Sunday, April 15, 2018


Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Eyes Open.

 Artistic Director Ali McGregor Adelaide Festival Centre. June 8 – 23. Bookings or BASS 131 246

Previewed by Peter Wilkins

Ali McGregor. Artistic Director Adelaide Cabaret Festival
I have a confession to make. I am a Cabaret Junkie. So, it is with eager anticipation each year that I await the programme of Australia’s foremost cabaret festival. This year marks the final festival as Artistic Director for celebrated chanteuse and cabaret artist, Ali McGregor. For the past two years she has partnered with Eddie Perfect, but this year, because of Perfect’s other commitments, she has put together another fascinating programme under the theme Eyes Open. This year’s festival will open audiences’ eyes to headline artists for the first time such as Broadway star, Patti LuPone and from New York, John Cameron Mitchell. There will be emerging artists such as Joanne Hartstone with her highly acclaimed show, The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign and indigenous performers Archie Roach and the Tiddas.  Canberrans will be familiar with their own shining talents, Queenie van de Zandt and Mikel Simic of Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen.
Patti LuPone  -Don't Monkey With Broadway

To tell me more, I called Ali McGregor in Melbourne and caught her just in time before she was about to board a flight to London the following day. McGregor has lost none of her passion and enthusiasm for the festival and its unique offering of a veritable smorgasbord of cabaret delicacies. Over three weekends, the Cabaret Festival takes over the venues within the Adelaide Festival Centre. Some artists perform in the intimate Piano Bar. Some take to the larger stage of the 600 seat Dunstan Playhouse while others take their wine glasses to tables in the 300 seat Space. Carla Lippis’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival show, Cast A Dark Shadow will pack audience and performers in on the Festival Centre Stage. For a cocktail of cabaret artists in the opening Variety Gala or at the Closing Gala, audiences will flock to the 2000 seat Festival Theatre. On stages large and small, audiences will be treated to a sumptuous feast of cabaret performances. Some will offer traditional, anarchic cabaret in the intimate atmosphere of the Banquet Room or the Artspace. Others will present a new style of Cabaret that challenges tradition and opens the eye to new influences and experiences. There will be something for everyone and McGregor invites audiences to experience old favourites and new and unexpected discoveries.
Em Rusciano  Difficult Woman

“There are acts that I have tried desperately to get to our shores for years,”McGregor writes in her Welcome “and new discoveries I can’t wait to share” It’s a tantalizing invitation and I ask her to elaborate. She begins with Patti Lu Pone. “I love her on so many different levels.” McGregor says. “Not only is she a fabulous Broadway legend. She’s someone who’s consistently worked in the cabaret format. She has a real intimacy about her. This has been a year when we’ve really had our ears opened to a lot of other people’s stories. Cabaret is great for giving us an insight into what has been going on in other people’s worlds.” McGregor admires the fact that LuPone has never shied away from giving an opinion. She is outspoken but more than that she occupies a valid place in the public eye.
Em Rusciano began her career as a comedienne , performing in a brom closet during the Melbourne Comedy Festival. McGregor is thrilled that she has Australian artists headlining acts on the mainstage of the Festival Theatre during the festival. Rusciano’s show Difficult Woman, with musical director Chong Lim and an eighteen piece orchestra ”brings her powerful vocals and scandalous stand-up comedy to Adelaide Cabaret Festival for one night only in  a riotous celebration of lady bosses that will leave fire in your belly and a strut in your step.”
John Cameron MItchell The Origin of Love

“We have got so many incredible artists in Australia” McGregor says. “That’s the wonderful thing about this festival. It’s a little bit like a dream come true for me. I have had the opportunity to book people to come and perform for me. I don’t even have to go there” From New York comes the multi talented John Cameron Mitchell with his show The Origin of Love – The songs and stories of Hedwig. The co-creator of the Tony Award winning, Golden Globe nominated Hedwig and the Angry Inch Cameron Mitchell regales with anecdotes and sings song from the Rock Musical and subversive cult film . “He has had such a massive influence on people I know. His work is original with a really strong voice.
Amber Martin  Janis:Undead
The Origin of Love will also feature another New Yorker, Amber Martin as a guest artist. Martin is bringing her show Janis: Undead, backed by a full band and mesmerising lighting by The Joshua Light Show. “I’m really excited to bring her out.” says McGregor.” She has this Janis Joplin show which is really incredible and she’s also a very funny comedienne.”
McGregor confesses to being a massive fan of Joey Arias who will recall the Eighties underground cabaret scene at Club 57 in Three Floors of Madness. She has commissioned Arias to create a show about a time that also coincided with the underground, queer cabaret scene in Sydney. “We lost a lot of those artists to the AIDS virus, so many of the stories have never been told. I’m really keen to have someone from that era come to the festival and give an insight into that incredibly rich time in cabaret history.”
Joey Arias  Three Floors of Madness
And then there is the Tom Waits tribute show Tom Waits For No Man. At each of her three festivals, McGregor has sought to feature the work of a great icon of the cabaret scene. In 2016 it was Kurt Weil. Last year it was Jacques Brel and this year it will be a tribute to Tom Waits. Directed by McGregor and with musical direction by Charly Zastrau, the tribute will be hosted by Mikelangelo and will  feature some of the cabaret festival’s amazing artists, such as Queenie van de Zandt.
McGregor’s cabaret festival is not just a showcase of amazing talent. It is a platform for emerging artists to be mentored, so that they may one day advance to their own spot in the festival. Space to Create is a passion project of mine” McGregor says. “This is exactly what I would have loved at the start of my cabaret career. Then we were all just making it up as we went along. I wanted to help artists who could get to that next level.” Four cabaret artists have been invited to a kind of cabaret boot camp. They are hooked up with a mentor who will be one of the artists from the programme and then they have sessions on anything they think they need from writing, designing, marketing and budgeting as well as performance and there’s no pressure for them to have something by the end of the week. “I want to give them a bit of a headstart.”
Mikelangelo Balkan Elvis
Class of Cabaret, introduced by David Campbell during his time as Artistic Director, also provides the perfect training ground for young performers. Twenty young cabaret performers from South Australian secondary schools take to the Space Theatre for two performances on June 23rd. The show is directed by David Lampard and accompanied by Alex Wignall. I have seen previous shows and have ben astounded by the talent on show. The students also receive mentorship, by renowned cabaret artists Amelia Ryan and Michael Griffiths. The students tell their stories in a show that will amaze and inspire.
Another initiative is the First Unsettlers, celebrating the origins of the cabaret genre in the halls of circus and vaudeville by such artists as Roy Rene aka Mo McCackie. Singer and songwriter, Mark Holden will present Mark Holden’s Greatest Show on Earth, recalling his own family’s history with the Holden Bros Circus De Luxe. As part of the First Unsettlers, McGregor also aims to involve indigenous artists. Of the hundreds of submissions, McGregor receives to take part in the cabaret festival she has only ever had one submission from an indigenous group. “Cabaret is seen as a little bit elitist and very white middle class. Archie Roach and Tiddas will present Dancing With My Spirit, and will be involved in discussions about indigenous cabaret artists and how the cabaret festival may generate more of their stories.
Archie Roach and Tiddas Dancing With My Spirit
A glance at the plethora of shows and events on hand over the three weekends in June is enough to lure any cabaret aficionado to the Festival City. But which weekend? “This is like Sophie’s choice.” McGregor says. “I’ve tried to programme that every weekend has a really good cross section of artists. Every week we have a variety gala. It’s good to start with an artist and then the Backstage Club and then go from there. I’ve tried on the website to list categories to help people choose things that they like, for example, one theatre kind of show, one comedy kind of show and then something else. Go with something that is your taste and then something you’ve never heard of.”
Whatever you choose, you know that McGregor’s final cabaret festival will bring you the cream of the cabaret crop and a festival experience  you will never forget and will have you coming back for more.