Review: THE 2023 VARIETY GALA – ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2023 at Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

The start of another great Cabaret Festival.

By: Jun. 10, 2023
Review: THE 2023 VARIETY GALA – ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2023 at Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Friday 9th June 2023.

Sydney-based actress, singer, and writer, Virginia Gay, was the host for this year’s Variety Gala, the auspicious event that marks the opening of every Adelaide Cabaret Festival. This year was the 23rd Cabaret festival and it also marks the 50th anniversary of the Festival Centre, so a feeling of celebration was in the air, and we were promised “a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle full of surprises and iconic guests”. As usual, this performance was sold out. It is not only an evening of diverse entertainment, it also gives the audience a chance to see snippets from a range of shows and usually results in a queue at the box office as people book for events that they had overlooked.

This year’s Cabaret Festival is the combined effort of nine past Artistic Directors dubbed The Cabaret Collective: Julia Holt, David Campbell and Lisa Campbell, Kate Ceberano, Eddie Perfect, Ali McGregor, Julia Zemiro, Alan Cumming, and Tina Arena, several of whom have their own shows. Julia Holt, Kate Ceberano, David and Lisa Campbell, Eddie Perfect, Ali McGregor, and Julia Zemiro appeared in the Variety Gala.

The whole thing was in the very capable hands of director, Mitchell Butel, Artistic Director of the State Theatre Company, and musical director, Mark Ferguson, who led a superb group of musicians. Once again, Kathryn Sproul provided a superb design for the event, with posters from all 35 Festivals suspended above the performers.

Isaac Hannam gave the ‘welcome to country’ on behalf of the original owners of the land on which Adelaide was built, and then Virginia Gay opened the evening by (inadvertently?) advertising, Mark Nadler’s show, singing a rousing version of The Old Razzle Dazzle, from the Kander and Ebb musical, Chicago. Out came seven of the Cabaret Collective (Alan Cumming and Tina Arena were missing) to great applause, with more applause as she finished the song. Much more applause came throughout the evening as act after act thrilled the audience.

Julia Holt then gave some insights into her time as the Artistic Director, a position she held for the first eight years, before introducing the gypsy jazz sounds of Paris Combo, musical director, David Lewis, trumpet and piano, Potzi, guitar, Francois Jeannin, drums, and Mano Razanajato, double bass, with Carmen Maria Vega singing. I am looking forward to seeing their performance.

David and Lisa Campbell who introduced the first Gala in 2009 were next, telling of their time at the helm, before introducing Kate Ceberano singing Brave, with a brief solo from Roscoe James Irwin on flugelhorn. She then looked back on her time as Artistic Director, including introducing the Cabaret Icon Award. She then introduced Mark Trevorrow, in a rare appearance as himself and not as his better-known character, but more of that later. He was accompanied on piano by Bev Kennedy, singing Burt Bacharach’s What’s it All About, Alfie?

Ali McGregor then took to the stage to tell of her time as Artistic Director, and her design for the poster that year. She then brought out Eddie Perfect who spoke of working with eight others on this year’s Festival. He segued into his new musical about a Shakespearean actor, panned by critics, who set about murdering them, with the comical song, Death to the Critic.

From her show, An Evening Without Kate Bush, Sarah-Louise Young generated plenty of laughs in her version of a tribute act, one supposedly taught to her by Jackie, the first tribute act, parodying Kate Bush by introducing her six basic moves to the song, Wow.

To close the first half, Thando sang I am Changing, sung by the character Effie White from the Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen musical, Dreamgirls.

After the interval, Adelaide’s own hilarious high camp German, Hans (Matt Gilbertson), appeared, joined by his dancers/singers, The Lucky Bitches, with a tightly choreographed, high-energy interpretation of Tina Turner’s version of the Creedence Clearwater Revival number, Proud Mary.

Held back at the end of his segment, to assist with the announcement of this year’s Cabaret Icon, he was surprised to find that it was, in fact, himself. This was a very popular choice, the audience clapping and cheering at the announcement.

An exciting highlight of the Gala is always the announcement of the recipient of the Cabaret Icon Award. They began in 2013, when Kate Ceberano was the Artistic Director, and the past recipients were Reg Livermore AO (2013), Rhonda Burchmore (2014), the late Frank Ford AM (2015), Robyn Archer (2016), Debra Byrne (2017), David Bates (2018), Meow Meow (2019), David Campbell (2020), Paul Capsis (2021), and Libby O'Donovan (2022).

A past participant in the Class of Cabaret, whose name I didn’t catch, unfortunately, then delivered a couple of rocking numbers.

Close friend of the late Barry Humphries, Meow Meow, delivered a eulogy, speaking of their shared love of German Kabarett of the Weimar Republic era between the wars in Berlin, a love which I share, turning to Friedrich Hollaender’s Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte (If I could wish for something), made famous by Marlene Dietrich. He gave us a wonderfully passionate rendition.

Next came Julia Zemiro, with her stack of cue cards, talking humorously about her somewhat chaotic involvement with the Festival. It could have been a little shorter. She then introduced Vince Jones and Nina Ferro, with a very smoothly swinging version of I’ve got you Under My Skin, from their show, Come in Spinner, another that I am looking forward to seeing.

Mark Trevorrow returned as his very funny alter ego, Bob Downe, singing The Two of Us, joined, after a short time, by singer, and popular Adelaide television personality, Anne Wills.

Eddie Perfect then told of his involvement with the Festival, as a performer first, then as Artistic Director, and commending Jane Rossetta and the sound crew. He then introduced Ali McGregor singing Radiohead’s Creep, ending in full operatic mode with a series of wordless high notes to bring the house down.

Backed by Ali McGregor, Nina Ferro, and Virginia Gay, David Campbell closed the show with a medley of Australian pop songs, including one by his father, Jimmy Barnes, that had the audience clapping and singing along, ending with tumultuous applause, and the final curtain.

Once again, the Gala was a wonderful night out and a great start to the Cabaret Festival.

Photography, Kelly Carpenter.

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