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The perfect way to draw the curtain on first-up festival


Organisers of the first Perth International Cabaret Festival saw opportunity in the cancellation of shows due to border closures and brought together all the big names from the festival to end it "with a bang." It is fair to say that a bill that included Carlotta, Steven Oliver, Rick Steele, and Griffiths himself made that happen and then some, and the curtain was drawn on the inaugural festival with a gala show that had everything.

Festival Artistic director Michael Griffiths knows that part of the charm of cabaret is that it can change dependent on its surroundings (read more about that, and how the Gala and the festival itself came together in my interview with him here), and as such, the Gala came together out of necessity. However, not only was it a fitting replacement for Meow Meow, the original closing night act, but one could even argue that those who could replace their tickets for Meow Meow with tickets for the Gala well and truly came out on top. In fact, hundreds of people crammed into His Majesty's Theatre to see a line-up full of talent. It was Griffiths himself- a Helpmann Award winning cabaret artist and talented performer- who kicked things off, bringing his three-piece band out and starting the show strongly. There was also a tantalizing promise of the night ahead, with the performers sitting at tables on stage in true cabaret style. It's been a busy week for Griffiths, who not only had his own show but appeared alongside Carlotta and Steven Oliver in their shows, on top of all the behind the scenes work he's done, but it was not evident at all. He kicked off the night with energy and enthusiasm and assured the crowd that they would want for nothing despite cancelled shows.

Griffiths and his band were joined by Amelia Ryan, who has performed with Griffiths previously in 'Livvy & Pete' (a tribute to the music of Olivia Newton-John and Peter Allen), and their chemistry and matching styles were immediately obvious. It was fitting that they began with You're The One That I Want from 'Grease,' drawing the audience in to help out with the oo-oos and bouncing off each other perfectly.

Next to entertain from the festival was Perth drag queen Dean Misdale. Misdale first graced

Dean Misdale

the stage at His Majesty's as Killer Queen in 'We Will Rock You', the first time the role had been performed in role anywhere in the world. Misdale was, it seemed, overwhelmed to be included in the line-up and to share the stage with icons such as Carlotta, lacking a bit of their trademark swagger in the early stages. Any sense of being overwhelmed was not evident in their performance though, and Misdale looked perfectly suited to the big stage and very much relished being supported by a band.

Perthonality Rick Steele was next to perform, making the stage entirely his own. With many years in the entertainment industry under his belt, Steele knows how to work a crowd. His jokes and anecdotes making it seem like you'd just met him in a bar, while his bluesy vocals and guitar and harmonica setup wouldn't have been out of place on any big stage.

Carlotta wowed the audience in one of her
last ever performances

Carlotta sashayed out in a grand sparkling costume and immediately made the stage her own. After over 60 years of performing, this was one of Carlotta's very last performances which was a treat in itself. She showed no signs of slowing down though, listing off her career highlights in song, and focusing her one-liners on a hapless audience member (who can now brag about being one of the last people heckled by Carlotta). She had the audience wrapped around her finger, and it was clear to see why she is such an icon of Australian entertainment.

Fresh from a downstairs billing earlier in the evening, Louise Anton kicked Michael Griffiths off the piano to entertain the crowd. She transferred perfectly from the intimate downstairs setting to the large expanse of the theatre proper (read more about her earlier set here), and her Piano Woman song was once again adjusted, whilst the audience fell in love with her rendition of Both Sides Now.

Continuing the theme of working with the audience, Amelia Ryan rejoined the band in tights to perform Let's Get Physical, bringing a very sporting audience member on stage to go through the dance moves with her.

Another Perth local in John O'Hara took the stage next, a slightly sedate opening giving way to a high energy rendition of Lady Gaga's Born This Way, a tribute to mothers (and the many forms they take) in the LGBTQIA+ community. O'Hara threw everything at the performance and really connected with the crowd. Hopefully he continues to find time in future in amongst his long list of musical theatre credits to do more cabaret., as he's perfectly suited to it.

Amelia Ryan came back once more, this time to join 2021 Cabaret Festival show mate Libby O'Donovan. They made the audience both laugh and think with a trip through the 70s and 80s in problematic pop songs. O'Donovan took over to belt out At Last in a special treat, with such a noted cabaret performer bringing everything we could expect to a cabaret staple. Taking a break from her flawless vocals, she made the audience laugh with some mouth trumpet. Her next step threatened to bring the house down, with roars of laughter greeting her Aussie accent version of At Last ("Broken Hill style", as she put it).

Steven Oliver was the icing on the cake for the night, bringing his special style to two original songs, beginning with RUOK?, which he penned as ambassador for RUOK Day. To end the night Oliver gave a special tribute to his extended family with Powerful, and the whole ensemble of stars joined in to give it a special ending.

Steven Oliver, Michael Griffiths, Amelia Ryan, Libby O'Donovan, Gina Williams, Carlotta,
Rick Steele, Louise Anton, and John O'Hara closing out the festival

Oliver's song Powerful is by no means a loud, soaring tune that one may expect to end a cabaret show. In fact, the ensemble joining in was added in as the song went. However, with microphones failing around them, the star-studded line-up fought on, and as Michael Griffiths said, cabaret is about adapting to what happens rather than trying to control it. In so many ways, then, proud First Nations' man Steven Oliver paying tribute to his family, being joined by stars who could share the feeling of love, was a perfect ending to the first Perth International Cabaret Festival.

The festival ended to raucous applause, and so many already looking forward to a return of the festival next year. The Gala was the perfect exclamation mark to end this wonderful festival, the first of hopefully many to come.

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