Back in May I wrote about the launch of the program for the Melbourne Cabaret Festival 2014. If I remember correctly, I expressed the sentiment that if the performers on that night were any indication, there was a lot to be excited about. Last night’s Opening Gala, held in the comfortable and crowded confines of Chapel off Chapel, confirmed my suspicions as a veritable smorgasbord of talent was on display, well and truly kicking off the Festival in a big way.
Mr. Sister Candice McQueen (London star Spanky) presided over the night with song and cheeky banter, and an absolute treat for Stonnington Mayor Adrian Stubbs (although eliciting a few horrified expressions from his wife!) who happened to be in the audience. For over two hours us “cabaret bitches” were kept entertained, as Candice introduced us to but a few of the many fine shows this year’s Festival has to offer.
Our first performers for the evening where Ginger and Tonic (Laura Burzacott, Carena Khoo, Jane Patterson and Emma Rule), four single girls, Desperate and Dateless. An acapella extravaganza, I was particularly delighted with their deliciously demented cover of Halo by Beyonce.
Alana Conway once again took to the stage, bringing forth her musical tribute to Eva Cassidy with renditions of Songbird – from which her show takes it’s name – and Cyndi Lauper classic Time After Time. She joked, “I couldn’t learn the guitar, so I wanted something simple. Like the harp, much to my parent’s horror.”
Michael Dalley was up next, performing several songs from his show Rituals of Art and Hatred. Described very aptly by Candice as “our own Noel Coward”, Dalley’s songs are rife with wit and flamboyance, despite, in the words of Geraldine Quinn, him “looking like a financial advisor.” I particularly enjoyed his tribute to new age décor with Shit Art of the Mornington Peninsula, and happened to overhear a couple behind me between desperately struggling for air croak out “it’s so true!”.
How to describe Melissa Langton? “’Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ set to a soundtrack by Leonard Cohen, The Dresden Dolls, Burt Bacharach, Jacques Brel, Loudon Wainwright and Johnny Cash” could not be a better indicator of what is in store for you. A powerful voice, and very dark comedy.
Amanda Harrison brought the first half to a close. A jazzy rendition of Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead dispelled immediately any illusions she might be once again defying gravity. Tongue-in-cheek humour combined with a voice that could raise the roof before bringing it down, Up Close and Reasonably Personal is exactly that.
As the audience filed out to get another drink from the bar, the excitement in the air was palpable, and the room as filled with happy chatter. Opinions were divided, couples debating who was funnier, who had the better voice. Isn’t that once of the most fantastic things about cabaret though; the diversity. You can never be sure what you’ll get, but you know it’ll be great.
From the moment she staggered onto stage in character as Lucille Ball, you could tell Elise McCann was onto something golden. Everybody Loves Lucy is a loving tribute to one of the first ladies of American comedy, brimming with the wacky, fearless and endearing spirit of Ball herself.
The Beautiful Losers are back, Despite Popular Demand, exposing once again the dark and depraved underbelly of cabaret. Their songs range from warnings of the hipster serial killer, to a song about loving your cat that turns dirty really quickly. Subtle that song is not!
Geraldine Quinn formed the penultimate act, presenting from her show – Sunglasses at Night: the 80s Apocalypse Sing Along Cabaret – “the only song I can remember the chords to,” and also the song for which the show is named; Corey Hart’s 1983 classic Sunglasses at Night. And while she did remember the chords, neither the audience nor herself could quite remember the chorus. Curse you, enunciation!
It’s been a long journey for Matthew Mitcham; the only diver ever in Olympic history to produce a perfect 10 point score from all judges, winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but behind the smiles and awards, personal demons were battering at the young man’s soul. Twists and Turns is based on his recent autobiography of the same name, and is an intensely close look at the highs – some quite literal – and lows of his life. And his final number, accompanied by the entire ensemble produced tumultuous and well deserved applause from the audience.
The Melbourne Cabaret Festival will run from 19 June to 6 July. For more information – especially about the shows – as well as ticketing, see their website. All of the shows mentioned above are at Chapel off Chapel, some of them even tonight! So go! Buy tickets now!