Even before the show began last night in The Famous Spiegeltent at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, the screening of retro TV commercials for such South Australian products as Safcol tuna, West End Draught and Snappy Tom activated the sense of nostalgia.
The elements of the original show – variety acts, humour, an audience prize – are still there, but this time round Willsy co-presents with comedian Bob Downe rather than Ernie Sigley.
With their banter and chemistry, the two are engaging hosts; even the modern rituals of mandatory QR check-ins and face masks can’t destroy the fun vibe. It is also comforting to watch the show in what’s become another Adelaide icon, with the mirror-lined, stained-glass Famous Spiegeltent perfect for cabaret and located at the Adelaide Festival Centre for the duration of the festival.
Downe appeared on stage in a gold polyester tracksuit and kicked off with “Hello Dolly”. Then Wills emerged, with pair sharing pleasantly cheesy jokes and performing a duet of “Somethin’ Stupid”.
Willsy sparkled in costumes of gold, silver and mirrors, but even if she wore a potato sack, this TV legend would still shine. Dropping a few F-bombs doesn’t dent her status as Australian entertainment royalty; Willsy’s charm comes from just being herself, and luckily herself happens to be a star.
The next act was Mama Alto, a gender-defying jazz and cabaret singer with a sublime voice who performed two songs, including a version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”.
Willsy was later joined onstage by her sister Sue, who stepped in at late notice to replace Jan van de Stool (Queenie van de Zandt). The sisters performed together entertaining the troops in Vietnam back in 1969 and ’70 and were in fine voice last night, singing harmonies to the Everly Brothers’ hits “(Till) I Kissed You” and “Crying in the Rain”.
Talented singer and pianist Michael Griffiths began his set with the over-rated “Tainted Love” but then picked up with a lively version of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” and Peter Allen’s “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, a song he said he decided to sing because Carlotta told him Allen was a mate of hers.
Bob Downe’s camp persona seems more mainstream than subversive these days, but he’s an affable and witty performer with his own strong history in Australian TV. In this show, a reference to his crimplene suit led to an original line of jokes about home sewing, which was both homely and pleasantly surreal.
The show ended with a three-way performance: Downe and the Wills sisters singing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. With its cheeky humour, warm performers, excellent song selection and undeniable charisma of Anne Wills, Adelaide Tonight (2021) is a sparkly success.
Adelaide Tonight with Bob Down and Willsy is being presented in The Famous Spiegeltent until June 26 as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, with a different line-up of guests each week.
See more Cabaret Festival stories and reviews on InReview here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.