It’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival time and the Fritz team are getting along to the best of the shows to dish out the smiley fritz slices.
We’re regular people reviewing shows – some have loved cabaret for years, others are new to the party, some of us are just plain curious as to what it’s all about. Our reviews reflect our personal experience. So read on – scroll down and see how many smiley fritz they earn out of five.
Adelaide Cabaret Festival is on 9 to 24 June.
Reuben Kaye – Journey To The Centre Of Attention
Reviewed by Sky Harrison.
If you saw Reuben Kay at the Adelaide Fringe, you know what you’re in for – “it’s the same jokes,” he says drily. Essentially, this is the same show, but no one minds – even his musical director Shanon Whitelock breaks down in laughter, and he’s heard them all before. Reuben takes the stage in the whirl of sequins, looking like Thin-White-Duke-era Bowie in Liza Minnelli’s makeup and Liberace’s wardrobe. The show is based on Reuben’s transformation from the ‘different’ kid to gay superstar, focusing on his teenage years, and how he rose above the haters. He weaves the story through a repertoire of songs covering everything from Kurt Weill to ZZ Top, Kate Bush (his version of ‘Wuthering Heights’ is a delight) to Iggy Azalia. His acerbic wit is never far away, turned on everything from the location, politics, straight men and arts graduates to the individual audience members he zeroes in on, and occasionally, even himself. He’s an expert at playing the audience, like the diva mother you never knew you wanted – one moment clutching you to his breast, the next turning his sharp tongue on you, then drawing you back, but only so you can lavish him in praise – and we love him for all of it. He returns for two encores, each featuring a costume change that’s more outrageous than the last, finishing with his unforgettable version of Men At Work’s ‘Land Down Under’. Reuben Kaye delivers perfect cabaret – wickedly funny, delightfully subversive and with a voice that will leave you begging for more.
Peter & Bambi Heaven – The Magic Inside
Reviewed by Mahalia Tanner.
Kicking off their show with 80’s power chords, spandex and partial nudity – it is clear that Peter & Bambi Heaven (Asher Treleaven and Gypsy Wood) are out to give their audience a night of blockbuster entertainment. The resulting show – a miss-mash of failed stunts, stilted dance moves and slap-stick comedy – is as tacky and over-the-top as their home town of the Gold Coast. Not to say that that is a bad thing. Despite their complete magical ineptitude and heavy reliance on gags centred around exposed body parts, there is something about Peter and Bambi that makes you want to root for them. Plus their Bris-Vegas style of showmanship has its hilarious moments. One for a night out with the girls or boys.
Black – Le Gateau Chocolat
Reviewed by Mahalia Tanner.
Black is the tale of one performer’s journey from the innocent light of his early years to the heavy darkness that formed after his uniqueness was rejected by the world around him. Le Gateau Chocolat is already known to Adelaide audiences through his performances in Adelaide Fringe shows like La Soiree and A Night At The Musicals, but here we see a deeper, more sombre version of the artist as he recounts some of his darkest moments. However, as in life, these memories are punctuated with moments of levity and humour as Le Gateau Chocolat gives the audience helpful hints about how to move in the world while overweight. His deep, resonating baritone voice fills the space with versions of Nina Simone’s ‘Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair’, ‘Strange Fruit’ and Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ – mixing with animations and voice over of some of the harrowing experiences that helped form his identity. This is powerful storytelling – plain and simple.
Backstage Club – Reuben Kaye
Review by Katie Spain.
“Is my hat too vaginal?” Lady Rizo sets the tone for a night of fun and frivolity at Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s Backstage Club. Host Rueben Kaye is also in a playful mood. The camp performer is a captivating sight: a towering spectacle in heavy make-up, long lashes, a wardrobe full of long black sequined capes, and bold bling that sparkles under stage lights. Earlier, Adelaide Fringe favourites Peter and Bambi kicked things off with a dash of hilarity with their absurd delusional dancing magician act. Asher Treleaven (La Soirée) and Gypsy Wood (Miss Cage Dance Universe Australia) are masters of the absurd. Lady Rizo is a highlight. The cabaret chanteuse from New York rocks a backless black dress and, with backing by cellist, guitarist and composer Yair Evnine, belts out songs including ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’ from her show Lady Rizo – Multiplied. She’s on at the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent until 24 June – see her if you get the chance. She’s got one hell of a set of pipes. Festival artistic directors Ali McGregor and Eddie Perfect also get their moment under the spotlight. McGregor’s medley of 1980’s “lady” hip-hop is unforgettable. The woman is fierce. Perfect’s ‘September ‘10’ is a gusty, energy-packed, politically charged performance. “The world is now a different place, the old world gone without a trace. Your left wing dreams have blown up in your face. Of course it was a lovely thought that every human being ought to feel they are equal and have their own place to belong. I’m here to say that liberal fairytale’s wrong.” Duo Strange Bedfellows are a baffling onslaught on the eyes and ears. Kaye is a delightful host and performer but the crowd is relatively subdued and the venue lets the Backstage Club down. It lacks the intimacy of the original Backstage Club held in the Piano Bar back in 2009. See Kaye’s solo show if you get a chance. His anecdotes about rising above school bullying to pursue his stage dreams are inspiring.
Review by Katie Spain.
“Does anyone here speak gobblefunk?” We don’t, but then again, few speak Roald Dahl’s very own language. The mishmash of consonants and vowels includes words like swigpill, swatchscollop, frobscottle, and whizzpopping. In a feat of verbal acrobatics, Australian actor, singer and dancer Elise McCann weaves musical magic with Dahl’s tongue-twisters during her 70-minute show Dahlesque. The piece, written with Richard Carroll, is devoted to the late British author’s life and stories. McCann is a vision in white: her billowing white skirt is scrawled with gobblefunk and later reverses to become a black cloak. The set is simple. A cascade of white pages hangs from the right side of the stage and musical director and pianist Michael Tyack and the eight-piece orchestra are framed by lights that twinkle like stars.
The world premiere of Dahlesque is educational as it is entertaining. McCann tells us that Roald Dahl was a giant of a man (6.6-feet tall). He was fantastically rude and cantankerous, a husband and a father. “The type who wrote children’s names on the grass with weed killer and then told them the fairies did it.” The author, poet and screenwriter was also a fighter pilot and required a complete facial reconstruction after an airplane accident. His life was full of love and loss, and through clever segues, delightful jargon, and music inspired by his classic stories, McCann leads us through a touching and hilarious journey through his life’s work and curious characters. There’s ‘Pure Imagination’ and ‘Oompa Loompa’ from 1971 film Willy Wonka, ‘It Must Be Believed to Be Seen’ musical of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, ‘Middle of a Moment’ and ‘Everywhere That You Are’ from James and the Giant Peach, and songs ‘The Smell of Rebellion’, and ‘Naughty’ from Tim Minchin’s Matilda the Musical which is on at Adelaide Festival Centre until 16 July. Revolting rhymes and crowd participation (“Dahl, Shakespeare, or president?”) is a hoot. McCann played the role of Miss Honey in the original Australian Matilda line-up and her rendition of ‘My House’ during encore is moving. Musical arrangements by Stephen Amos feature on her album Dahlesque, released 23 June. Like the show, it is a delight.
As the show closes, the children in the audience stand to give McCann a standing ovation. I’m sure Roald Dahl would agree – you don’t get much better than that.
Ali McGregor – Backstage Club
Reviewed by Kirstie Forbes.
The Backstage Club with Ali McGregor was a surprise in many ways. Having been used to Fringe audiences being either slightly underwhelming in numbers or filled with heckling late night drunks, the packed audience at the Space Theatre was unexpected. Admittedly we rocked up a little late thanks to an overrunning show elsewhere – but it was essentially full.
I brought a friend who is a self-proclaimed cabaret hater. I’m quite fond of cabaret – but I’d still only rate myself as a dabbler. The late night variety style show, Ali McGregor’s Late-Nite Variety-Nite at the Backstage Club was pretty much the perfect mix for a dabbler and a hater. To a mostly older crowd, sitting with their arms folded and partially teeth-clenched smiles on some of the gents faces, Ali plied the crowd with one-liners, charm and pizazz. Girl was workin’ it.
Her voice. Bloody hell, cliches are sometimes set in stone for a reason: shivers up my spine and hair on edge and all that jazz.
More cliches coming your way: the skill and sounds of Japanese vocal percussionist, Kaichuro Kitamura, were jaw-dropping. Complex, intricate – surreal. I live on the Thebarton flight path and his impersonation of the low flying plane was so realistic, I was waiting for the windows to rattle. It was…uplifting and joyful in an inexplicable way.
I almost don’t care about anyone else who was there. My cabaret hating friend left with two plusses – Ali and Kitamura – and one negative. Please don’t over do the notes on ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ again.
Kim David Smith – Morphium Kabarett
Reviewed by Sky Harrison.
Kim David Smith strolls in from the back of the spiegeltent like a male Marlene Dietrich, dressed in tails, top hat, heels and glittering makeup, silently touching audience members as he passes. It’s a reverent beginning to a show that combines the best of what cabaret is about – heartbreaking songs, witty, sly banter and subversiveness. The key to what this show is about is in the title – the German spelling of ‘Kabarett’ flags the pre-war Berlin aesthetic that permeates every minute, not least in Kim’s androgynous made-up face that’s prettier than a guy has a right to be. He has the voice to back it up, taking us through a repertoire of songs made famous by Dietrich, Lotte Lenya, and many others of the era – ‘The Song of Black Max’ and ‘Pirate Jenny’ are highlights – and Weimar-ised versions of Kylie Minogue’s ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ and my favourite, ‘Dracula’s Tango’ by 80s Toto Coello. Whatever the song, Kim imbues it with a tragic edge, drawing out the broken dreams, fading hopes and fighting spirit within each song, underlined by his simmering sexuality. Between songs, his ‘unrehearsed monologues’ provide light relief and play on his diva persona. If you’ve always longed for a time machine to transport yourself to the heady days of the Weimar cabaret scene, this is as close as you’ll get to it.
Meow Meow – Souvenir
Reviewed by Sky Harrison.
Meow Meow is pretty much the queen of cabaret at this point in her career. Her bossy, shambolic diva with the syrupy voice is loved around the world, and anyone entering the show is fair game for being climbed on, made fun of and even cajoled into fetching her drinks. Her intimate shows are known for her getting very up close and personal from the front row to the back, all while pumping out cabaret favourites that tug at your heart strings. Her Majesty’s Theatre doesn’t allow for quite the same level of intimacy, though she enters by climbing over several of the front rows, but that’s okay because this show is designed for the larger space. She’s accompanied by the Orchester der Kleinen Regiment and occasionally by the haunting ‘Lilliputian’ children’s opera, making it a big stage production. The theatre itself takes centre stage, the show written around its history and ghosts that were, are and are yet to come. While Meow Meow’s tactics ensure plenty of laughs throughout, it’s the songs that steal the show. As the show progresses, they become more majestic, sweeping us up in their mesmerising beauty. Putting together a show of such seriousness, the melding of the comedy isn’t as seamless as it could be – as the show progresses in tone, it almost seems superfluous to such a poignant experience – but that’s a small quibble. Meow Meow is dazzling, and it’s not just the thousands of sequins on her dress – she is at her prime as a performer, nuanced and enthralling, and she knows how to make the crowd feel every note of her performance.
Lior & ASQ — Love, Loss and Compassion
Reviewed by Katie Spain.
Lior says he doesn’t read reviews, which is a crying shame because I only have praise for his performance with the Australian String Quartet. The awesome foursome joined the Israeli/Australian singer-songwriter to perform Love, Loss, and Compassion – an evening of songs, past and present. Lior has a gentle nature, a genuine appreciation for his audience and a mesmerising voice.
He thanks Adelaide Cabaret Festival artistic directors Ali McGregor and Eddie Perfect for his inclusion in the program and as the evening kicks off, so do we. The arrangements are beautiful: ‘Gypsy Girl’, ‘Bedouin Song’, ‘Satisfied Mind’, old favourite ‘This Old Love’, a cover of Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’, and duet ‘I’ll Forget You’ (recorded with Sia) performed by Adelaide musician Amelie Bottrill. ‘My Grandfather’ is a highlight. This heart-wrenching piece is dedicated to Lior’s grandfather and brings tears to the eyes with heartfelt storytelling and emotion. The performance rounds off with a re-imagined version of ‘Sim Shalom (Grant Peace)’ from the orchestral song cycle Compassion. It was written with Nigel Westlake and based on ancient Hebrew and Arabic texts. Most of us don’t understand the lyrics but the power of the arrangement and Lior’s voice leaves us moved. We walk out into the night contemplative and reflecting on our own sense of love, loss, and compassion. Bravo.
Pajama Men – Pterodactyl Nights
Reviewed by Mikyla Gilbert.
More physical comedy than Cabaret, this show is indeed an unusual addition to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival program. But, boy oh boy am I glad it made the cut. One of the strangest, craziest, and funniest sketch comedy shows I have had the pleasure of being witness to. These guys are wacky. Their timing is clever,their characters are outrageous and the cheesy jokes are down right ridiculous – I loved every minute of it. This US pair are the theatre sport champions. If you can score a ticket before they jet off in their imaginary aeroplane you will be thoroughly entertained.
Courtney Act – The Girl From Oz
Reviewed by Sky Harrison
Drag superstar Courtney Act is on a mission to show the world the music of Australia – or as she puts it, to be “the unofficial official cultural ambassador”. She’s horrified that Americans (the Brisbane-born Courtney lives in LA) have no idea so many songs are written by Australian talent. From Kylie to Sia, Peter Allen to Air Supply, the Divinyls to AC/DC, she’s got the voice and she’s not afraid to use it.
From the minute she rolls out in glittery ruby red rollerskates for Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Xanadu’ and literally slips around the stage, we know we’re in for a treat. (Fortunately for her safety, she switches them for ruby red heels straight after the song.) Her “autumnal version” of the Bee-Gees ‘Staying Alive’ is heartbreaking, Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ leaves us breathless and her Adelaide version of ‘Land Down Under’ has is in stitches. She belts them all out with heart, passion and often, humour.
For this is a comedy show, and between songs the jokes come thick and fast, covering everything from America’s perception of Australia, Donald Trump to her time in RuPaul’s Drag Race (she was a finalist in season six) and taking any chance to riff off the audience. She changes from one glamourous costume to another while we’re entertained by hilarious videos from her YouTube channel.
When it looks like it might all be over, the crowd is unanimous in footstomping for more. We’re not disappointed – a rocking version of AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ (her signature song from Australian Idol) ends on a high.
Courtney Act is a seasoned professional – she’s funny, has a killer voice and a warmth and ease with the audience that makes it look oh so easy. And she does it all while tucked and wrapped in a glittery corset.
The Very Worst of the Tiger Lillies
Reviewed by Sky Harrison
The Tiger Lillies were last here in 2014 for The Adelaide Festival, performing an epic retelling of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at Her Maj, with layers of animated projections that blurred the line between art and reality. This is an entirely different show – just the band in their trademark face paint and their eclectic rabble of instruments. As soon as they take the stage, it feels like we’ve stumbled into something special – the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent feels like a little club in the backstreets of some wonderfully seedy part of town. Singer Martyn Jacques beguiles with tales of tired prostitutes, cross-dressing disabled aunts, and sailors out for a good time, taking up the accordion, guitar and piano. Adrian Stout is a scene-stealer on contra bass, musical saw and theremin, while Jonas Golland on drums delights at the front of the stage. The songs are darkly humorous, laden with eloquent doom, broken dreams and misfits. It’s a joyous romp of gypsy punk cabaret with more than a nod to pre-war Berlin and three-penny operas. Near the end of the set, they called for requests, and we were treated to several more songs, including ‘Banging in the Nails’ and ‘Violin Time’. Throughout, the audience was deeply appreciative though very polite, which was the only thing out of place – The Tiger Lillies deserve a rowdy crowd.
Reviewed by Mikyla Gilbert
One of the most fun, laugh-out-loud, clap-along-and-shake-your-bon-bon nights out I’ve had in ages. If this show ever comes back to Adelaide, snap up those tickets faster than you’d purchase great seats to see the likes of Ricky Martin (the actual sworn enemy of the star of Hispanic Attack, Ryan Gonzalez). As a singer, dancer, telenovela star, three-time Eurovision Song contestant and seven-time Latin-Grammy nominee, Ryan Gonzalez brought his Hispanic passion to Adelaide and showed us some sexy sensual dance moves and mega multi-ruffled shirts we will have burnt into our memories forever. I mean, who doesn’t love a pumped up parody with pelvic thrusts? An amazing singing and storytelling Aussie talent. Loved it and laughed my Latin-loving tits off. Ryan certainly is livin’ la vida loca. I’ll keep searching YouTube for when someone uploads the incredibly funny and amazing solo-duet of Ryan Gonzalez and Christina Aguilera singing the Latin version of ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ – crack up! Sadly, was only on for two nights.
Michael Griffiths – Lucky: Songs by Kylie
Reviewed by Jackson Polley.
Master of cabaret, Michael Griffiths, delivers a near perfect performance as he embodies one of his musical heroes, Kylie Minogue. He takes the audience on a journey through time, starting with the show’s namesake hit and ending on a kaleidoscopic Kylie medley that has almost everyone on their feet. Micheal touches on every encounter that made Kylie who she is, from Craig McLachlan to Michael Hutchence. Even pulling up an enthusiastic audience member for a pitchy but endearing rendition of ‘Especially For You’, the show is fully loaded. Michael breaks up the musical numbers with witty anecdotes about being Kylie, making it impossible not to be enthralled. Even though Michael had to quickly wrap up the show as he was late for his part in the gala at Her Majesty’s Theatre, it was still a perfect end a totally magic performance.
The Three Mikados
Reviewed by Sky Harrison
Comedians Colin Lane (of Lano & Woodley fame) and David Collins (one half of The Umbilical Brothers) are two ‘professional idiots’ putting on an abridged version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classical comedy-opera The Mikado. They’ve roped in US powerhouse Amy G and between them, attempt to give the 70-minute, three-actor, one-pianist version of the two-and-a-half-hour musical extravaganza. Trouble is, Lane wants it to be ‘My Kado’, nabbing all the good parts for himself (often mid-performance) to the ‘detriment’ of the show. And so the scene is set for this talented trio to indulge in carefully orchestrated mayhem that has the audience in both stitches and cheerful applause throughout the show.
The trio play all the characters, using Japanese fans, silly voices and posture to shift between them. Songs are interrupted, characters switched, individual performances insulted, sudden auditions take place, tempers flare and a walk-out creates ‘chaos’. All this with constant banter, often focused on the performers’ careers outside this show. Lane has built his comedy career out of being hilariously egomaniacal (most famously, opposite Frank Woodley) and he doesn’t disappoint. Collins and Amy G are each given their chance to shine, playing to their strengths and audience expectations – Collins using his trademark mime and sound effects to great delight, and Amy G showing off her impressive voice, most notably in Katisha’s ballad ‘Alone, and yet alive’. Pianist and musical director John Thorn, on stage for the duration of the show, also gets to join in the fun.
The skill of these performers is in making a rehearsed show look like improvisation. They work so seamlessly together that even actual mishaps could believably be planned. You don’t need to be familiar with The Mikado to enjoy this, you just need to love good comedy.
Carlotta – Queen of the Cross
Reviewed by Jackson Polley.
Carlotta has been a pioneer of many things, but today in the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, she was the pioneer of one thing only – being fabulously crass. A performer of Carlotta’s caliber doesn’t exactly ever retire, but we have Michael Griffiths to thank for bringing her to the stage again. And thank Kylie he did, because she was her darling yet derogatory self, in all her glory. She did warn the (mostly over 60) crowd that she was offensive and politically incorrect – and if anyone didn’t like that, they could leave. We weren’t going anywhere. Carlotta sang cabaret classics mixed with ripping on crowd members, leaving us slightly scared yet hopeful she would come for us. She didn’t. She picked on a poor sap in the front row, and although there were some cringe moments, it was all in good jest. We weren’t bored for a second and it felt great to see the legendary Carlotta on stage. Hats off to the old girl, she put on a solid performance and made us laugh and beam with pride, in equal measure.
Bourgeois & Maurice: How to Save the World Without Really Trying
Reviewed by Jackson Polley.
With a cabaret line-up loaded with household names and huge acts, Bourgeois & Maurice were certainly lower-down on our Cabaret Festival excitement list. But after they answered our interview questions with the type of self-deprecating-spunk that I live by, it was clear as Royal Doulton Crystal that this was the show for me. When Bourgeois (George Heyworth) took the stage, with an impish swagger and a glittery crotch that could tame a Westboro Church picket line, we suspected that the baby-boomer-blue-collars in the front row were about to choke on their Grant Burge. Moonlighting as ‘Drag Aliens with a Political Agenda’, Bourgeois and his sister, Maurice, go on a musical journey through space and time, which mostly stays in the “uck” (which is Bourgeois’ hilarious way of saying U.K.) His sister, Maurice, (Liv Morris) is a Patsy Stone character that plays the instruments, barely with a pulse – she is that deadpan. The duo nail songs about Brexit, Love, Feminism and ah… chem sex parties. For me, it is definitely the stand-out show of the Festival. The only thing I noticed, however, even though each song was upbeat and on the edge of being an outright banger… the crowd was a little low key? We couldn’t help but imagine what this show would have been like on a Friday night, and if the crowd would be a little warmer to the idea of two hyper-sexual, sarcastic aliens singing to them about hedonism and dictators.
Stay tuned for more reviews!
What have you seen at the Cabaret Festival? Loved it or hated it? Let us know in the comments, below.