Sunday, June 11, 2023




Adelaide Cabaret Festival Variety Gala. 

Directed by  Mitchel Butel.Designed by Kathryn Sprout. Hosted by Virginia Gay. Musical direction by Mark Ferguson and featuring the Variety Gala Band. Featuring former Artistic Directors Julia Holt, David and Lisa Campbell, Ali McGregor, Eddie Perfect, Julia Zemiro, and Kate Ceberano. Festival Theatre. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 9-24 2023. Cabaret Programme and booking information:


Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


 Hans receives the Icon Award from the Cabaret Festival Collective

“Cabaret can be anything.” Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s La Stupenda Ali McGregor told the full house at the festival’s opening variety gala. Everything is what they got at a fabulous evening of entertainment and an enticing sample of what’s on show at the 23rd Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Kat Sprout’s elegant design evoked not only a salute to the glitzy, glamorous and yet intimate and atmospheric world of cabaret but also paid tribute to twenty three years of cabaret magic. Enlarged posters of the twenty three programme covers hung suspended around a chandelier hanging above the Variety Gala Band under the musical direction of Mark Ferguson. It was instantly apparent that the audience was in for a very special treat as Kaurna man Isaac Hannam entered in traditional clothing and playing the didgeridoo, which became subtly accompanied by the band. Delivering a welcome to country in his people’s language, Hannam then welcomed everyone in English before handing the ceremony over to the evening’s hostess, the effervescent Virginia Gay, stunning in her gown of sparkling sequins and a plunging neckline that transported audiences to the chic and the cheeky world of cabaret in all its manifestations. 


Cabaret Festival Hostess Virginia Gay
This is cabaret for everyone whether they are devotees of Meow Meow’s moving Weimar tribute to the late, great Barry Humphries, lovers of  the cool jazz sounds of Vince Jones and Nina Ferro or the ribald antics of the outrageous Hans and his dancers with a rumbustious Rock rendition of Rolling Down ‘the River in tribute to Tina Turner. Even Burt Bacharach gets a tribute with Mark Trevorrow’s rendition of Alfie with Bev Kennedy at the piano

What made this Gala so very special is that it was attended by nine of the previous Artistic Directors, Only Julia Holt, the founding Artistic Director, was not a performer but she gave the audience an account of the festival’s history and the invaluable part she played in launching what would become the largest and most illustrious cabaret festival in the country. One only had to witness the magnificent contributions that her colleagues made to the evening’s salute to a glorious legacy. I have been to a number of Galas, some also under the direction of tonight’s director Mitchel Butel. Tonight was out of the box. It was performed in the true spirit of celebration – celebration of the Adelaide Festival Centre’s 50th year, celebration of the continuing innovation by each succeeding artistic director, David and Lisa Campbell, Ali McGregor and Eddie Perfect, Barry Humphries, Kate Ceberano, Julia Zemiro, Alan Cumming and Tina Turner AM and the nine of them who created the 2023 Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

Paris Combo with Carmen Maria Vega
For an Adelaide audience in raptures the opportunity to see these legends of the musical theatre stage as well as wonderful guests like the amazing Sarah Louise Young doing her hysterically funny channeling of Kate Bush, Black soul singer Thndo and Ethiopian Australian Class of Cabaret Alumni. Philimon Araya and the luminescent Virginia Gay. Adelaidians have a special place for Bob Downes and Anne Wills and their nostalgic tribute to variety night show Adelaide Tonight. Something for everyone! The only international act of the evening was Paris Combo offering a tribute to their late lead singer Belle du Barry. Their music tinkles like splintering glass on the romantic Parisian streets in the lightly falling rain. It is the cabaret Svengalis who steal the show. Kate Ceberano’s rendition of her hit salute to affirmation Brave, backed by a solo trumpet and the Variety Gala Band lifted spirits in appreciative acclamation. Julia Zemiro’s comedic talents and self-deprecating rendition of Moon River attest to her charm and ability to capture an audience’s heart. Eddie Perfect was able to momentarily unnerve this critic with his intently devious “Death to the Critic” from a new musical that this Wunderkind of the original work is currently writing. It’s enough to enforce a good review! And I could have sworn that the chandelier shook and shimmered as Ali McGregor’s spellbinding voice and remarkable operatic range soared to the accompaniment of the clarinet solo. The evening was long but the audience at the Festival Theatre clamoured for more as David Campbell launched into a medley of songs featuring South Australian artists who have gained international fame. Songs by Sia, Glen Horrocks from Little River Band and Masters and Apprentices, sung with fervor by Campbell and backed by Zemiro, Ceberano and Gay concluded an evening of cabaret magic.

Ali McGregor and the Variety Gala Band
 In memory of  founding father Frank Ford and in recognition of the amazing talent that Australia has to offer, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival offers an Icon Award to an artist who has raised the profile of cabaret in this country and internationally. This year the Icon Award was handed by Ali McGregor to Hans, a South Australian son of drag and cabaret. He joins an illustrious company including Reg Livermore and Libby O’Donovan.

As a cabaret Gala in its own right, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s opening event is also a sample of shows to come over the three weeks of the festival. If this evening’s showcase is anything to go by, audiences are in for a rare treat with something for every taste. Whether it be Weimar, pop, rock, jazz or French chanson, audiences can be assured of entertainment at this year’s festival that will move the heart, lift the spirit and fill the air with laughter, tears and joy. 

Photos by Kelly Carpenter