June 23, 2015

Nights of laughter leave festival on a firm footing

Filed under: 2015,Archive,Cabaret

Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2015
Adelaide Festival Centre

Steve Sheehan’s Tristan and Isolde
with Norma Knight
Festival Theatre Rehearsal Room
June 16

Naughty or Nice
Ray Jessel
The Space
June 20

Love Songs for Sir Les
Barry Humphries and Guests
Festival Theatre
June 20.

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival has closed shop and it is all smiles in the counting house. With 45 sold-out shows, and the best box office numbers in its 15 year history, the festival is stronger and more confident than ever.

Steve Sheehan’s Tristan and Isolde, performed in the catacombs below the Festival Theatre, is an eccentric treasure. Accompanied by soprano Norma Knight, with random guest appearances by Arapahoe, the miniature horse, Sheehan delivers a series of quietly deadpan musical pranks. Liebestod, Wagner’s famous tragic aria from Tristan, is sung in a bogus English translation worthy of Monty Python.

Carting his electric keyboard around the cramped backstage set, Sheehan plays excerpts from Liszt, Chopin, Satie and Bach, while telling non-sequitur jokes. Ms Knight, rising suddenly from the depths of the sofa, Jim Beam bottle in hand, bursts into arias from Puccini and Wagner, while Arapahoe makes another clip-clopping entrance. It is splendidly poised absurdist comedy and Sheehan walks a fine line between nonsense and wistful dreaminess.

Veteran lyricist, composer and comedy writer Ray Jessel had a celebrated sixty year career in music theatre and television, then he became a social media sensation after appearing on America’s Got Talent. His ditty What She’s Got (The Penis Song) went viral and, at 85, he is most bemused.

His show Naughty or Nice showcases bittersweet songs such as Whatever Happened to Melody (written with partner, Cynthia Thompson) along with sharp, funny, snappily-rhymed satires like I’m a Genius (riffing off the fact that he has a frizzy corona of Einstein hair) Identity Theft and the wickedly heretical send-up, That Old Kurt Weill Song. Ray Jessel is a jewel.

Barry Humphries opened the festival with a Gala cameo as Dame Edna and concluded ingloriously with Sir Les Patterson. As times change, Les is more unreconstructed than ever, anarchically reminding the Cabaret-Festival-with-no -rules that satire is nobody’s friend. The air is blue with jokes and, surrounded by the Les-ettes, he salivates his way through Help Me Make it Through the Night and Release Me.

Among his associates, Ali McGregor performed a marvelous version of The Man I Love, The SongBirds sang close harmonies, Trevor Ashley channelled Shirley Bassey and Lady Rizo sang a torch song for the times, I Google You. Again, under Vanessa Scammell, the Adelaide Art Orchestra excelled.

Humphries has described his time as artistic director as “one of the most joyous experiences of my professional life.” Certainly, the audience response to him has been rapturous. For the 2016 and 2017 festivals, new co-directors have been announced – Ali McGregor and Eddie Perfect. Both are brimming with talent and already familiar to festival fans. For cabaret in Adelaide, everything old is new again.

Murray Bramwell

“Nights of laughter leave festival on a firm footing”, The Australian, June 23, 2015, p.15.

Postscript. On July 17, 2015, Ray Jessel died of natural causes at his home in Studio City, California.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment