christoph Marti, Tobias Bonn © Iko Fresse / drama-berlin.de
Andreja Schneider, Christoph Marti, Tobias Bonn
© Iko Fresse / drama-berlin.de
The rest of the cast are Komische company regulars. With Schneider towering above him, Peter Renz clocks in a show-stealing performance as the stereotypical hack Lelio Down (catch phrase, trotted out at every possible moment: “fantastic reportage”; inevitable groan-worthy gag, in English: “I’m Down – Well get up then”). But apart from the leading role, this production is far more about ensemble than about individuals.

Stefan Huber’s sets and Heike Seidler’s sets are a riot of colourful clichés, and not just in the Pan Am uniforms: the Andes have mysteriously morphed into a chocolate box Matterhorn; the small town hotel and Latin American costumes are straight out of the Zorro movies; a trio of gauchos regularly break into a mariachi number to the accompaniment of badly mimed guitar; everyone is in immaculate dinner dress for the big Hollywood party. The back of the revolve containing the orchestra turns into all manner of sets, the best of which is a sleazy bar at which Potterton meets his secret agents. The brash colours of the scenery are matched by brash colours in the music, with plenty of jazz, foxtrot, cha-cha-cha, tango et al. overlaid on Dostal’s basic Vienna-waltz operetta style. I don’t suppose that huge amounts of the music will stay long in my head, although Clivia’s “ich bin verliebt” and the subsequent duet and ensemble “das Spiel ist aus” were notable enough at the time, as were several of the other numbers.

Andreja Schneider, Tobias Bonn, Christoph Marti © Iko Fresse / drama-berlin.de
Andreja Schneider, Tobias Bonn, Christoph Marti
© Iko Fresse / drama-berlin.de
If one’s going to get hung up about categories, Clivia is more musical than operetta, largely because several key cast members are not operatically trained singers who could fill the house and therefore all the voices are miked. It’s a mixed blessing: on the one hand, the orchestra was able to be loud and jazzy while being kept in perfect balance with the voices; on the other, the nuances of vocal quality got lost in the sound reinforcement for just about everybody except Marti.

Clivia isn’t a perfect show: some of the gags are just a little too obvious and some are repeated too often. But I laughed through most of it, and the show makes a delightfully escapist, romantic evening out. With an exceptional performance in the title role (in a style that you’re not going to see in an opera house all that often), it’s also a memorable one.