Review by Regan Baker
The Butch is apparently back, but frankly – it feels like he never left! After sell-out productions at QPAC earlier this year of his tantalizing variety special, The Kaye Hole, Reuben Kaye hits the Brisbane stage once more in his best work yet. Known for his huge voice, glamorous sequins, raunchy wit and superb showmanship, Kaye has once again cemented himself as one of Australia’s most diverse and powerful cabaret stars.
I haven’t ventured back to The Fortitude Music Hall since Tim Minchin’s Back tour late in 2021 and I had almost forgotten how beautiful a venue it is - or more so, how beautiful a venue “It will be once it’s completed,” as Kaye jokes. After spending sixteen years as a vacant hole in the heart of Fortitude Valley, Brisbane music and art lovers alike celebrated the grand re-opening of the 3,000-person-strong venue in 2019, thanks to former Powderfinger Bassist John Collins. The venue has since played host to some of Australia’s best artists, music groups, parties and events and can now add one of its queens of cabaret to it’s A-list of celebrity performers.
Opening with a powerful rendition of Janelle Monae’s “Pynk,” Kaye had the audience captivated from his very first note. Donning a sparkling pink jacket and pannier hoop-skirt emblazoned with a self-portrait on the back, this queen of cabaret exploded on stage with more self-confidence than Clive Palmer has about being a ‘real politician.’
While his voice alone is enough to warrant critical acclaim, Kaye’s true strength lies in his unrivalled wit and time-relevant political, social, religious and gender related humour. In his first monologue of the evening, he delivered a fast-paced recount of why the world is broken, which had the entire audience cheering, nodding, and agreeing with every word that fell from his deep-red lips. Kaye has an uncanny ability to relate to his audience and through themes of gender identity, sexuality, rejection, and loss, told stories that pulled at everyone’s heartstrings.
The best part was that nobody was safe from his sharp-tongued wit either. From taking well deserved digs at the Morrison Government, to slandering Hillsong’s purchase of the iconic Festival Hall in Melbourne, Kaye really knows how to make his quips socially and politically poignant.
Such a diversely talented performer is Kaye, that weaving in and among his high-energy, high-camp socialist punchlines, was a deeply personal story of his relationship with his parents, their separation, and his growing up as a queer child in the 80’s and 90’s. He took us on a truly emotional rollercoaster that was split into moments of non-stop laughter, and those of complete and utter silence as the audience hung to every story he told of his childhood. Of course, though – he couldn’t stay too deep for too long – he had to come up for air and break the silence with camp impersonations of his mother or some other form of humour. All round, the immense lengths of his talent were put on display and executed with sheer brilliance.
There was not a single element of the show that wasn’t executed to perfection. Even when he made a minor mistake in a punchline, the way in which he brought himself back on track was hilarious, and when an audience members chair collapsed half-way through the show he managed to improvise and create a roar of laughter off the cuff of an accident.
While The Fortitude Music Hall was not set up in a traditional cabaret style, that did not stop Kaye from venturing into the audience and interacting with unsuspecting members of the crowd. He weaved his way down the aisle, performing cabaret classics and modernised favourites. Swooshing his horse-tail microphone across the audience, and climbing across chairs to mount his fans, every element of Kaye’s performance was brilliantly thought through to evoke emotion, laughter, and connection.
All in all, his costumes were superb, his band phenomenal, he oozed charisma and personality and simply put, Reuben Kaye is one of this country’s best cabaret performers and someone you should not miss seeing when he next makes his way to Brisbane.