June 29, 2011

Your table’s waiting : laid-back legends put festival on a high

Filed under: 2011,Archive,Cabaret

June 25, 2011

Cabaret Festival 2011
Adelaide Festival Centre
until June 25.

Batt on a Hot Tin Roof
Bryan Batt
Festival Theatre Stage
June 24.
The Basement, Sydney
June 30. Bookings : ??

Jimmy Webb
Dunstan Playhouse
June 25.

Michael Feinstein
Festival Theatre
June 25.

After three weeks the 11th Adelaide Cabaret Festival has ended with plenty to sing about. And in their third , and final, year as directors, David and Lisa Campbell have increased interest, even on last year’s record, with estimated attendances this time of 95,000 with 35 performances sold out. David Campbell has proven a beacon to performers and composers, especially from the US, many of them known to him – headliners like Bernadette Peters, Natalie Cole and amazingly, on stage introducing his songs with singers form New York and London, Wicked creator Stephen Schwartz.

This year saw legends Olivia Newton-John and Broadway singer and dancer, Chita Rivera, the original Anita from West Side Story, in her late seventies and still spellbinding with songs from Sweet Charity, Cabaret and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Also, songwriter Jimmy Webb, who was barely twenty when he began writing hits for Glen Campbell, Johnny Rivers and the Fifth Dimension.

Alone at the piano Webb reminisced about his meetings with remarkable men (and women) with vivid accounts of Waylon Jennings, Judy Collins, Richard Harris and “Mr Sinatra”. He is an accomplished raconteur – funny, outspoken, and still in some wonderment at his accomplishments and good fortune. He told stories about being in County Cork with hell-raiser Richard Harris and driving up to Mullholland Drive in his battered VW beetle for an audience with Sinatra. From the many songs he could have chosen – he chose well : The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress, Galveston and, of course, we finished with the cake out in the rain and the majestic chords of MacArthur Park.

David Campbell has brought his own signatures to the festival – especially that neo-retro sharpness and precision that characterizes current New York cabaret style. Bryan Batt, known to TV’s Mad Men fans as insouciant art director Salvatore Romano, delivered an excellent show (splendidly accompanied by pianist Michael Lavine). Batt on a Hot Tin Roof is in part based on shows presented in his native New Orleans after the Katrina disaster.

Batt is a marvelous performer: witty, smart and most engaging. He told lively stories of his Southern Belle mother, sang familiar songs from Steve Goodman, Petula Clark, Cole Porter and Bacharach, and new work – Pete Mills’ Way Ahead of my Time (The Caveman Song) and William Finn’s Infinite Joy. The highlight was a funny but poignant letter from a young lesbian fan for whom he sang I am What I am from La Cage aux Folles.

There could have been no better closing show for the festival than Michael Feinstein’s Sings Sinatra. With the 17 piece Adelaide Art Orchestra in hot form behind him, Feinstein was at his virtuosic best with a fresh, vivacious take on the Great American Songbook. Luck be a Lady, All the Way, a Gershwin medley, naturally – the show was dazzling from start to its New York, New York finish. The Cabaret festival is on a high.

Murray Bramwell

”Your table’s waiting : laid-back legends put festival on a high” The Australian, June 27, 2011, p.16

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