Review: THE VARIETY GALA – ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2021 at Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

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By: Jun. 12, 2021
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Review: THE VARIETY GALA – ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2021 at Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Friday 11th June 2021.

The Variety Gala marks the beginning of another Cabaret Festival and, if you have ever been to one, you know better than to pay too much attention to the stated finish time. This, like others in the past, overran by an hour, but nobody was complaining.

The Artistic Director of the State Theatre of South Australia, Mitchell Butel, was given the task of directing the event, and he rounded up an eclectic and dynamic selection of performers, then let them off the leash in a wild and high-energy evening, with items ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. If Hans on a mini Segway, Bob Downe on a scooter, and Anne 'Willsy' Wills on a Zimmer frame isn't ridiculous, I don't know what is, and Mama Alto, and Paul Capsis, both defined the word sublime.

Isaac Hannan began the evening with a traditional 'welcome to country', and playing the didgeridoo, which led into the Artistic Director of this year's Cabaret Festival, Alan Cumming, launching into the title song from Cabaret, being joined by Hans the German Boy Wonder, the host for the evening. Hans was assisted during the event by a couple of dancing boys, but without his accordion. His huge Adelaide following were, from the loudness of their appreciation, out in full force.

Having opened with Cabaret, it was logical that the first performer was Liza Minelli. Well, yes, it was Trevor Ashley, with his very fine impersonation, singing Sondheim's Broadway Baby, from Follies. Then a change of pace, with magician, James Galea, performing a fast-paced card trick before moving to the piano to sing his theory that most magicians are gay. His show is Poof! Secrets of a Magician.

Then to the fabulous Mama Alto, always a most welcome performer, with a superb vocal version of Thelonius Monk's Round Midnight. One could have heard a pin drop, until the cheering and applause at the end. This was followed by a sensational version of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.

Comedienne, vocalist, Jan Van de Stool was next, raising plenty of laughs with a sketch as a music therapist who has an alter ego, bursting forth at inconvenient times. Brendan Maclean represented the production, L'Hotel, with a rousing song and dance number. Steph Tisdall followed on, with her unrestrained, stand-up comedy, and a not particularly successful attempt at an improvised song, incorporating words provided by the audience. You can't win them all.

The Sisters of Invention, a group of four young women who formed the group through their involvement with the inclusive Tutti choir, were next, with an original number. They have found great success with their lively performances.

On such an occasion, it was only right that Her Majesty, the Queen was on hand to officially open the Festival. As she couldn't make it in person, Gerry Connolly stepped in to fulfil her obligations, in an hilarious opening speech. Moving to the piano, she did it One's Way.

Closing the first half was local favourite, international cabaret star, Michael Griffiths, having fun with the audience, engaging them on a call and response number.

The second half opened with a rendition of Xanadu, with Hans, Bob Downe, and Willsy, followed by Walk Right Back.

Alan Cumming then had the pleasurable duty of announcing this year's Cabaret Icon Award and it went to the highly respected and hugely talented Paul Capsis. He was most surprised at the announcement, and accepted the award with great grace. He then channelled Billie Holiday, in a terrific version of Amy Winehouse's Back to Black.

Trevor Ashley returned as Liza Minelli with Memory, from Cats, and then Tim Minchin dropped in to take over the piano for I'll Take Lonely Tonight, the song of a faithful lover, raising a few laughs in the process. He was, of course, warmly greeted by an appreciative audience.

Meow Meow couldn't make it in person, so Zoomed in to say a comical "hello" and sing, accompanied by Mark Simeon Ferguson at the piano on stage. Simeon and his band, incidentally, provided great accompaniment throughout.

As the production approached the end, Amber Martin took to the stage with (You've Got to Have) Friends, Bette Midler's 1973 hit single, contrasted with a ballad. Hans then began closing the show.


Marc Ferguson hurried forward to whisper. Hans had forgotten the final item. It was another song from our newly appointed Cabaret Icon, Paul Capsis, a remarkable rendition of John Lennon's, Imagine, with a didgeridoo continuo from Isaac Hannan.

Everybody in the cast, and the audience, joined in on an exuberant version of Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again, by The Angels, the close the show.

Now, it really was over. The Cabaret Festival is off and running. With many performances already sold out, I hope you've organised tickets for the events that you want to see.

Photography: Claudio Raschella.