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Cabaret Festival

Cabaret review: Lea DeLaria

Cabaret Festival

With smooth jazz vocals, a fistful of Bowie songs and a truckload of f∗∗∗s, ‘bull dyke in a china shop’ Lea DeLaria blew the feathers and sequins right outa the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

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Striding around the stage in a dapper checked suit and black T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Dyke”, Lea DeLaria declared she was so f∗∗∗ing excited to be in Adelaide. In fact, she was just f∗∗∗ing pumped to be in Australia.

“I love going down Down Under!”

There’s nothing genteel about DeLaria’s brand of cabaret/comedy; it’s bold, brassy, no-holds-barred, political, feminist and proudly queer. Yes, queer. She can’t be doing with that LGBTQI “alphabet soup … by the time you get all the letters out the parade has finished!”.

Perhaps it was a rude awakening for a few in the audience, but fans of DeLaria’s character Big Boo on the Netflix prison drama Orange is the New Black were unfazed, and longtime followers of her career – which has included the release of five albums, including 1994’s Bulldyke in a China Shop – should have known what to expect.

Most of the music in the show came from her latest release, House of David: DeLaria + Bowie = Jazz, an acclaimed collection of jazz arrangements of songs by David Bowie, made with the support and encouragement of the late singer.

DeLaria was joined on the Festival Theatre stage by an all-female band (piano, bass and percussion) which opened with “Boys Keep Swinging” and followed it up with clever, swinging arrangements of Bowie hits including “Space Oddity”, “Fame” and “Let’s Dance”.

“Life on Mars” was a highlight – a beautiful, multi-layered reinterpretation of a much-loved song which built to a bold, aching crescendo – but all the arrangements were engaging, showcasing DeLaria’s powerful jazz voice and talent for scat, while at the same time encouraging a fresh appreciation of Bowie’s brilliant, sometimes bonkers, lyrics.

Each of the band members had their time to shine in extended solos, with piano player Helen Sung earning particularly enthusiastic applause for her fierce talent on the keys.

The audience, too, was co-opted into the performance, ordered to join in the requisite “lesbian sing-along” for the chorus of “My Cat Fell in the Well” – originally released in the 1930s by The Merry Macs, and dubbed “the pussy song” by DeLaria.

In between, there was more banter and bluster, ranging from a hilarious demonstration of a sex act to an unbridled sharing of DeLaria’s views on American politics: “F∗∗∗ Donald Trump!” “F∗∗∗ Ivanka Trump!” “F∗∗∗ Mike Pence!”

But it always came back to the music, and in the end it also came back to the beginnings of her jazz career with Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”, the hit from her first album, before an encore of jazz improv.

To borrow, and bastardise, a quote from the New York Times, this was cabaret on steroids, with more f-bombs and bitches than the Festival Theatre has probably ever encountered on a single night – and we f∗∗∗ing loved it.

Read more InDaily Cabaret Festival stories and reviews here.

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