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"His eye is on the sparrow...."

Thursday, June 18, 2009



by Frank Ford

NOTE: This same report - with photos added - appears on the CABARET HOTLINE ONLINE website as well.

The Second Week of the 2009 Adelaide Cabaret Festival started with a bang. Nine shows on offer in five venues filled to capacity! This is partly due to the generosity of law firm, Minter Ellison's sponsoring "Bring A Friend Free" on Wednesday nights. After the first ten days of the Festival one is already astounded by the variety and quality of the cabaret acts Campbell has conjured up.

There was the thrill of being present at that rare moment when a star is born. That star is 23 year old Hugh Sheridan. He was dazzling as he performed the life and times of Anthoney Newley in his show Newley Discovered. Sheridan's stage presence and stage charm is stunning as he portrays Newley's life through song, dance and character acting. The segues are seamless. He captured the spirit of Newley's character with the use of the simplest of props, by changing hats or coats. Alone on stage backed only by three musicians he held the stage and the audience by his theatrical magic.

Personality, one of Newley's biggest hits suited Sheridan perfectly and seemed to personify this young star. He sang Goldfinger, Candy Man but it was What Kind of Fool Am I that poignantly related to Newley's many falls from grace and Sheridan embodied the song with heart wrenching feeling. Sheridan traced the bumpy journey of Newley's rise to fame and fortune through to despair with amazing aplomb.
The calibre of his performance was that of a star of great experience.

And this is the young fourteen year old who at the second Adelaide Cabaret Festival after listening to a "What is Cabaret?" discussion, came up to me and said he wanted to be a cabaret star and could he do an act in the next festival? Well, Hugh got both of his wishes eventually.

Newley Discovered was expertly devised by director Dean Bryant, musical director Phil Scott and David Campbell.
On the same stage on the same nights we were treated to another gem. The eternally shining star of New York cabaret, the 84 years old, and not out, Julie Wilson... and as she emphasized "I'm not dead yet!" Julie is the lady of Peter Allen's song Quiet please there is lady on stage... but this lady also has plenty of punch as she delivered knockout versions of The Lady is a Tramp, Stormy Weather and Sondheim's Boy, Can That Boy Foxtrot.

Julie recalls highlights of her career with songs to match; special occasions with Billie Holiday and with Cole Porter who cast her as Bianca in Kiss Me Kate. The audience fell silent in awe of this living legend and in appreciation that there was ...a great lady of the stage on stage.

In stark contrast, drag show Gentlemen Prefer Blokes exploded in the Playhouse starring Courtney Act and Trevor Ashley and a fake drag, Virginia Gay. Virginia stepped in to rescue the show when Courtney broke a leg in a skiing accident. Virginia, ever so Gay, did such a great job they decided to keep her in the show, and how couldn't they with a real name like that! Best drag queen name ever. What must have her parents been thinking.

The threesome flaunted their considerable talents in a spirited song and dance routine of Three Little Girls from Adelaide via Little Rock as Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe and her double. Other screen stars suffered similar fates as this revue style drag show sped on at breakneck speed.
Interlaced with film clips of their hilarious adventures, by referencing famous movies and encountering local theatre celebrities along the way, they re-captured the sheer fun of the silent movie knock-about comedies of yesteryear.

I feared an avenging bolt of lightning when two post-op "trannies for Jesus" preached "pray the gay away".
By the end I was dizzy with delight as was the elderly couple seated next to me, a show for all ages (almost).
Hayden Tee fresh from starring in Opera Australia's My Fair Lady is an accomplished musical theatre performer who charmed the audience with his mellifluous voice through songs of his show Generation whY?

Starting with "coincidences" in his past, he interwove songs through the discovery of his Maori heritage in search of his own identity. Family shots and video clips provided a visual background for his story telling. Images of the darker side of generation Y's view of the world, tended to obfuscate the simple, heart warming story of the emergence of the artist within Tee. He is a consummate artist that gives the audience an honest, quality, feel-good experience.

Cabaret Decadanse gave a brilliant, naughty French twist to the Festival's offerings. This puppet cabaret act featured an outrageous, gorgeous, sexy cavalcade of femme fatales who seduced us all. Two puppeteers manipulate each puppet while a masked glamour puss MC's the show in a babble of French, Spanish and English. Most extraordinary was the way the two puppeteers were completely visible at all times, their arms and legs become part of the puppet's gestures and even dance actions. One puppeteer provided the shapely legs in fishnet stockings to dance a show stopper version of I Can't Do It Alone from Chicago. A puppet resembling 'a lady of the night' gave a whole new raunchy meaning to the Beatles' It's A Hard Day's Night. A great selection of musical numbers added to this roller coaster fun ride. A wonderfully wild show!

As if Campbell is stating that cabaret should never become too respectable, following on from Decadanse was The Twink And The Showgirl. What looked like might be an X-rated show turned out to be a frolic without frocks with lots of cute numbers. Especially The Twink, Vincent Hooper arriving on stage in the briefest and tightest of hot pants and wowing us with a vocal range not heard since they stopped making castrati. The master pianist Phil Scott tinkled and twinkled away in more ways than one. In the engaging interplay between junior and senior the lines were drawn between the attitudes of two different gay generations. Phil nostalgically reminisces of the times when show tune sing-alongs occurred in gay piano bars. The spiky banter between them shocks and delights the audience into hysterics. Vincent's beautiful voice and Phil's stunning virtuosity on the piano creates a gay time for all.

On another night, in the same very intimate venue, we shared the space with Tyran Parke in A Little Knight Music... & other melodic quests as he fantasizes through song his Don Quixote-like search for his place in the world of musical theatre. Along the way he does actually meet luminaries of the genre such as Stephen Sondheim. Tyran sings with great conviction, songs from Sunday in the Park With George, Evita and of course song from Man of La Mancha. Tyran's quest was successful. His warmth, stage charm and gentle humour made for a most enjoyable evening of cabaret musical theatre.

I managed to catch the Dad And Dave show with David Campbell and his Australian rock legend father Jimmy Barnes and David's half-sister Mahalia. One of Campbell's stated aims as artistic director is to "urge well known performers to embrace the medium of cabaret". Barnes' fans rushed for tickets and thus Campbell's strategy brought a whole new audience stream to the Cabaret Festival and the audience heard a very different Barnes give many beautiful renditions of songs that are not in his usual repertoire such as Nina Simone's My Baby Just Cares For Me. Mahalia looking very much six months pregnant somehow managed to whip up a storm in the gospel In The Upper Room. David sang Peter Allen's Tenterfield Saddler which I heard at one of his first concerts years ago and his version still has no equal. So beautiful, was the way Dad's family were thoroughly enjoying themselves, backing each other up with harmonies and cheeky banter. After several encores they finally managed to escape an adoring audience.

Gutenberg! The Musical was a 'tour de force' for New Yorkers David Somerville and Simon Vander Stap as they try to sell their musical to pretend producers in the audience. Just as in real life, the composer and a couple of actors play all the roles trying to convince backers to put up money for their show. And as usual the performers gush with enthusiasm for their product. In a mind boggling speed juggling act, the two performers play 40 characters with the aid of named caps. One false change of caps and the already convoluted plot would be tied in a killer knot. This musical spoof about Johann Gutenberg's invention of the printing press is a revisionist version of history unequalled, with scant consideration for facts in order to fit the plot into the Broadway musical mould. The two exuberant performers Doug and Bud do a hard sell through song and dance routines at such a pace it leaves the audience gasping for breath. The show was clever, highly-skilled, fun entertainment.

Robyn Archer, Australia's stella cabaret artist has given us diverse, challenging and always outstanding offerings over the years of the Cabaret Festival. There was much anticipation for her new show, a history of French Cabaret, Que Reste-t' il? Starting with the early days of cabaret at the end of the nineteenth century she conjured up the milieu of Le Chat Noir, the Parisian venue where artists and a mixed clientele enjoyed the bitter sweet songs depicting the often hard times of their lives. Robyn eased us into this now obscure period by firstly reading the lyrics in English before singing the songs. The composers certainly didn't mince their words and the vitality of the cabaret genre shone through. Much admired and drawn by Toulouse Lautrec, composer Aristede Bruant's satirical lyrics described the other side of the Belle Époque as being not so Belle for the average person.

The show continued with songs from Jouy, Le Grand and Gainsbourg up to more modern times with Damia, Montand, Trent, Jacque Brel and of course of Edith Piaf. Archer endowed the songs with such intense feeling and meaning that you were transported to another time and place. Skilfully, Archer contrasted these songs with audience participation in fun ditties giving the program change of pace and variety. Musical director Michael Morley and his small band, including of course a piano accordion, created just the right musical atmosphere and excellent accompaniment. Robyn's fans cheered at the end of this non-stop two hour epic.

Try as I could I only managed to see the above performances of the many shows on offer in the second week. The crowds turned up in force as word of mouth spread the good news around town and most shows sold out. The Festival's box office target was reached by Friday night with still a week of the Festival to run. Campbell's programming has brought new audiences to the Festival by presenting such diverse artists as the young American beatboxing champion Butterscotch and Jimmy Barnes. He has created a Festival that truly has something for everyone.