The program for the June 11-26 Cabaret Festival, launched today, features 180 artists in 105 performances, including 10 world premieres, four Australian premieres and 10 Adelaide exclusives.
It’s a largely Australian line-up and includes former Cabaret Festival artistic directors Julia Zemiro, who will host a live RocKwiz salute to the Eurovision Song Contest, and Eddie Perfect, whose new show Introspective reflects on his recent life and work, including two years in New York writing Broadway musicals Beetlejuice and King Kong.
Among other key shows are Songs of Don, a tribute to musician and Cold Chisel songwriter Don Walker that will see singers Katie Noonan, Clare Bowditch, Emma Donovan and Sarah McLeod perform some of his best-known hits, and a live Young Talent Time 50th Anniversary Reunion Special hosted by Johnny Young and featuring former cast members.
The 2021 Frank Ford Commission is a project created by South Australian musician Max Savage in collaboration with composer Ross McHenry and realist oil painter Josh Baldwin called ERN: Australia’s Greatest Hoax, which brings to life the story of the Ern Malley literary hoax through a contemporary score and the painting of an enormous canvas.
Scottish actor and cabaret star Alan Cumming – the Cabaret Festival’s first international artistic director – has curated the program from his home in New York but is coming to Adelaide and performing across the festival in both the late-night Club Cumming (a re-creation in the Famous Spiegeltent of his New York Club of the same name) and his new show Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age. A second performance of the latter has gone on sale today to meet demand for tickets.
Several other artists are also coming from the United States for the festival, including Boston-based Australian Kim David Smith, with an intimate act paying tribute to actor and singer Marlene Dietrich, and New York-based Amber Martin, whose Bathhouse Bette show is inspired by Bette Midler.
“Bette Midler, when she was a very young singer, and actually Barry Manilow was her accompanist, her first gigs were in a gay bathhouse in New York City,” Cumming tells InReview. “She would get up and start singing these incredible torch songs.
“So Amber has done this show that has the same set that Bette Midler sang in those shows, and she has an incredible voice. There’s various versions of it… in this version we are going to encourage people with deck chairs and towels; you can disrobe and wear a towel if you like.”
The full program launch follows previous announcements of early-release shows such as the Cabaret Festival Variety Gala (to be hosted by Hans), the immersive cabaret-burlesque-circus experience L’Hôtel, and the return of Tim Minchin’s Helpmann Award-winning concert BACK.
Cumming, who says many of his formative cabaret experiences had an Australian connection, describes the 2021 Cabaret Festival as “a temple to my love and nostalgia for Australia – the people, the spirit, the adventure, the fusion of high and low that I have learned and stolen from and hold dear in my heart”.
What I really love… is a mixture of the high and the low – high culture, low culture
One of the first people he approached about being a part of the festival was Mark Trevorrow, whose alter ego Bob Downe will join Adelaide entertainer Anne “Willsy” Wills to present Adelaide Tonight with Bob Downe and Willsy, a live re-creation of the Channel 9 variety show Adelaide Tonight. Cumming first met Trevorrow at the Edinburgh Festival in 1988 and the pair have stayed friends ever since.
“He seems to me the quintessence of Australian cabaret… I just thought he’d be a great person to be a tent pole in the festival,” Cumming says of Trevorrow.
“And early on I said, ‘Do you think we could get Johnny Young’, and they said don’t be silly, no, and then all of a sudden it just happened… that to me is so exciting. Then we’ve got modern, iconic people like Tim Minchin, Eddie Perfect.”
Cumming says the themes and topics covered across the festival also offer “something for everyone”: “There’s a show about mental health, there’s a really fascinating show about a woman who had a mastectomy… then we’re bringing over Brent Ray Fraser, who literally paints with his penis.”
Painter and performance artist Fraser’s show, The Naked Artist, will be presented in The Famous Spiegeltent and comes with a warning – not surprisingly – of full-frontal nudity and adult themes. It’s a “highly physical painting performance”, accompanied by a soundtrack of classical and disco music, in which the artist brings audience members up to the stage and paints them.
Fraser has previously performed his show at Club Cumming in New York.
“I’ve been painted by him,” Cumming says, adding that The Naked Artist is “everything you think it is, just turn up the dial”.
“I love that about it. It’s as shocking as you’d think, it’s titillating, but it’s also a really great evening of cabaret in a way you wouldn’t think.
“What I really love and what Club Cumming is and what I am is a mixture of the high and the low – high culture, low culture – I really love that and I think it’s important to have both ends of the spectrum represented and Brent definitely represents both those things and I think that’s what the festival does in general.
“Also, I would encourage people to go out of their comfort zone a little bit, maybe see something they’re not so sure about. That’s what’s exciting about it as well.”
Cumming is also eager to revisit a culinary experience that has stuck in his memory since his first visit to Adelaide 32 years ago: the pie floater. However, as a vegan who recently made the news with his reported support of a vegan pie delivery campaign for university students in Scotland’s Aberdeen, he has been campaigning here to ensure there are vegan pie floaters available at the 2021 Cabaret Festival.
“I have been successful,” he says emphatically.
Other shows announced today include:
The Blind Date Project: Actor Bojana Novakovic – who, coincidentally, was Cumming’s co-star in the TV crime drama Instinct – plays a woman waiting at a karaoke bar for a mystery date, with each one a guest performer unknown to her until the moment of the performance.
Mental as Everything: Singer-songwriter Damon Smith shares his personal experience of living with obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder, backed by his “anxious accompanist” Adam Coad, in a show that “fathoms the highs and lows of living with mental illness”.
Mother Archer’s Cabaret for Dark Times: 2016 Adelaide Cabaret Festival Icon Award winner Robyn Archer will be accompanied by Michael Morley on piano and George Butrumlis on accordion in a stirring and funny program of songs from the 17th to the 20th century.
Deadly Hearts: A concert inspired by ABC Music’s Deadly Hearts albums which will be hosted by comedian Steph Tisdell and feature First Nations artists Dan Sultan, Tia Gostelow, Kee’ahn and Aodhan.
The 2021 Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs from June 11-26. See the full program online.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.