The House Is Live Opening Night Adelaide Cabaret Festival Review

L-R: Meow Meow and Paul Capsis perform at the Opening Night of 2019 Adelaide Cabaret Festival. L-R: Meow Meow and Paul Capsis perform at the Opening Night of 2019 Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Image © Claudio Raschella

Adelaide Cabaret Festival's new Artistic Director, Julia Zemiro, rocked the house with her cabaret vision at the Opening Night of the Festival (7 June).

Julia’s reign as queen of cabaret in Adelaide was felt before the first note had been sung, as festival goers walked the red carpet into the foyer of one of Adelaide’s most iconic rock venues, the Thebarton Theatre, instead of the traditional Festival Theatre.

The adjacent laneway bar, where the audience mingled before the show, is plastered with gig posters of Placebo and Pete Murray; the venue's walls have been signed by touring superstars, including Kurt Cobain.

What better place, then, to launch a cabaret festival that will appeal to not only Kurt Weill listeners, but also Kurt Vile fans; a festival that’s a little bit Weimar, a little bit Johnny Marr.

Before the evening was out, the famous Thebarton walls would echo with hip hop beats, jazz standards, cabaret ballads and even The Angel’s famous call-and-response pub classic, ‘Will I Ever See Your Face Again?', sung by a semi-nude burlesque performer.

Admittedly, there was slightly more hesitation than normal before the audience responded to the query. Can we do that? Is that allowed at a cabaret show?

At this year’s Festival anything goes, all is allowed. The amalgam of styles accepted beneath the banner of cabaret was demonstrated during the riotous Reuben Kaye’s first number, which climaxed with a version of Radiohead’s 'Creep' segueing into Sondheim’s ‘Losing My Mind’, famously sung by Liza Minelli.

Speaking of Minelli, the show was opened with a satirical duet by Julia and new State Theatre Company of SA Artistic Director Mitchell Butel, whose show about Minelli’s mother Judy Garland, ‘End Of The Rainbow’, is winning rave reviews – click here to read our review.

The involvement of the State’s peak theatre company in the Cabaret Festival, and its foray into musical theatre, is another sign that change is afoot. While the Festival, by appointing Julia Zemiro, is clearly aiming to attract a younger audience, cabaret faithful have not been excluded.

A duo of new voices from Melbourne – Jewish jazz chanteuse Alma Zygier and roots-rock frontwoman Nkechi Anele – demonstrated this year’s Festival has both ends of the spectrum covered.

Alma, like Nora Jones, Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone, possesses a voice from eras past. Her versions of ‘Little Yellow Basket’ and ‘The Trolley Song’ could have emanated from an antique phonograph.

Nkechi, on the other hand, is well known to youth audiences as the host of triple j’s 'Roots 'n All' programme. Even she had something for older generation too, as she sang Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’.

Nkechi’s vocal gymnastics were matched by comedian and musical theatre actress Queenie van de Zandt, who effortlessly transitioned from pianissimo to forte on ‘Candyland’, then with the same ease had the audience in hysterics with her tales about internet dating.

Closing out the evening was 2019 Adelaide Cabaret Icon inductee Meow Meow, who was one of festival pioneer Frank Ford’s favourite conversationalists.

Meow, as always, combined her meticulous musicality with spectacular audience interaction, before paying tribute to the late Frank Ford with a cover of Patty Griffin’s ‘Be Careful’, while lit solely by her smartphone torch.

It’s still early days, but it looks like Julia Zemiro is not just a RockWiz, but a CabaretWiz too.


2019 Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs until 22 June.



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