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June 08, 2019

Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2019

Opening night sets brisk and bold tone for cabaret festival
The House is Live
Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide.
June 6.
Cabaret Festival bookings BASS 131 246 or
adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au
Festival runs until June 22.

The house is not just live, it is buzzing. Now in its 19th iteration, the opening night gala is always a spritzy start to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and, this year, newly-appointed artistic director, and event MC, Julia Zemiro makes sure her first event sets the pace for the next two weeks.

After the welcome to Country (and Kaurna man, Karl Telfer reminding us that “Life is a cabaret”) Zemiro and State Theatre newbie AD, Mitchell Butel team up for a witty duet of Cole Porter’s Did You Evah (Swell Party) with lyrics tweaked for local content. Zemiro is a match for Butel’s droll delivery and the audience enjoys welcoming the new face of the festival.

The running list is brisk and bold. The zany Reuben Kaye sets a high bar for extravagance in a scarlet sequined tux with lapels encrusted with what look like boiled lollies. Singing Look at Me he makes sure we do. With eyelashes like huntsman spiders and three metres of tangerine boa, he motors through a Brecht/Weill medley that sounds like this morning’s news.

Alma Zygier continues the pace with charmingly retro versions of A Tisket, A Tasket associated chiefly with Ella Fitzgerald, and the Judy Garland signature, The Trolley Song. Triple J presenter, Nkechi Anele weaves among the dancers singing I Get Lonely and then an energised version of A Change is Gonna Come. Zemiro reminds us that current pop and hip-hop idioms are welcome in her House of Cabaret with Anele and spoken word artist, Omar Musa, rapping Assimilate.

For something completely different, UK performance troupe, The Swell Mob invade the stalls like a swarm of Fagin’s pick-pockets and morph into a steampunk zombie apocalypse before disappearing backstage.

The excellent Queenie van de Zandt delivers a wistful Candyland and, for those who wonder whether the definition of cabaret has completely jumped the leash, includes Being Alive from Sondheim’s Company.

Other highlights include Paul Capsis’s peak Weimar channeling of Billie Holiday’s I Cover the Waterfront, and Maude Davey’s engagingly satiric feathered showgirl belting out Am I ever Gonna See Your Face Again ? – complete with vernacular audience call and response.

Top of the bill is the 2019 Cabaret Festival Icon winner, the brilliantly sharp Meow Meow, who puts down her statuette and sings Spoliansky’s Ich Bin Ein Vamp (assisted by six uneasy conscripts from the audience) Hotel Amour, and, joined by Capsis, the medley Get Happy/Happy Days. The eight piece house band is first rate, guided by Daniel Edmonds on piano, with overall direction by Craig Ilott.

The evening closes on a pensive note with a vigil beacon lit in memory of longtime Cabaret Festival godfather, Frank Ford. Meow Meow sings Patti Griffin’s Be Careful as the house lights dim.

“Opening night sets brisk and bold tone for cabaret festival”

The Australian, June 10, 2019, p.13.

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