Wednesday, April 3, 2019


Adelaide Cabaret Festival. 

Adelaide Festival Centre. June 7 – 22 2019. Bookings. BASS 131 246

Previewed by Peter Wilkins

Adelaide Cabaret Festival Artistic Director  Julia Zemiro

Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s newly appointed Artistic Director needs no introduction. Most people will know Julia Zemiro as the highly popular and ebullient host of televion’s  Rockwiz and Home Delivery. This year Zemiro will follow in the footsteps of former luminaries, David Campbell, Kate Ceberano, Eddie Perfect and Ali MacGregor to curate Australia’s premier Cabaret Festival with a programme set to shake things up. Although this is Zemiro’s first year as Artistic Director of the iconic festival, she is no stranger to the Cabaret Festival or to Adelaide. “Adelaide’s given me a lot of gigs” she tells me. During inaugural director, Julia Holt’s 2008 festival, Zemiro appeared in a Henry Mancini tribute concert with Kaye Tuckerman and John Thorn.  She later performed with Paul Grabowsky during his 2010 Adelaide Festival and wowed Adelaide audiences with her Spiegeltent show, Julia Zemiro’s Comfort Zone. It is hardly surprising that she would have been considered the perfect choice to lead this year’s festival, and, in her own words, “shake it up”.
“I want some traditional cabaret, and I also want to know what the future of cabaret is.” Next year, the festival, founded by its late Godfather, the inspirational Frank Ford, who died last year, will be twenty years old. A candle will burn in memory of Frank Ford AM for the sixteen days of this year’s festival. 
Omar Musa
 Every artistic director starts out with the same questions, “What is Cabaret?” “What can I include?” and “How can I attract newer audiences?” Zemiro is keen to discover the new voices.  One such new voice that excites Zemiro enormously is Queanbeyan Spoken Word/Hip Hop performer, Omar Musa, who last year won the coveted Best Cabaret  Category in the prestigious Sydney Theatre Awards. Zemiro saw his show in Parramatta and told him, “You’re technically cabaret now and I’m trying to shake it up a bit. Do you want to come along? He’s so so busy, but thank God, he can do that one night for us.” Musa will be appearing with a host of other artists at the Opening Night concert  in The Thebarton, as the old art deco Thebarton Town Hall is known.
Ute Lemper
Zemiro’s excitement is infectious as she outlines her programme. Lovers of the classical Cabaret will be swept away by the mesmerising voice of Ute Lemper and her show about  a three hour conversation she once had with the legendary Marlene Dietrich. Lovers of Swing will be delighted to discover that David Campbell will return to the Cabaret Festival with his big Swing Show Cabaret.  Cabaret sensation Kate Miller-Heidke, fresh from her Eurovision appearance and the hit musical, Muriel’s Wedding, which she wrote music for with her husband,Keir Nuttall.  Dami Im jumped at the chance when asked by Zemiro to perform her own life story in a classical cabaret trope with piano and song. “She’s so excited and nervous, and she’s really going out of her comfort zone, and I feel that I can really provide her with that support.” Then, for all the Rock Tragics, Zemiro brings Rockwiz to Adelaide. The Thebarton will be rocked to its foundations with the big show sounds of musicals such as Jesus Christ Superstar, We Will Rock You, Hair and Rocky Horror Show to name just a few.
Kate Miller-Heodke

So, there you have it – classical Cabaret at its most classic and much more. But what of the new voices? What of the acts that will shake up Zemiro’s festival and audience expectations and experience and lead them to take risks and immerse themselves in the unexpected?
“I wanted to bring in new elements.” Zemiro says.  There’s The Swell Mob, who will be performing their show three times a day throughout the festival. “Imagine an 1800 Taphouse, where you walk in, are greeted at the door, given a little bag of fake money and you’re not quite sure what to do with. It’s not about having to perform in front of the capacity audience of fifty people. You’ll be interacting with one or two characters who will give you clues of what you’re supposed to do. It’s apparent that you’re a part of something and that’s really exciting.”
And then there’s Presentation Night. It’s a conversation between Bob Murphy, ex captain of Great Western Bulldogs and musician, Tex Perkins. Murphy loves music and Perkins loves football and the conversation will be in the Spiegeltent, which will also be the Late Night Club. Adelaide Oval and the Festival Centre are now linked by a footbridge, and it seems only natural that the two venues should share their stories as a new form of cabaret. Zemiro hopes that more men may come to the show, and that the new audiences will emerge from the Spiegeltent, eager to see other shows in the festival.
The Swell Mob

Zemiro knows that the core demographic for Rockwiz is men in their Fifties, but she adds that she is often approached by young people who were brought up watching Rockwiz with Mum and Dad. Young audiences are not forgotten. There is Dan Ilic with his brutally sharp brand of political humour and Lew Hobba, popular host of Triple J. They are being challenged to bring politics back into cabaret and do a new show every night that also includes an original song.  This is the raw edge of the political tradition in cabaret, set to appeal to young and old audiences alike.
 In only a short eight months, Zemiro has put together a festival that brings back legends of cabaret like Paul Capsis, Campbell, Miller-Heidke and Ute Lemper and for one night only on Opening Night the amazing Meow Meow. As well, there are the new, exciting voices of Musa and Im..
Pub Choir
So, I ask Zemiro, for those who may have been to previous festivals, what else has changed? Some of the change is beyond the festival’s control like the large Festival Theatre being taken over by big commercial musicals, or Her Majesty’s Theatre undergoing major renovation, which has led to the shift to The Thebarton, with a brand new approach to the Opening Night. Instead of a Gala, artists who may not be included in the main programme or are only available for the one night, like Musa, will perform at a ticketed event. It will be a one-off chance to see leading artists like Queenie van der Zandt, Reuben Kaye, Meow Meow and State Theatre Artistic Director, Mitchell Butel. “It’s finding those new voices and a show with punch that welcomes people.”
 “The thing that makes Cabaret for me is the breaking of that fourth wall. No matter how  much you rehearse or how much you’ve done  it just doesn’t exist without that audience. In particular,  in cabaret  you’re encouraged to talk back , chat,  have fun,  sing out, join in and  the temperature just soars. Or it can completely fall flat.  That’s the kind of risk of cabaret as well.  The performer puts himself out there and also opens the door for anything to be able to happen because they’re inviting that audience in .   For some performers it’s their favourite place in the world because you don’t just  work with an audience that way unless it’s cabaret.”
Dami Im

With so many acts to choose from and so many brilliant artists offering a diverse range of styles and genres that make up the magical world of cabaret, it can be difficult for audiences to effectively navigate Zemiro’s dynamic programme. This year Zemiro has addressed that by guiding audiences to seek out what they love. Instead of listing the shows under a category, she has introduced sections such as “If you love…”, so that audiences can choose according to their emotional connection to the work. For example “if you love all things shiny” you may choose Kate Miller-Heidke. “If you love to reminisce” you may choose Ute Lemper or Dami Im, and shows that offer a narrative. “If you love a main event, then Rockwiz or David Campbell will be for you. If you love a curve ball, then you might take a risk on something new that may also not be to everybody’s taste, but which intrigues you or seduces you to go out on a limb like The Swell Mob or the Pub Choir, where three hundred people sing a song at once after learning it in three part harmony. 
“I hope that may guide people into what they’d like to see” Zemiro says. But then again, if you are not able to stay for the entire festival, then you will need to choose the weekend that suits you best. What better way to do that than by choosing the performances that strike an emotional connection and that you feel you would like to see. Also performers don’t like being inhibited by a category, and are always keen to attract new audiences, as well as the Old Faithfuls. What Zemiro has done is shake up a cocktail of surprising delights to suit every individual taste.
David Campbell

“That first weekend for example we’ve kind of put things together that belong together that are out there and showy and are fun and celebratory at the Opening Night.” Cabaret stalwart and international sensation, Hans, will be looking after the Late Night Club in the Spiegeltent. “That may be a more intense experience. In the second week, the Late Night Club will sparkle with Julia Zemiro’s resurrection of her highly popular Eurovision – The Musical character, Bronya. She hasn’t done her for ages, but people just love her and the character has developed almost a cult following. Some will want to take a trip down Memory Lane with Rockwiz, and plan their visit for the third week. “So, I guess it’s what you get out of it, and for some people who come from interstate, they may also want the freedom to go on a bit of a wander through Adelaide and go to the hills or to a vineyard.
In her Welcome introduction at the start of the festival brochure, Zemiro issues a call for action, for people to dress up in their winter cabaret gear and give the festival a fabulous sense of occasion.” “The call for action is to get involved. Don’t let the festival happen at you. You go in and interact with it” Zemiro will also be in the foyer an hour before the shows, and invites people to meet her and talk about the festival.
“Every Artistic Director in their first year feels that it’s a kind of buzz that you hope you can replicate the following year. Now it’s about giving birth to it. I just can’t wait to tell everybody about the festival and be able to do it because I’ve never worked on something that has taken so long. It’s been a very exciting adventure.”

Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Adelaide Festival Centre and The Thebarton
June 7-22  2019
Bookings; BASS 131246