Saturday, June 8, 2019


The House is Live. Opening Gala of the 2019 Adelaide Cabaret Festival

Host Artistic Director Julia Zemiro. Directed by Craig Ilott. Musical Director  Daniel Edmonds. Produced by Maggie Oster. Thebarton Theatre. June 7 2019

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Mitchell Butel and Julia Zemiro What A Swell Party This Is
Photo by Claudio Rascella


The red carpet rolls out and the crowd rolls in. The crowd throngs in the foyer of the Thebarton Theatre, the Cabaret Festival’s 1928 art deco venue. The air is abuzz with excitement. Camera’s flash and members of The Swell Mob, direct from Edinburgh, weave in and out through the crowd with their in your face brand of interactive participation. It is the opening of this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival and Artistic Director Julia Zemiro has lined up a stellar company of cabaret artists to serve up a banquet of delectable cabaret morsels.
Queenie van de Zandt
“The house is live” the stage manager announces to the waiting artists as the audience files in and a night of sheer entertainment, social  commentary and political subversion breathes life into the world of cabaret.  A didgeridoo sounds in the darkness and three indigenous performers emerge to welcome to country in dance and music.  The dance represents the strength of women and the spirit of humanity that permeates the thousands of years of aboriginal culture. It is sombre, yet proud and uplifting and a reminder from the man that “Life is a cabaret. And so the opening gala gets under way.

Reuben Kaye
Zemiro’s opening under the direction of Craig Ilott and musical director and pianist Daniel Edmonds is more than a taste of things ro come. It is a celebration of joy and the wonder and thrill of Life. Artistic Director of State Theatre South Australia Mitchell Butel and Zemiro set the tone with their lively and fun-filled rendition of “What a Swell Party This Is.” The mood is set and who better to  take it up a few notches than that Colossus of Camp, the flamboyant, outrageous  and sequined Reuben Kaye with his devil may care political jibes and full throttled voice. Following that whirlwind of energy would daunt the most seasoned performer, and Alma Zygier’s love of the songs of Ella Fitzgrald and Judy garland took a shaky ride on the trolley of the great American Songbook with flat notes and a hint of apology. I suspect that she will be more at ease with her own show in the festival.

Meow Meow and Paul Capsis
I am conscious that it is the occasion that is the star of this event, and not the acts, although it is impossible not to be blown away by the powerful voice and personality of Queenie van de Zandt, the searing soulfulness of Paul Capsis’s channeling of Billie Holiday and Meow’ Meow’s magical hold on an audience caught under her bewitching spell with original songs and cheekily confronting audience involvement.  Internationally acclaimed from Adelaide to Berlin and the West End, Meow is a legend of the cabaret and this year’s worthy recipient of the Icon Award, previously awarded to Reg Livermore, Rhonda Birchmore, Robyn Archer and the late Godfather of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, the inimitable, inspiring Frank Ford.

Maude Davey
Burlesque artist, Maude Davey, complete with feathers, tassles and fishnet stockings and little else flaunts and frolics her way through her act to the delight of audience in the stalls. What is most refreshing in Zemiro’s festival are the new faces who open our eyes to new perceptions of the continuing question, “What is Cabaret?” Queanbeyan raised and Canberra educated poet rapper Omar Musa, winner of the Sydney Cabaret Festival Award brings a new and dynamic voice to the cabaret stage with his rocket fueled defiance of social injustice and political interference. The rapid fire delivery of this master of the poetic dialectic is thoroughly absorbing, challenging audiences to take the ride and make the commitment.   Another newcomer to the scene is Nikechi Anele, an Australian Nigerian singer song-writer and broadcaster with the rich voice and sophisticated stage presence to charm and enchant. She and Musa were the one night stands of the Opening and I eagerly await their inclusion in a future cabaret Festival.

Omar Musa
The tickertape glittered down from the ceiling as the event came to a close, but not before a touching and moving ode from  Meow Meow to honour Frank Ford and introduce the eternal light that will shine in his memory throughout the festival. From jazz to pop to rock to soul and everything in between this festival has something for everyone whether one loves romance, comedy, music that moves you, reminiscence, something shiny or that curve ball that comes from left field and surprises.

It is a banquet waiting to be tasted after an opening that promised more nights to remember.
Photos by Claudio Raschella