Saturday, June 12, 2021




Directed by Mitchell Butel. Musical direction. Mark Simeon Ferguson.  Adelaide Cabaret Festival.The Festival Theatre. June 11 2021. Bookings. BASS 131246

 Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

If variety is the spice of life then the Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s Variety Gala has served up a dish of well-flavoured tastes. After a year of virtual exile to performances on zoom to keep the cabaret festival alive, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival returns to live performance before a capacity masked audience in the Festival Theatre.  The mesmerizing tones of the didgeridoo fill the auditorium as Kaurna man Isaac Hannan performs a Welcome to Country . Changing colours wash the scalloped curtain folds that hang as a backdrop to the cabaret setting on stage, where performers sit at tables. The master chef of this banquet of acts sweeps onto the stage as only South Australia’s very own camp German gay icon and international superstar, the irrepressible, irreverent, brazenly mocking Hans can do. You know you’re in for a night of innuendo, cheeky campery and fully garnished cabaret creations. And what better way to launch the gala than with a spirited rendition of Kandor and Ebb’s Wilkommen from Cabaret joined by the performers and the cabaret’s first international artistic director and Tony award winning actor for his role as the Emcee in.  I was disappointed that this is the only performance that we saw from Alan Cumming during the evening. To catch him in action, audiences will need to visit Club Cumming in the Famous Spiegeltent or his one man show, Alan Cumming is not Acting His Age at the close of the festival.

Amber Martin
Apart from being a taste teaser, the Variety Gala is an opportunity to see many of the performers whose shows will be featured during the festival. And, like most variety shows in the tradition of vaudeville or late night television variety shows it’s a mixed bag.  Jan van de Stool’s comedic repartee may appeal more to some, but it is when her real persona of Queenie van de Zandt lets rip with Let it Go from Frozen that I had shivers down my spine. James Galea’s magic card tricks amaze and stupefy, but his penis song on piano may have left some rather underwhelmed. Trevor Ashley’s neurotic and too often incomprehensible Liza Minelli, though interesting to savour would have been better with one tasting and not two. Impersonators could well learn the art from Gerry Connelly’s perfectly mannered Queen with her witty and saccharin sweet satire. It is Trans singer Mama Alto whose soul searching echoes of Billie Holiday fills the air with the flavor of love and longing in a beautiful rendition of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Covid has played its devilish part in determining the spread of the banquet. This is primarily an Australian festival and specifically a South Australian event. Nostalgia plays its part with a tribute to the late lamented television Variety show Adelaide Tonight with veteran entertainer Ann Wills in the company of Bob Downes. Those who remember may decide to choose this from the menu. A special serving comes with the performances of Adelaide entertainer Michael Griffiths and the courageous and enchanting harmonies of the girl group with disabilities, The Sisters of Invention.  To tease the taste even further, the Variety Gala brings out even spicier dishes with Tim Minchin singing a love song about the loneliness of the touring artist, dedicated to his wife. Brendan Maclean from L’Hotel seems possessed in his rendition of Disappear and, direct from New York and out of Quarantine, the feisty, forceful and hugely gutsy singer Amber Martin lets the spices loose with You’ve Got To Have Friends.

Each year the winner of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival Icon Award is announced. This year Alan Cumming announced that the brilliantly talented Paul Capsis was the 2021 winner. In a moving version of John Lennon’s Imagine, Capsis reminded us all of the perfect world that we would like to inhabit. Past and future resonate in the accompaniment of Hannan’s playing of Imagine on the didgeridoo, and the banquet became a feast for the spirit of the cabaret.

And so the banquet came to an end with a song of hope and imagination, a theme that spiced up the possibilities for audiences at the phoenix festival that has arisen from the ashes of the pandemic. Like Variety Galas that have gone before, the evening ran too long and certain numbers could have been cut to keep the feast moving. There is no need to over=cater a degustation. Hans’s flamboyant enthusiasm, though a source of constant delight to the Adelaide audience  needed director Mitchell Butel’s firmer hand on the evening’s proceedings.

In the end, happily fed with a display of tasty talent, we are left to decide what our palates would prefer. It is at these performance morsels that we can really savour the delights on offer at this Gala Opening to Alan Cumming’s first Adelaide Cabaret Festival.