Joey Arias – Slide Cabaret Festival

Cabaret might sound like an outmoded form of entertainment but every example of cabaret gone right is an instant reminder of how vital and alive it can be – how intimate it feels, how increasingly human it is to tell stories, to sing to each other, to shape a narrative and curate a feeling. Slide should be commended for curating a cabaret festival and encouraging touring artists hitting Adelaide’s wildly popular cab fest to take a Sydney detour, because it would be a shame for audiences to miss these shows.

Joey Arias. Photo by Heath McBride.
Joey Arias. Photo by Heath McBride.

The night opened with a festival welcome by Slide’s Artistic Director, Catherine Alcorn, who impressed upon listeners the importance of Sydney catching up to the cabaret culture in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth, and judging by the applause in the room, no one could disagree. Diversity in performance, that mix between big and small productions, and modes of narrative, is crucial to a vibrant and enduring live arts scene, and it’s encouraging to see a push from performance-makers for more.

And we are lucky, because that push for more brought us Joey Arias.

A bona fide cabaret star in New York City, Joey Arias as a drop-dead sexy drag goddess with a completely unbelievable voice; for all Arias parodies her own voice while singing (in the falsetto register, especially), and we laugh, there’s no denying that gorgeous timbre, that Holiday yearning, that slightly-dirty yet wholly welcoming beckoning in tone.

Arias’ rendition of ‘You’ve Changed’ alone made the night more than enjoyable: it made it magical.

It took the audience a few moments to warm up on Friday night. The momentum Joey Arias created was gentle at first, but well-earned – so much so that halfway through the set, the audience was eating out of her hand, or kissing her, or taking pictures of her garters. It might have been a slow start, but the payoff from that was so rewarding – an audience singing together, happy to be in the embrace of music and personality and honest-to-goodness cabaret.

An hour started to feel like too little time to spend with this person, but if it was all we had, well, we’ll be grateful for it.

Joey Arias is all glamor and mystery and husky, dead-on Billie Holiday, but Arias was just Arias, telling her own story of drag and spectacle and puppets and Cirque du Soleil,  and by the end of the show, if you didn’t know Arias, you really wanted to. It didn’t matter that this wasn’t quite “Arias on Holiday” as billed, but was more “Arias on Arias, inspired by Holiday” – that was the least concern anyone could have.  Not when gifted with a sultry cover of “Hard Day’s Night” and an impossibly alluring original number, “Sex is Beautiful”.

For local cabaret fans, Arias picked our own Trevor Ashley out of the crowd in her final number – ‘Be My Baby’ for a bit of a duet. The audience couldn’t have been happier.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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