With humble beginnings at Brisbane's Sitting Duck Cafe, 'Women In Voice' has 23 years of music and mirth under its belt.
The event secured itself as an iconic part of the Queensland cabaret world, showcasing years and years worth of female vocal talent.
2016's performance is no exception.
Featuring the musical mastery of 'Women In Voice' royalty Alison St Ledger and Leah Cotterell, the event – at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art – is an evening of fun, reflection and education. It is emceed by Babushka Cabaret's Judy Hainsworth, and she does an outstanding job at not only being the glue between each section, but also the comedic relief when things get serious.
Her original pieces include 'I Love To Eat', a song about the constraints of body standards, (“I love carbs, and proteins and fats”) and 'Every Bloody City's Just The Same', a boppy, nostalgic tune recalling some of Judy's best – and worst – moments on the road.
Completing the superlative quintet is Alicia Cush and Bethan Ellsmore (the latter replacing an ill Sahara Beck in this particular performance).
Alicia astounds with her renditions of songs like 'Under The Milky Way' by The Church (the backing vocals by the WIV singers in this are mesmerising) and jazz piece 'Comin' Home Baby'. In 'Comin' Home Baby' she plays a piccolo solo, and has the audience spellbound by her natural ability to work the instrument with ease.
Bethan Ellsmore, a last-minute replacement for young talent Sahara Beck, has a soaring voice that fills the Judith Wright's performance space with faultless highs and stunning lows. A standout track is 'Blue Velvet', where the rest of the girls stand around Bethan and deliver backing vocals to-die-for, and a key change that sends chills down my spine.
Roy Orbison's 'Only The Lonely' is another noteworthy piece in Bethan's set. Her stage presence and smooth singing against the bouncy “dum-dum-dum-dumby-doo-ahhhh, ooh-yeah-yeah-yeah” of the ladies creates a moment in the show that makes you genuinely appreciate the polished arrangement of this music (shout-out to the on-stage band led by the incomparable Steve Russell).
For me, Leah Cotterell and Alison St Ledger are most definitely the highlights of the night. Their knowledge and expertise in the field of 'Women In Voice' truly shows in their solo sets, with music that is immaculately suited to their style and capabilities.
Leah's section is full of personal reflection and hard-hitting vocals, especially in her opening track 'When Malindy Sings'. It's introduced by what is usually a group of trumpets, but in this instance, the group of women behind her, masterfully “ahhh”-ing each trumpet part as Leah makes her way to the microphone. The captivating 'Song Of Joy' and rock classic 'Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again' finish up her set with a bang, and I wonder if the five women expected the sold-out audience to scream “no way, get f*cked, f*ck off” in response to the song's question.
Alison St Ledger brings boogie back with a fun and groovy setlist of songs from the likes of Michael Jackson and The Bee Gees. 'I Love The Nightlife' by Alicia Bridges is hilarious, and Alison's personality shines bright as she effortlessly makes her way through the disco hit before doing a quick-change into John Travolta's iconic 'Saturday Night Fever' get-up and blowing the roof off with the movie's theme song.
The night comes to an end with the feel-good, optimistic 'Peace Train' (“I've been smiling lately, thinking about good things to come”) in which all five women get the chance to showcase their immense talents and prove to Brisbane that they are absolutely worthy of being 'Women In Voice' alumni.
'Women In Voice' 2016 is a fun, heartwarming show with elements of jazz, rock, funk and pop music. For the 23rd year, it demonstrates the exceptional abilities of Brisbane's finest female performers in an event that isn't too deep or too light, but just right.
'Women In Voice' plays at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts until 12 November.