With a blast of Darth Vader’s Imperial March, the tone is set before Pete Cunningham’s highly celebrated alter ego, the cult smash and ‘King of Dark Cabaret’, Frank Sanazi comes on stage. Sanazi is the ultimate crowd-splitting cabaret act, a hybrid of Frank Sinatra and Adolf Hitler, whose schtick is to deliver a tirade of Nazi Germany-themed puns in between classic swing numbers rewritten to narrate various aspects of the racism, warfare and dictatorships of the past century. No ground is untouchable, and Sanazi can get away with saying pretty much anything.
An endearing and creative character who won’t fail to make you laugh, sing and zieg heil.
The character through which Cunningham channels his humour is impeccably well crafted. Dressed in an immaculate tuxedo with the Fuhrer’s trademark moustache and hairdo, he is old-school cabaret at its finest, albeit with a twist. Mostly addressing the audience in an American accent like a nightclub host of old, he intercuts with occasional schizophrenic outbursts in gibberish German that never fail to be hilarious. Many of the puns are pure cheese, and it’s clear that the man behind the facade loves each one, and that makes them all the funnier. Listen out for his ‘Knock-Knock’ joke which is a real highlight.
The pivotal factor that brings the character to life is Sanazi’s golden larynx. The killer swing vocals are an utter delight, which makes it all the more enjoyable, as he belts out an array of anthems from Zieg Heil With Me to the tune of Come Fly, Saddamy In His Pants to Lady Is A Tramp, and signature number Third Reich to That’s Life.
During the show, he introduces his fellow ‘Iraq Pack’ members, the drunken Dean Stalin and rope-draped Saddamy Davis Jr. Both characters get laughs and the three perform some enjoyable songs and skits together, including a side-splitting pun on an alternative BBC acronym, and a map-drawing-gone-awry routine on a chalkboard. The sidekicks have a bit too much mic time, as the show is best when Sanazi drives it, and Saddamy certainly doesn’t have the pipes to justify his three songs. Towards the end, it descends into a bit of a lads’ club, with Saddamy picking on a clearly uncomfortable woman to dance with on stage after she had already proven unresponsive to his chauvinistic flirtations.
The Sanazi gimmick is utterly inspired and most of the writing is strong, with the odd discrepancy in the quality of lyrics. This is one of those ‘Marmite’ shows where one could come back year after year, or walk out after 20 minutes. You shouldn't take exception to the material, as, once you know what you’re getting into, there’s nothing inherently offensive to the core – it’s all well-meaning puns rather than attacks on the nature of any cultures (other than Nazis!). Most people who are intrigued by the concept should love Ocean’s Nein, it’s certainly an experience; and in Frank Sanazi, you’ll find an endearing and creative character who won’t fail to make you laugh, sing and zieg heil.