Adelaide Cabaret Festival opens in spectacular style

Now in its tenth year and claiming the title of the biggest cabaret event in the world, the 2010 Adelaide Cabaret Festival launched itself upon a full and glitz-hungry audience at the Variety Gala Performance on Friday, sweeping away their winter blues.

Led by the warm wit and charm of  Host Todd McKenney – who kept the proceedings at a cracking pace – the Gala was a tantalizing smorgasbord of some of the acts on offer, legends and newcomers alike.

Beginning with an explosion of red-sequins, multi-award losing performer Trevor Ashley channeled Liza (On an E), in a high-octane and rendition of Ms Minelli’s signature tune, Cabaret, complete with high-camp references to booze. Drugs, and Liza’s mum.  A perfect beginning.

Ennio Marchetto – A One Man Living Cartoon – followed. This Venetian genius has been wowing crowds around the world for a long time now, and his rollercoaster routine, transforming himself into a long line of our best and worst-loved musical celebrities (one moment Kylie, the next the Singing Nun) was side-splittingly funny, and awe-inspiring in it’s brilliance and simplicity.

The Thinking Woman’s Heart-throb, Earl Okin – he of the velvet voice and horn-rimmed spectacles – charmed the audience with his seductive wit and puckering lips in a rendition of My Room.  By now, the winter chills were all but forgotten, the audience were well and truly thawed, and putty in Okin’s palm.

Joint winners of the 2009 Sydney Cabaret Showcase, Elizabeth Cousemacker and Tom Sharah followed, proving that the future of Australian cabaret is in very good hands indeed.

Cousemacker, paying tribute to Gertrude Lawrence, belted out a finely nuanced Kurt Weill’s ‘Jenny’, from Lady In the Dark, whilst Sharah (whose shows were sold out well before festival opening) bewitched us with a chillingly funny version of ‘Every Breath You Take’, segueing into Sondheim’s ‘Losing My Mind’. These are performers to watch.

As promised by Todd McKenney, red-headed Marika Aubrey did indeed “sing the crap” out of  ‘Meadowlark’ – Stephen Schwartz’s most requested show-tune.  The winner of the 2007 Sydney Cabaret Showcase, Aubrey is blessed with one mighty voice, and a confidence that belies her newcomer status.

Todd McKenney’s introduction to the next performer was a genuinely touching moment. As a child, he was taken to New York by his mum, and saw (o lucky he) the original and ground-breaking production of A Chorus Line on Broadway.  It was a life-defining moment for McKenney,  and now, a life-time later, he had the joy of welcoming onstage the Tony Award-winning star of A Chorus Line, Donna McKechnie.

McKechnie is a true, bona-fide Broadway legend – slick, charming, and warm-hearted.  She has that innate ability to embrace an audience  just by walking onto the stage.  Known as “triple threat”, she can sing, dance and act every last morsel from a tune, which she did,  performing the opener from My Musical Comedy Life.

Australia’s only Unusualist, Raymond Crowe (see his The Shadows on Youtube) wowed his home-town audience with magic and humor – bringing new meaning to audience participation.

Mark Nadler – the cabaret Festival’s court-jester – swamped the stage like a tsunami of hutzpah, putting the hoot in hootenanny, and playing blues piano as we’ve never heard it played before.

Australia’s very own legendary lady of musical theatre, Caroline O’Connor, svelte and stylish in figure-hugging gold and plumage, gave us a dose of class with a steely version of ‘Roxanne’, proving yet again why she has the reputation of being one of the world’s finest musical theatre’s performers.

Brassy and classy iOTA  was next, performing one thrilling moment from  his rock and roll cabaret, Smoke and Mirrors, complete with ukulele (I was hooked immediately), a devilish grin and thrillingly dangerous stage persona, not to mention a smokin’ hot band.  Sultry and enigmatic, iOTA  was very much the wild card of the evening, a performer of an entirely different flavor and energy that dazzled and seduced the audience to rapturous applause.

Natalie Cole – show-business royalty, Nat’s little girl, nine Grammy Awards, need I say more? –  elegant, cool, a well-oiled machine, took to the stage as the zenith of the nights proceedings.  It is an extraordinary thing to watch a performer of Cole’s caliber do what she does best.  She brings a glow onto the stage that has nothing to do with stage lighting. “It”, star-power, emanates from every pore.  She barely spoke – albeit a brief, warm intro, before  serenading us with a sweet  and soulful version of L-O-V-E, accompanied by Josh Nelson on piano.

Just when one though the night could not get any better, Todd McKenney was joined onstage by his Mother’s tap-dancing Top Gals from the Paradise Performers Academy, Gold Coast.  Sequins, satin and high kicks…a perfect finale to a great night out.

Let the festival begin!!

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Sean Riley is a guest writer for AussieTheatre.com