Paul Capsis has been variously described as everything from eccentric and mysterious to a musical chameleon, rock god and charismatic cabaret king, but he’s no fan of labels.
“I don’t really like labels because I don’t fit into one,” he tells Indaily ahead of his Adelaide Cabaret Festival show.
“People see me in all these different ways that I don’t necessarily see myself. I shop at Woollies and Coles … I’m not in the limo with the black glass.
“I’m just one of the few who manages to make a living doing what I do. “For me, I feel most comfortable with ‘performer’ because that encompasses a lot of the different areas I work in – a performer in theatre, a performer in music, a performer in cabaret.”
Capsis won 2012 Helpmann Awards for Best New Australian Work (with Julian Meyrick) and Best Male Actor in a Play for his one-man theatre piece Angela’s Kitchen, inspired by the story of his grandmother who travelled from Malta to Australia with her five children to build a new life. He also has an extensive list of music, television and film credits, and was recently in Adelaide filming The Boy Castaways, a rock musical drama which also stars singers Tim Rogers and Megan Washington and is due for release around October.
One of the things Capsis likes about cabaret, however, is that it doesn’t “discriminate”, instead offering an outlet for performers who may not neatly fit any label or genre. And he says artistic director Kate Ceberano’s 2013 Adelaide Cabaret Festival line-up is one of the best festival programs he’s seen anywhere.
“I think Kate’s program is excellent. It’s captured the diversity of cabaret and what it’s all about. I think cabaret is incredibly open and diverse.”
While Capsis’s last Cabaret Festival show in 2011 had a jazz influence, this time around he’s gone more rock ’n’ roll with what he describes as a full-on, high-energy show.
“I love her audacious telling of her addiction in her song; the way she poetically rhymes things about her drugs and her partner and the way he leaves her.”
– Capsis on Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black
With arranger Andrew Patterson on piano and a band of four Melbourne musicians, The Paul Capsis Revue will include songs by singers such as Amy Winehouse, Patti Smith, Prince and The Beatles, as well as from some of Capsis’s musical theatre productions, including The Threepenny Opera, Assembly and Ziggy.
“It’s a real selection but very rock ’n’ roll and very music-orientated; there’s not a lot of dialogue,” Capsis says. “It’s a journey of music and trying to capture a feeling through the lyrics. “It has a dark energy … it’s really about the songs rather than me talking to the audience.”
One of the songs that has provoked a strong audience reaction elsewhere is Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black”. Rather than Winehouse herself, Capsis channels Billie Holiday, who he sees as an obvious and natural influence on the late singer.
“I don’t usually interpret very commercial songs; I just interpret what I like. But with that it’s the lyrics. I love her audacious telling of her addiction in her song; the way she poetically rhymes things about her drugs and her partner and the way he leaves her.”
Capsis is hoping Adelaide audiences will “really let go” and get up and dance during the revue, like they did in Melbourne. Given that he suggests it might be the last show of this type he does for a while, it seems like good advice.
As for what’s next, the humble performer says he’s enjoying taking time out from his usually packed calendar to think about what it is he want to do and who he wants to work with.
“There are a few people out there who create work and want to include me in their work and for that I’m grateful.”
The Paul Capsis Revue runs from June 13-15 at the Festival Theatre Stage. The Adelaide Cabaret Festival opens on June 7.