Review by Lia Cocks
It is always a thrill to be in the audience for the opening of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and this year is like no other; the fact that the festival is back after the year that was, and the incomparable Alan Cumming is at the helm!
The Variety Gala, a highlight on the entertainment calendar brings together a smorgasbord of local and international talent that makes up the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
A sold out event, the foyer of the Adelaide Festival Centre was an eclectic mix of theatre lovers, drag queens and Cabaret stars.
Hosted by the sparkly, dazzling and quick witted German international superstar Hans, the night was carefree, wicked, and slightly unscripted, which was refreshingly fantastic!
Singing ‘Willkommen’ atop the fully functioning bar, Alan Cumming set the tone of the night and the whole Cabaret season, and had the audience in rapturous applause!
The stars of the Variety Gala were all seated appropriately in Cabaret style and made their way to centre stage to spruik their show by giving a teaser taster of what audience members could expect.
First up, was the brilliant ‘Liza Minelli’ aka Trevor Ashley; musical theatre, cabaret and drag artist extraordinaire.
With his tremendous pipes and exaggerated Minelli traits during his rendition of ‘On Broadway’ it’s easy to see why he is Australia’s toast of the town!
James Galea, an award winning magician/writer/producer bound onto the stage with a trick involving a volunteer and cards. Telling a story while turning over the matching cards to his words, after his volunteer gave the cards a good shuffle, was a fabulous start to his set.
He then played a tune on the piano about being a gay magician – very apt considering his autobiographical show is called Poof!
Next to the stage is Mama Alto. Oh, my.
Set against the ruched curtain backdrop and the glistening chandeliers, her baroque sounds and dulcet range had the crowd holding onto their seats and her tribute to Mary Wilson was penetrating mixed with strength, suppleness, control and vulnerability – everything you want in a Cabaret artist. Sensational!
One of my faves, Queenie van de Zandt brought her alter ego, Jan van de Stool, out to play.
What a treat this was! She was hilarious, portraying the poor Jan as being sometime possessed by an incredible singer, while she sang ‘Let it Go’. Her comedic timing, brilliant vocals and storytelling, had my plus one guessing whether she was acting a part or that was a real person!
A cameo from the ‘Queen’ [Gerry Connelly] had the audience in stitches and gasping in disbelief at the puns and jibes, before she took to the piano for an interpretation of ‘My Way’ as ‘Ones Way’.
Michael Griffiths brought his interactive, singing lesson to the Gala with Eurhythmics’ ‘Thorn in my Side [Run Away From You]’.
The crowd loved his enthusiasm for us to perfect the backing vocals and it was a delight to see him step out from behind the piano and take front and centre stage.
This year’s Icon Award winner, Paul Capsis brought his celebrated individuality to the Gala to show everyone why he is a deserving triumph. His performances of ‘Back to Black’ and later ‘Imagine’ demonstrate his range of delivery from scatting, screlching, belting, speaking and it was a delight to hear Isaac Hannam accompany him on the digeridoo. Truly iconic.
Tim Minchin breezed in to play his song ‘Take Lonely Tonight’ and showed us why he is Australia’s most gifted and prolific lyricist, musician and songwriter.
Amber Martin took to the stage to present her celebration of Bette Midler; when she was singing weekend shows to men in towels at the legendary Continental Baths for gay men in NYC.
Martin brought grit, energy and beauty to the stage.
The standout for me was Meow Meow, who because of the dreaded C-word, was stuck in Melbourne and wasn’t able to attend in person, but presented her chronicle song of Hansel and Gretel via Zoom, with the band playing live.
It was cabaret virtuoso – her storytelling is second to none, her voice insatiable but serene. She is absolute perfection.
Other remarkable performances by comedian Steph Tisdell, cabaret artiste from L’Hotel Brendan Maclean, the self-proclaimed world’s first girl group with a disability, The Sisters of Invention, and Adelaide’s own Willsy and Bob Downe brought the sequins, iridescent smiles and scooters to the stage to promote their show ‘Adelaide Tonight’.
Massive kudos to Mark Ferguson and his band – they were undeniably spectacular!!
Although longer than first advertised, The Variety Gala is an absolute gem of a night that is not to be missed!