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Christa Hughes is ready to rock the cabaret

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Self-described genre-bender Christa Hughes will be letting her “rock ‘n’ roll hellcat” loose at this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival with a show that includes a nod to one of her idols, Chrissy Amphlett.

Oz Rockin’ The Ladies Lounge, part of the Cabaret Festival program announced at the weekend, will see Hughes giving her own treatment to classic Australian rock music, including songs from The Angels, Rose Tattoo, AC/DC, Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel, as well as her own former band Machine Gun Fellatio.

“And of course I’ll probably end up doing more than one Divinyls song because of all the rock outfits I’ve ever seen, [lead singer] Chrissy Amphlett was by miles one of the most extraordinary performers.

She says watching Amphlett, who died in 2013 after a battle with cancer, was a life-changing moment.

“I thought, I want to do that … from the moment she walked on stage she had the audience hypnotised.”

Hughes was just 17 at the time. She was on a school excursion to see a David Williamson play, but found the plot so “dreadful” she snuck away at the interval.

“I rushed down to the Sydney Cove Tavern, which sadly is one of those places that no longer exists, and watched the Divinyls. I thought, ‘Now that is theatre’.”

Clhrista-Hughes-portraitHughes describes herself as almost a Cabaret Festival veteran, having performed at the event at least five times, including in last year’s Hail to the King all-woman Elvis tribute. In 2010 she and her jazz pianist father, Dick Hughes, performed 21st Century Blues, a show of songs from their album of the same name.

Current Adelaide Cabaret Festival director Barry Humphries is clearly a fan, having described her as exciting, exuberant and inventive – “and, best of all, she kind of gives vulgarity a good name”.

Hughes began her career as a teenager, singing with her dad. Since then she has successfully traversed multiple genres, performing overseas in jazz and blues clubs, creating shows such as the cabaret Beer Drinking Woman and burlesque rock opera Sleeping Beauty, singing as KK Juggy with rock band Machine Gun Fellatio, and even acting as Circus Oz’s ringmaster for two years.

“I’m always Christa Hughes the performer, no matter what I’m performing,” she says.

“I never think it’s a huge leap going from blues to rock and roll because they kind of feed each other. Without blues, you wouldn’t have rock and roll.”

Hughes says being flexible and open-minded about different styles of music and performance is an advantage in Australia’s relatively small entertainment scene.

“I think it stops me getting bored, too!”

The Ladies Lounge concept is inspired partly by nostalgia, taking its name from the women-only spaces that were a feature of Australian pubs in days gone by. For Oz Rockin’ The Ladies Lounge, Hughes will be accompanied by musical director Leonie Cohen on piano and keyboards, as well as a drummer and guitarist.

Essentially, Hughes says, she will be giving classic Australian rock songs her own special treatment. Cold Chisel’s “Cheap Wine and a Three-Day Growth”, for example, will be slowed down and performed more like a torch ballad with a jazz edge. There will also be a bluegrass version of ACDC’s “Back in Black”.

“But there will be a couple of songs we are going to do, how do you say it, balls to the wall. There will be a couple of rock-out moments.”

Oz Rockin’ The Ladies Lounge will be presented at the Space Theatre from June 5-7 as part of the 2015 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which runs from June 5-20.

Humphries unveils 2015 Adelaide Cabaret Festival line-up


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