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Cabaret review: Kate Miller-Heidke

Cabaret Festival

What better way to end the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which has always stretched the concept of the art form, than an eclectic reworking of the songs of Kate Miller-Heidke – one of Australia’s most genre-elastic songwriters and performers?

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Thebarton Theatre seemed an unlikely venue for the festival-ending show on Saturday night, but with the ceiling’s hidden mood lighting glowing glamourously, and the stage decked out with stars, the venerable venue showed it could do the cabaret vibe as well as any other in town.

Miller-Heidke, wearing a crown of stars, was joined on stage by three musicians – her partner in life and music, Keir Nuttall (guitar), powerful young singer Jess Hitchcock, and composer and Adelaide Festival chamber music programmer Iain Grandage (piano and cello).

Grandage has very skillfully produced new arrangements of Miller-Heidke’s extraordinarily broad output, which ranges from radio-friendly pop hits, to opera, musical theatre and folk.

“The Devil Wears a Suit”, from her third album, opened the set with its Celtic overtones, followed by her anti-bullying anthem, “Caught in the Crowd”, given a new sound with Grandage’s cello accompaniment.

It becomes clear, very quickly, that Miller-Heidke’s could take on cabaret is grounded in the genre’s capacity for character-based story-telling – which is also at the heart of her art.

Her brutal and funny takedown of patriarchy, “You’ve Underestimated Me, Dude”, with Nuttall offering angular guitar accompaniment, was followed by Miller-Heidke on the piano, with a tender ode to son, Ernie.

By this stage, it was clear Miller-Heidke could and would do just about anything with that voice – folk-pop recitative, rock, her trademark almost rococo leaps in an operatic high register, and, perhaps most spectacularly, a move into expressive legato territory. Her lovely new song, “The Healing Tree” was, perhaps, matched by an introspective version of her hit, “Last Day on Earth”, with a rich and romantic piano accompaniment from Grandage.

“Where”, the heartbreaking finale from her children’s opera “The Rabbits”, showed off the range and power of both her voice and Hitchcock’s (watch out for her forthcoming album – she’s a serious talent), with Nuttall and Grandage making their four hands sound like many more in accompaniment.

Miller-Heidke always seems to have another vocal gear – and she works as effectively both in taking things up a notch, or moving into more delicate territory.

Such was the case with the inevitable encore, her Eurovision entry, “Zero Gravity”, which took on an entirely new and poignant dimension, with the singer at the piano and Grandage soloing on cello.

As with the whole show, it was generous, beautiful and cleverly realised.

Kate Miller-Heidke at the Thebarton Theatre was a once-off performance.

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