There was a time, back in the 1980’s, when Sydney used to be the centre of the cabaret universe in Australia. That was the time of the Tilbury Hotel and The Sydney Cabaret Convention where cabaret artists competed for the opportunity to appear in the New York Cabaret Convention.
Trevor Ashley was one of the Cabaret Convention winners who found himself performing in New York. He has since established himself as one of the country’s best known cabaret performer/entrepreneurs.
Then Sydney dropped the ball. Adelaide picked it up and ran with it, establishing the Adelaide Cabaret Festival which has become the biggest celebration of cabaret on the planet. Consequently, Melbourne and Brisbane have established their own cabaret festivals, but it was not until this year, through the initiative of that same Trevor Ashley, that Sydney has again entered the field with the inaugural Sydney Cabaret Festival, curated by Ashley.
Running over two weeks, Sydney Cabaret Festival Gala at the City Recital Hall was the opening event, compered by Ashley in full drag queen mode. Backed by Michael Tyack on piano, and a small, classy band, Ashley set the tone with ear-shattering renditions of Everything’s Coming Up Roses and Let Me Entertain You.
After welcoming guests and confiding that he had structured the show as a sampler of the acts performing during the festival, and was particularly pleased to have attracted back home several Australian cabaret performers who had built successful cabaret careers overseas including, from London, songstress Alison Jiear, from New York, Kim David Smith and from Europe, Reuben Kaye.
Cheeky magician, Lily Martinez didn’t need lyrics to raise eyebrows as she demonstrated her dexterity with a little red handkerchief. Elegantly attired funnymen, Jonathan Biggins and Phil Scott restored decorum with their brilliant expose of the art of the Broadway musical from their new show, No Cabaret For Old Men.
Then, befeathered, bespangled and describing himself as the “Lamborghini of Cabaret”, Reuben Kaye, flashing a smile which would do justice to a white pointer, exploded on to the stage with a taster of his show.
New Yorker, Brian Nash, continued the Broadway theme by singing all the roles in the finale of Les Miserables simultaneously, and later, dueted with Broadway belter, Natalie Joy Johnson who was making her first Australian appearance singing a very loud version of the Bobby Freeman song, Do You Want To Dance followed by a mash up of big ballads beloved of cabaret performers.
Michael Tyack accompanied vocalist Alison Jiear for a preview of her Ella Fitzgerald tribute with a swinging version of the Gershwin jazz standard, Oh Lady Be Good, followed by a sublime arrangement of the Michel Legrand / Alan and Marilyn Bergman song Papa Can You Hear Me?
Sexy Kim David Smith literally dazzled the audience in his mirrored costume to preview his Kylie Minogue tribute followed by comedy duo, Frisky and Mannish who offered a clever masterclass on cabaret duets.
Suave Tim Draxl was accompanied by Daniel Edmonds for his stylish re-imaginings of two cabaret classics, Gershwin’s The Man I Love and My Man from his new show Love is a Drag, following which Trevor Ashley ushered all the artists back on stage for their finale bow.
Then the piece de resistance – Ashley introduced Broadway Legend, Jennifer Holliday, who brought the audience to its feet with a stunning performance of her signature song, And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going from the musical, Dream Girls.
It was a magic moment guaranteed to send those who had not already done so, scrambling to secure tickets for her two concerts later in the festival, and a terrific finale to an entertaining showcase of the goodies in store over the two weeks of the inaugural Sydney Cabaret Festival.
Sydney Cabaret Festival Gala
City Recital Hall, 2 Angel Place, Sydney
Performance: Friday 5 July 2019
The Sydney Cabaret Festival continues to 14 July 2019. For more information, visit: www.sydneycabaretfest.com for details.
Image: Jennifer Holliday – photo by John McRae
Review: Bill Stephens OAM