Review by Taylor Kendal
Is there truly any other way to celebrate the end of Melbourne’s lockdown than with the promise of an ‘interactive cabaret show/games night online dinner party/comedy event’? Nope, I didn’t think so either. And the only thing that could make such an offer even more tantalisingly tempting is the fact that it is brought to you by Australian musical theatre royalty, the one and only Queenie van de Zandt.
Like everyone in the entertainment industry, Queenie van de Zandt found herself unable to perform during the various stages of lockdown and Covid restrictions over the past two years. So, she decided to take on a mammoth project; to learn how to become a camera operator, lighting and sound designer, marketing and social media expert and publicist, as well as performer and comedian extraordinaire. A feat, I happily report, that she had mastered to create this one night only night of nights to celebrate the freedoms and strengths that follow coming out of Melbourne’s longest 3 day snap lockdown ever.
Choose Your Own Adventure was created by van de Zandt and her co-writer and director James Cutler, as a culmination of everything that she wanted to do during lockdown; laugh, listen to music, play games with friends, and designed to be what she refers to as ‘a practice in socialising’ and a ‘boot camp into re-entering the real world’. Honestly, it can’t be said that it isn’t needed. How does one socialise again after so long? Never fear, Queenie is here!
Queenie van de Zandt’s talents seem to be as endless as they are mesmerising. A born comedian, performer and all-around glowing presence, she has the ability to command a room with such effortless ease; a down to earth humour that is not only insanely relatable but extremely infectious and never fails to put a smile on your face.
The evening opens up with everyone gathering in the virtual foyer as the likes of Cabaret, Anything Goes and Elton John (among many others), supplied by Mark ‘DJ Marty’ Fuller, welcome us and invite us to dance and sing along while we wait for the night to begin. With an original opening number – complete with a warning to review writers in attendance – and a hello from Queenie’s dear friend Jan van de Stool, it’s clear that this night is going to be one to remember.
The choose your own adventure theme was a fun and exciting path to take, with the audience deciding key elements of what was going to happen during the night. Everything from what colour earrings to wear and what drink to enjoy, to the topics of trivia rounds and even what songs we were blessed with by our fearless hostess. Audience members were then booted off into randomly selected groups that became their teams for the games. My team ‘I Get Locked Down But I get Up Again’ I am proud to say came second overall! Rounds of games that included a ‘Things that went viral in lockdown’ trivia quiz, ’30 songs in 30 bars’, Musical Theatre Edition among others really added a competitive yet relaxed and fun element to the night.
Of course the night would not be complete without some songs, chosen of course by the audience. We were fortunate to witness Queenie van de Zandt in her element and where she shines, providing stunning renditions of I Miss The Mountains from Next to Normal, where she would have starred in the coveted role of Diana Goodman before covid struck; Both Sides Now, a tribute to her show Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell, and one of the most quintessential 11 o’clock numbers, and a role that she has played spectacularly twice, Last Midnight from Into the Woods (A performance I was lucky enough to see myself live). Queenie’s voice is effortless and so stunning that it captures every song, every moment of emotion no matter what it is. Even the fragments of songs sung in one of the games showed just how brilliant and versatile a performer she truly is.
At the end of the night, we were reminded about how all this came about; the need and desire to put on a show during a time where for so many, that’s just not possible. It’s a terrifying, vulnerable time but if there is one thing this industry does best, it’s survive and stay strong together. This performance was clearly a labour of love in an industry that is fighting on with every ounce of strength that it has and will be forever reminded for Queenie and her village, that the first thing done after lockdown was put on a show. And what a show it was.
After a final sign off, we were blessed with stunning video performance; the brainchild of Danielle Matthews, who gathered some friends in the industry to perform the song Heart be a Radio (Anthony Crowley), an ode to the Australian performance industry. It didn’t fail to bring a tear to my eye and remind me of just how powerful the arts can be. Highly recommended viewing!
Huge thanks and a round of applause to Queenie van de Zandt and her entire team for an exceptional night that was so sorely needed: James Cutler, Ned Wright Smith, Tash York, Mark Fuller, Emily Kay, Kiana Emmett, Dylan Mazurek, Jeff van de Zandt, Kai Mann-Robertson and Isabella Hodgeman.