Promised to be the best Cabaret Festival in its nearly 20-ish year history, well if the 2022 Gala was anything to judge by, you may have your expectations found wanting. What should have been Cab-hooray was Cab-astray.
This year’s artistic director is acclaimed singer and Aussie favourite Tina Arena, who brings a strong connection to cabaret, if by name only, having once starred in the musical Cabaret as Sally Bowles.
Reading through the 2022 program, I was less than wowed with the line-up curated by Arena. Filled with many of the same faces the festival rolls out each year, and the absence of an international drawcard, I wondered if I’d flipped into the Fringe guide by mistake.
The evening opened with a pleasingly inclusive welcome to country by Isaac Hannam, whose skills on the digeridoo had me looking for wires hooked to a synth.
Arena opened the show with her recent hit, (Bond theme-esque) Church followed by fan favourite, Burn. Arena, always in perfect voice, did not disappoint. One’s belief did not have to stretch too far into thinking Arena’s couture was sponsored by Glad Double Handle Garden Bags.
Expecting Arena to provide some insight into her role and the festival, she briefly read from a teleprompter then handed over to Master of Ceremonies, Paul Mc Dermott, disappearing for pretty much the rest of the evening. As the harbinger of talent, I expected more.
Onto Mc Dermott. A man who clearly has Miyagi level crowd engagement skills, should have fronted with a smile and classy repartee, but rapidly deviated down a self-indulgent, foul mouthed, path insulting anything that wasn’t bolted down in the quest for a laugh.
I ask, “How many Paul Mc Dermott’s does is take to be rude, crass, inappropriate offensive?” Just one! And to Mc Dermott’s plus one, Glenn Moorhouse, in my finest Maggie Smith voice, “My dear, one simply does not wear rock and roll attire to a gala evening!”
R&B loving Gary Pinto followed Arena with a number from his show, The Songs and Times of Sam Cook. For a “multi-platinum” performer, I was left shocked by the absence of any diction. In contrast, Pinto was followed by 2021, Class of Cabaret graduate and teenager, Kieran Beasley, who braved technical difficulties and his first full Festival Centre experience, to sing with fine voice and every word finely enunciated.
Catherine Alcorn and Michael Griffiths delivered a vignette from their 30 Something with Alcorn proceeding to provide a new take on Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight. Given Griffiths’ vocal prowess, I was looking forward to a snappy duet as a chaser to their cocaine and cheese, sadly this wish was unfulfilled.
The evening delivered parcels from the more eclectic side of the spectrum with Sophie Koh and Creep and commissioned piece, Go On by Victoria Falconer. These acts, combined with legendary Marcia Hines singing Love Me Like a Rock from her act The Gospel According to Marcia almost rounded the evening leaving me feeling like I’d been to a memorial service rather than a joyous festival launch.
Moments of sparkle in the evening came from Michaela Burger, Amelia Ryan and Michael Griffiths with a medley form their festival contribution, Simply Brill. Burger’s Natural Woman was up there with Aretha’s for punch and pizazz!
There was no prize for guessing which show patrons were going to be clicking on later in the evening in a ticket buying frenzy, that being Libby O’Donovan’s! O’Donovan has pulled together an act of musical numbers about – wait for it – nuns from TV, film and pop culture.
I know, it sounds like a plan to fail right, but the brief medley she served from her show, Sister Elizabeth, was loud, fun and pleasantly entertaining. If you plan on seeing one show this Cab Fest, lock this one in. Even if only to see how she plans on keeping her rooster sized hair-do under a habit.
Credit must be given to the band led my Mark Ferguson. The varied styles had them leaping seamlessly from swing to church organ in a single bound.
Arena states, “Cabaret is escapism of the most fabulous kind”. And boy, couldn’t we all use a little escapism after the year that has been?” Very true Tina – but I do hold my doubts that this season will provide the necessary fodder in the quantities required.
Adelaide Cabaret Festival Gala 2022
Festival Theatre – Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Performance: Friday 25 March 2022
The 2022 Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs 10 – 25 June. For more information and full program, visit: www.adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au for details.
Image: Tina Arena performs at the 2022 Adelaide Cabaret Festival Gala – photo by Sia Duff
Review: Jeff Lang