The 13th Adelaide Cabaret Festival was launched with not one but two Variety Galas at the Festival Theatre. Thursday night’s performance (not reviewed here) included a celebration of the Festival Centre’s 40th anniversary and the presentation of a new Cabaret Award to Reg Livermore.
Friday night’s Gala was a showcase of many of the acts taking part in this year’s festival. Guests were invited to walk the red carpet, but few people dressed for the occasion. Former artistic director David Campbell and his lovely wife Lisa were a glamorous exception.
As the lights dimmed, a simple set punctuated with over-sized illuminated Scrabble tiles was revealed. With no further Scrabble or puzzle theming, the tiles just hung there, a half-baked creative idea displaying lame witticisms and the occasional misspelling.
After the usual banter and sing-song between MC Craig McLachlan and artistic director Kate Ceberano, the Gala began with New York drag chanteuse Joey Arias. This was a strange choice to open the show. I love Arias’ gravelly vocals and general outpourings of despair, but this is the music I want at my funeral and not to launch an evening of frivolity.
There were some wonderful moments in the Gala: A shimmering Molly Ringwald gave a sweetly sexy rendition of “Don’t You Forget About Me”; Barb Junger channelled Leonard Cohen on a good day in an upbeat version of “Everybody Knows”; and the adorable Emma Hamilton crooned in French and fingered her squeezebox with style.
Mojo Juju showed just what a girl can do with a blues guitar and some smart spats, but her impressive number seemed a little long for the variety format; Amelia Ryan added welcome comic relief with the musical tales of her dysfunctional family; Ali McGregor, moonlighting from singing serious opera, turned her superb pitch to some magical musical theatre; and Kristin Chenoweth (omitted from the program for some reason) was amazing. How can such an enormous voice come from someone so petite?
The real highlights of the show were unexpected. Craig “Big Mac” McLachlan was simply sensational as the MC, owning the stage and looking a million dollars in his Henry Bucks’ tuxedo. When he lost his trousers and strode out from behind the piano in fishnets and scarlet stilettos, the audience went wild. The Rocky Horror tribute was a huge hit and McLachlan milked every moment of the antici………pation! Throughout the show, he charmed the audience with his smooth patter, self-deprecating comedy and general bonhomie. He really was a star!
But ultimately it was Adelaide’s own Matt Gilbertson who stole the show with his hilarious, high-energy Gangnam Style. Hans abandoned his bratwurst and Berliners and embraced his inner Korean in a riot of sequins and feathers. But be assured – the Wonder Boy of Berlin will be back at the Banquet Room for two shows later this month.
The very talented 11-piece ensemble from the Adelaide Art Orchestra also deserves a huge round of applause for accompanying such a melange of singers with ease. A special mention, too, for their superb musical director Vanessa Scammell.
My only real criticism of the Variety Gala is really a criticism of the Cabaret Festival itself. Where is the variety? Indeed, one might ask, where is the cabaret? The Gala was purely musical and mostly mainstream, as is most of the festival under Ceberano’s continuing artistic direction. Where is the artistic invention and subversion of cabaret? Wither the poetry and burlesque, the grand illusionists and inscrutable mimes? Let’s have more cabaret in our Cabaret Festival for 2014.
More Adelaide Cabaret Festival news
Review: Mojo Juju
Review: Molly Ringwald
Review: Shane Warne the Musical
Paul Capsis: A man of many colours
Sugartits: sweet guerrilla cabaret