Review: Sydney Cabaret Festival Gala at

By Carly Fisher

Sydney, we have a Cabaret Festival! This Friday, Trevor Ashley launched the beginning of the brand new Sydney Cabaret Festival he has curated with his All-Star Cabaret Festival Gala at Sydney’s City Recital Hall, featuring a taste of all the acts to come over the next 10 days of the festival.


Though ‘All-Star’ may have been a tough call to live up to, the stage was filled with a great variety of acts ranging from Broadway hits to cheeky cabarets to musical comedies – some really hit it off with the audience, some less so, but the night certainly proved that this festival will have something for everyone!


For me, my biggest quam was the venue which felt strangely disconnected from the festival and my wish through the night was that we were simply at one of the larger, but still more intimate, Seymour Centre venues so that the life of the festival was right downstairs. The Seymour Centre will be the festival’s hub for the next 10 days and as Trevor Ashley described of its take over of the venue, the chandeliers and the buzz of cabaret excitement, I couldn’t help but wish that this opening night gala was involved in that, rather than being isolated to the middle of the city to an albeit stunning and grand, but totally inappropriate, recital hall. Cabaret is so often about the performer’s connection with the audience and in a space that vast (and with performer’s unfairly mentioning empty seats in the name of comedy), I did feel a disconnect that I am sure none of the performances will offer in the comfort of their shows in more appropriately sized venues. A different venue would have also eliminated the frustrating lighting that kept missing the piano, a major hub spot for many of the performances on the night, and the over-used tinsel as a set. The recital hall is beautiful for the right event, but for the fun and raunchiness of Sydney’s FIRST cabaret festival, it felt stale.


Okay, venue quam aside, let’s talk talent and what you can expect to see at the Seymour Centre hub for the duration of the festival.


For my money, the stand out performance of the night was Alison Jiear who will be doing a show to celebrate the music of Ella Fitzgerald on the 12th and 13th of July and if you get a chance, this is the one I’d quickly get a ticket to! After having not performed in Sydney for more than a decade, it was a welcome treat to have Jiear back home and back to remind us just how great her vocals are.


Tim Draxl is a local cabaret star with the vocal smoothness and allure to hold down a venue like the Recital Hall. He was great! His nearly sold out show, Love is a Drag, is on on the 11th, 12th and 13th of July and sees him re-creating the 1960s cult album of male-to-male love songs. I’d get a ticket quickly if you want to catch this one as Tim will sell out!


Personally, I quite enjoyed the over-the-top exuberance of Reuben Kaye and felt he brought a necessary bought of life to Act 1 of the gala. He will be on on the 12th, 13th and 14th of July and my guess is you can expect great vocals, social commentary and a slightly raunchy performance!


Aussie favourites Phil Scott and Jonathan Biggins can’t really do anything do anything to disappoint the Australian public, let’s be real. Their show, No Cabaret for Old Men, is bound to be full of humour, witty lyrics and their musical chomps. Some nights are already selling out so you’ll need to be quick to still get a ticket for the 14th of July to not miss out.


Frisky and Mannish’s Poplab has been a sellout in Edinburgh for years and I can see why – their humour is fast and their vocals are strong. There aren’t many nights to catch them, the 7th of July being the last night, so if you want to see what the UK has been loving for years, grab a ticket quickly.


Acts that didn’t work for me; Kim David Smith’s insecure rendition of a Kylie classic, Natalie Joy Johnson’s set which, though proving she has a nice voice, was a bit too shrieky for me, Brian Nash’s Les Mis mash up which, though I’m sure didn’t feature the best of what he has to offer, proved little more than silly and the full strip magic show from Cheeky Cabaret which was a strange choice for an opening number to the gala in my opinion.


With all of that said, it is incredibly difficult to win a large audience over in a 15 or so minute set time that goes from extreme high to extreme high and I am positive that in their own theatres and to the right audiences, each act will feel more comfortable.


The night finished with our sneak preview of headliner Jennifer Holliday’s show as she sang the Dreamgirls classic that catapulted her success, ‘And I am Telling You, I’m Not Going.’ Though by that point in the evening I think the audience was expecting a little more from the end of the gala, it was great to get to see Holliday in action and no doubt, those going to her shows will be very pleased.


To my mind, there are some major things to celebrate here – firstly, Trevor has specifically thought to bring back a number of Australian artists who haven’t performed here in years and I think that the significance of this is profound – what a perfect way to launch a new festival – with the return of homegrown talent who have made it abroad. And secondly, and most importantly, we have a Cabaret Festival of our own thanks to the hard work of Trevor Ashley – congratulations to all involved!

Photo Credit: John McRae


All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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