Stepping into the Royal Theatre on a Saturday night is like time traveling back to the First Republic. Lively jazz music plays in the background as you are greeted by vaudevillian performers. A mime escorts you to your seat. Those around you are laughing and sipping sparkling wine from ice buckets. Before long, the lights dim and women outfitted in shimmering rhinestones and feathered headdresses dance onto the stage.
The new variety show “Czech Cabaret” is a production meant for those looking for a fun and unique live theatre experience. Inspired by old shows of the 1920s and 30s, the musical revue features daring knife throwers, stunning acrobatics and talented aerialists that swing almost too close to the audience.
Taking songs from well-known musicals like “Chicago,” “Moulin Rouge” and (of course) “Cabaret,” the show is the work of three Czech women who do the work of an entire production team, Director Nikol Prokešová, her sister and lead performer Felicita Victorie Prokešová and Producer Šárka Šedivá.
As director, Nikol is the stage mom of the company. Whether she’s making sure the dancers are on cue or helping find lost socks backstage, she looks after the company as her family.
Born in a small Czech village, Nikol and Felicita grew up loving the arts and live performance. Nikol left for Prague to study acting, and Felicita followed once she was old enough. The sisters’ support for each other runs deep. At Felicita’s very first professional audition four years ago, Nikol was there cheering her on. “She was my role model and inspiration,” Felicita says.
Both sisters had landed several roles before starting “Czech Cabaret.” Nikol starred as Frida Kahlo in a one-woman show and also briefly worked for Prima Televize, but nothing compared to live performance.
“It’s the atmosphere, the people, the energy,” she says. “Theater is the only one for me.”
The idea for the show first came to Nikol after she experienced an underground cabaret in New York. It was unlike anything she had seen before. “There were actresses, dancers, artistic performers,” Nikol says. “I loved it and knew I must have something like it.”
Nikol had her vision. She just needed a crew. She found the perfect partner in Šárka Šedivá, the show’s producer who lends a hand with everything from auditioning the right performers, finding the right venue and getting a budget for the beautiful handmade costumes. Not long after Šedivá joined the team, Felicita came on as the choreographer and lead singer in the show.
Now, Nikol had her dream team. “If you want to work on a big show, you must have people who are on the same wavelength,” she says.
For the sisters, working together has been wonderful and devoid of the common sibling rivalry some might expect from a pair of theatrical relatives. “I just see my sister and I know exactly what she needs,” Felicita says.
In addition to directing the show, Nikol also designed and made all the costumes, which are showstoppers in themselves. The bejeweled pieces evoke Jean Paul Gaultier (whom Nikol jokingly considers a member of her creative family) mixed with Las Vegas showgirl. While they’re stunning, they’re also practical, designed specifically for speedy costume changes.
Choosing a favorite costume is like choosing a favorite child. “Every costume is special. I love them all,” Felicita says. “I feel like a star in these costumes.”
With the cast coming together and the costumes underway, the next thing was to find the right theatre. Then they found the Royal Theatre at Vinohradská 48.
The Royal Theatre is the perfect symbol of show business in the First Republic era from 1918–1938, which is also a perfect fit for the show’s vibe. It was originally opened as a cinema in 1929, and has a large stage, cocktail lounge seating, a balcony and a full bar in the back. After the Velvet Revolution and the rise of Cinema City and other movie multiplexes, the theatre basically went dormant until Jean-Christophe Gramont decided to restore it to its former glory.
“I think Gramont was looking for someone to bring it alive again,” Šedivá says.
Once the women saw the Royal, they knew it was perfect.
An old theater can also come with a few mishaps. The women recall one of their first performances where the lights went out and the emergency fire alarm came on during the “All that Jazz” number. Luckily they were able to fix the problem quickly. After all, the show must go on.
“At the end of the show, most of the audience told me they loved the show so much they didn’t even remember the problem,” Felicita says.
When looking at her work with “Czech Cabaret” and her sister, Felicita regards it as the best experience of her career. She knows that might sound dramatic considering she’s only in her early 20s, but the love and community she feels getting to work with Nikol is unique.
Šedivá notices this as well. She notes that Nikol and Felicita are about 10 years apart in age, and while they did have a good relationship before working together, the show has brought them so much closer. “It’s been wonderful seeing them find each other again,” she says.
Just walking into the Royal, you get a sense of the love that is invested in the show. It is unlike others in Prague. The performers interact with the audience and the setting creates a vintage and intimate ambiance. Nikol hopes the audience will feel involved, and even dance in their seats to the upbeat numbers, something she says many Czechs might feel embarrassed about at first.
“We want to break that barrier between the performers and the audience,” she says. “Afterall, it’s really our show together.”
Visit Czech Cabaret for more info or to book tickets.