The 8th annual Melbourne Cabaret Festival blasted off last Tuesday at Chapel Off Chapel, showcasing die-hard favourites of the Melbourne Cabaret scene such as Dolly Diamond, award-winning artists Ginger and Tonic, rising star Pisca, Queen of Broadway 'Ethel Merman' and Queen of Blues, 'Joni Mitchell'. The Gala Opening rocked to the infectious, upbeat, rhythms of Motown and resounded with the 60s love anthems of Cilla Black that have become part of our collective DNA.
Dolly Diamond's kicked off the show with yes, you guessed it 'Hello Dolly', a sure way to pump up the Cabaret-savvy Melbourne crowd. Dolly, the Festival Director, compared Tuesday night's show, working the crowd with her dry wit, showbiz diva melodrama and cheeky camp humour. She introduced professionals and emerging talent with grace, eloquence and pride, noting the 2017 drawcard: 'all acts are home-grown, Melbourne talent'.
Danielle O'Malley is Cilla Black. Be transported to Liverpool in the 1960s and re-live her greatest hits.
The Cabaret genre is both broad and flexible. However, what unites cabaret as a style, is 'theme' and the links that connect each song. Variety is assured as each professional musician sings the work of their nominated artists, diva or style, and inter-connects songs with information, story-telling or anecdotes. This year, it is the emerging artists who are contributing original composition and oftentimes left-of-field conceptual work and for this, deserve enthusiastic support. Many of these young artists are students, and the Victorian College of the Arts is particularly well-represented. You can expect creative experimentation from these artists as they attempt to 'brand themselves' and find their soul-art. My 'hot-tip' is to see 'Pisca': who would have thought that Melbourne could be so avant-garde?
You're My World
Danielle O'Malley is Cilla Black. She takes you back to Liverpool, maintains her accent throughout both the Gala and her own show which you can see from 6.30pm Tuesday 27th June until Sat 1st July. Cilla began with the early-release Lennon/McCartney classic, 'Step Inside Love'. And, slowly, step-by-step, she tells her own story within a soundscape of the 1960s 'British invasion'. 'You're My World' is the world of Cilla Black, the buck-toothed red-head who broke down class barriers. 'Anyone Who Had a Heart' and 'You're My World' showcased Danielle's phenomenal pipes. These are hits that 'we know'- but many may not know that it was Cilla who brought these No. 1s to the world.
Walk Like A Man
Richard Swanson, Vincent Hooper and Barnaby Reiter are 'Australia's Boys of Motown'. A trio that mainly works on cruise ships and tours internationally, are thrilled to be at at this year's festival singing Motown classics. Their harmonies are pitch-perfect, and the dance moves are style-authentic and impeccably rehearsed. Richard Swanson, designer of this Motown show, has done a superb job linking songs and managing the selection: their show balances banter, information and story-telling.
Australia's Boys of Motown gave the crowd exactly what they came for: Motown hits to which they sing-along and dance. In their Gala night set, Vincent's falsetto was truly remarkable.
Australia's Boys of Motown exude a 'pop-suave' and an 'R & B groove' which is the historical backdrop that unites the style, as opposed to hits strictly produced by the 'Motown label'. What all of Motown songs have in common, is an upbeat, feel-good, vibe that is liberating. Barnaby Reiter believes that which unites the style is: 'the chord progressions. It's distinctive even when the rhythm changes from syncopation to strict tempo 1st beat emphasis.' The boys of Motown opened their Gala set with Temptation's 'Get Ready', and chose to shine a light on Vincent's falsetto voice that is the hallmark sound of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons ('Walk Like A Man'). They closed with the party classic, 'Oh What A Night'. Australia's Boys of Motown had audiences stomping for more.
Who is the Queen of Broadway?
There are a few queens of notoriety in this festival, but the Queen of Broadway is- and will always be- Ethel Merman. It is wonderful to see how festival organisers have catered for diverse audiences, demographics, age-range and tastes.
The Queen of Broadway is Ethel Merman. Operatic counter-tenor Jon Jackson played it 'straight' for the first half of his show, then added hilarious modern and high-camp twists after interval.
Jon Jackson, acclaimed operatic counter-tenor, impersonated Ethel in full aplomb (and a hair-perfect wig). The Ethel Merman Story reincarnates the original 'diva', with true Broadway glitz and glamour, presenting the rich musical and personal histories of Broadway and the cabaret scene that it continues to inspire. Even though I did not know Ethel Merman and her role in musical literature, I knew of the songs: not only have there been countless cover versions over time but the titles and lyrics from these musicals are embedded in our language and culture. Jon Jackson has the vocal range and training to carry off the Merman magic, even managing to intonate the sound of the early gramophone in his delivery. Songs he chose to premier included: 'Everything Coming Up Roses', 'Just A Lady With A Song', and a punchy sing-a-long medley of 'I Got The Sun In The Morning'/'You're The Top'/'You Can't Get A Man With A Gun'/'It's De-lovely' and 'Doin' What Comes Naturally'.
The Lady Is A Tramp
Dolly opened Act 11 with 'The Lady Is A Tramp', which is the title of her own show that runs in the second week from June 27th to Sat July 1st. Dolly is a unique artist in the festival because of her ability to engage a crowd and improvise- you can expect a lot of banter, back-chat, audience inclusion and an inspired sing-a-long. At the Gala evening, Dolly Diamond won over a new, younger crowd with her brazen comedy. She has earned her star billing as 'the face' of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival and will once again host the Closing Night Cabaret on Sunday July 2nd.
Festival Director Dolly Diamond incited the crowd to reach dizzy heights with robust sing-a-longs. She is a hilarious compare and gracious host.
An extraordinary newcomer is welcomed to the stage. Meet Pisca, aka Cameron Taylor, who combines physical theatre, cabaret song with mime and comedy. His show is probably best described as 'surreal theatrics': imagine (if you can) a young man making his show debut as a half-naked duck who is birthed on stage when his egg-shell head is cracked opened. There are baby squawking sounds and shy recoil at his public exposure before he breaks into an Edith Piaf number, clearly referencing the European's Diva nickname, 'the little bird'. Just when you settle into the streets of Paris, this little duck finds his male voice and croons, 'Fly Me To The Moon'. Pisca is the discovery of the festival and is a must-see- who can pass up the opportunity to be serenaded by a baby duck?
For Love Or Money
'Ginger and Tonic: For Love or Money' picked-up the trail. This is an all-girl troupe celebrating the compositional skills, solo vocals and troupe harmonies of Jane Patterson, Rebecca Moore, Danielle O'Malley (Cilla Black) and Laura Burzacott. They received a Green Room Award for Best Musical Direction for 'Desperate and Dateless', the theme of this cabaret is how to make money- or #badarsebusinessbitches. Their opening number of 'Eye Of The Tiger' highlighted a funky base-vocal rhythm as part of the 4-part-harmony, a signature that was carried through the other two tracks, original compositions by Jane Patterson, 'Shannon Bennett, Come And Get It' and 'Freeze Your Ovaries'.
'Ginger and Tonic: For Love or Money' played in the 1st week of the Festival. Content-wise, this show would seem to appeal to younger, female audiences (under 30). The all-girl troupe is known for their impressive 4-part harmonies and original compositions.
Another festival Queen, Queenie van de Zandt closed the Gala event with a selection from her acclaimed show, 'Blues: The Joni Mitchell Story'. One phrase sung and it was clear why she has been titled 'cabaret chanteuse': Queenie delivers emotive, raw and vocally charged performances. She is a natural interpreter, and is engaging as Joni Mitchell, whose story she related in the 1st person. Queenie included recordings of Joni and interviews about Joni, animating the musician's life and the colourful days of counter-culture. , 'Blues: The Joni Mitchell Story' is not just for the Woodstock generation and born-again hippies: as you journey through the Joni chronicles you begin to appreciate her impact as a composer, poet and songwriter, and can recognise just how many of her classics have re-recorded and re-interpreted by contemporary musicians (e.g., KD Lang). 'Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell' runs from 7pm Tues 27th June to Saturday 1st July. Queenie's song choice of 'Woodstock', 'A Case Of You' and 'Big Yellow Taxi' illustrated the poetry, politics and personality of Joni. Tickets to this show are selling fast.
'Cabaret chanteuse' Queenie van de Zandt gave one of the most powerful and authentic vocals of the Gala Opening. You can see Queenie in the second week: she has earned her star billing.
It is once again thanks to Dolly Diamond that the very talented and versatile back-up musicians were duly honoured at this Gala event. Throughout the evening, backing vocals were performed by Tash York, with Shannon Whitelock on piano, Sonja Horbelt on drums and Tamara Murphy on bass. Jon Jackson's (Ethel Merman) Musical Director Greg Riddell joined him on piano while musicians Gerard Assi (lead guitar) and Jo To (bass) accompanied Queenie van de Zandt.
The Place to Be – But Get There Early
In addition to these Gala Opening acts, the Melbourne Cabaret Festival also includes 'Woman' (Amanda Colliver, Ella Burns, Tess Branchflower, Jessica Sherman and Ashlee Clement), 'Dolls' by Babushka Cabaret, 'Put The Blame On Mame' (Willow Sizer an her hot jazz trio), 'Cyrens- The Songbook of Cy Coleman' performed by a four-piece band and the 'dangerously close' three-part harmony of Amanda Harrison, Chelsea Renton-Gibb and Melissa Langton, and a show that celebrates all that is 'millennial' called 'It's Not Me, It's Lou'. The Festival runs from Tuesday June 20-Sunday 2nd of July.
The Gala Opening was decked out with cabaret-style seating. Most shows in the main auditorium follow this trend, while shows in the loft have tiered concert seating. In the first week, the festival has attracted large crowds, so be you'd be well-advised to get there before starting time and to book on-line. Lack of parking in this area is another reason to get there early. Chapel Off Chapel has a bar and you can take drinks into performance venues.
Be part of the 8th annual Melbourne Cabaret Festival which runs from June 20th-July 2nd at Chapel Off Chapel. Parking can be tricky- so get there early.