July 01, 2009

Cabaret Nights

Filed under: Archive,Cabaret

Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2009
June 5 -20.
Adelaide Festival Centre.

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

Now in its ninth go-round, the Adelaide Festival is well into its groove. Even from its first years discernible patterns emerged that continue to identify it and secure its success. Significantly, it has found – and kept- a consistently older audience who bring their bountiful grey dollar and their generous enthusiasm to a festival which has more than its share of retro and nostalgic programming. There is increasing appeal for young audiences, too, but it has yet to rival the conspicuous loyalty of their elders.

The box office this time has been brisk, with around 50,000 tickets sold and many shows selling out– although comparisons to last year are a little misplaced, given that enforced economies (after the Guitar Festival twanged its purse strings) meant a truncated seven day festival in 2008 compared to the full twelve this year. Nonetheless, it is heartening to see punters turning up in the winter cold and every nook in the Festival Centre being put to use. The venues work well – from the Banquet Room to the Festival Centre Stage, the table settings and improved catering options all contributing to a convivial evening out.

At the Variety Gala Performance , zany MC, Julia Morris, quipped that festival director David Campbell had rung up all his friends and in no time got himself a program. It rather looks like that’s what happened, but there are notable threads to be found all the same – established cabaret acts , new young talents and a range of singers not usually associated with the cabaret format.

The festival has had some excellent headliners in recent years – Michael Feinstein and Rhonda Burchmore come to mind – but Bernadette Peters was a real coup.
With so many performers dependent on cloning, channeling and homage of one kind or another, to see a Broadway original of Miss Peters’ calibre is a rare experience. Her concert of show favourites was exhilarating – from Rodgers and Hammerstein oldies like (the enchanting) Some Enchanted Evening to the generous serving of Sondheim, including works and roles she famously originated – Dot in Sunday in the Park with George and the Witch from Into the Woods.

Also first rate was Robyn Archer’s new show, Que Reste –t’il ? a French lesson in cabaret from Aristide Bruante through to Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg. Entertaining, informative and full of verve, Archer (ably accompanied by Michael Morley and a five piece band) sang the satire in English and the frisson in French, even adding an hilarious list of random French phrases in lieu of the lyrics to Edith Piaf’s Je ne Regrette Rien. Relaxed and in fine voice, Robyn Archer showed us that cabaret is a meal best served spicy.

All syncopation and batting eyelashes, the delightful Janet Klein, supported by her musically brisk Parlour Boys, sang popular songs from the 1920s and 1930s in a twilight show on the Festival Stage. Full of beans and with an expert’s ear for the songs of the gramophone era she performed a kind of jitterbug kabuki as she warbled through Hello Bluebird, Liberty or Love and Jenny Does that Lowdown Thing. She even found a local novelty from the period – Is he an Aussie ?

Campbell has invited a range of newcomers this festival. Hayden Tee, a talented young singer from New Zealand, introduced us to Generation Why? but only confused us with an odd mix of memoir and world history. He sang various 80s songs – the best of which was Spandau Ballet’s Through the Barricades. Much more focused was Ursula Yovich’s moving, sometimes painful, account of growing up in the Northern Territory with a mother from Arnhem Land and a Serbian father. She sang beautifully with a range from chirpy girl pop to Let it Be and a pensive version of Over the Rainbow.

The Cabaret Festival has featured some interesting names from the Australian music scene – Mick Harvey, Dave Graney and Clare Moore, and Don Walker. This time, Tex Perkins, with the white-clad Ladyboyz, sank the musical boot into schlock from the recent past, exhuming cosmically awful songs from Dr Hook, Eric Carmen, and Wings. An especially excruciating number was Jon English’s Hollywood Seven.

Also having fun were Dad and Dave – David Campbell and his famous rock pater, Jimmy Barnes, joined by sister Mahalia Barnes, for a fine set featuring standards like Night and Day and songs from Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone and Peter Allen. Campbell showed his stuff with Tenterfield Saddler and Around the World, Jimmy dug deep for In the Upper Room and Mavis Staples’ Wade in the Water and Mahalia stole the show with Midnight Train to Georgia.

Now, we wonder, what names does David Campbell have in his little black book for next year ?

The Adelaide Review, July, 2009.

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