Cabaret Festival Review: Reuben Kaye: Live and Intimate

Kaye defines cabaret.


Presented by Adelaide Cabaret Festival

Reviewed 17th June, 2022

Tonight, Reuben Kaye gave a masterclass in the art of cabaret. His generous performance begins well before he enters the stage. Like a cross between a drag show M.C. and an arch but welcoming maitre d’, Kaye mingles with his audience for 15 minutes before the start of the show proper.  (As if it were ever proper!) Chatting, flirting and showing patrons to their seats enables Kay to set the mood of his house. 

Kaye’s performance persona is secure, accessible and huge. Clad in a striking black organdie-and-overalls affair with plunging vee-neckline, his tall, lean figure, topped with a Lady Di haircut, is easy to spot anywhere in the room. There’s a long switch of brunette hair attached to the end of his hand-held radio mic; he uses it shamelessly. Kaye’s spoken voice is a strong, flexible instrument. He sings six songs during the show, displaying vibrant acting skills, enviable vocal range and a musician’s understanding of genre. Each song is carefully reimagined. He sings Carole King’s wistful Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow… but in a minor key throughout. This extended, edgy and emotionally disturbing version was alone sufficient to confirm his musical intelligence and theatrical sensitivity.   

Did I mention that Reuben Kay is funny? With humour ranging from bath-house to Parliament House, Kaye’s quick, bright intellect tweaks fun from multiple levels simultaneously. Half the audience chortles knowingly, while the other half smiles.  We’re all in on the joke at some level. While never diminishing his queenliness, Kaye’s humour is inclusive, broad and warm. He spends much more of his time on the floor with us than on the stage; his improvisatory one-liners and interactions with the audience illustrate his skilful command of the space.

“I stand on land that, unlike me, has never been ceded” (a pretty smart homonym line), then

Kaye delivers a passionate and sincere Welcome To Country.  It wasn’t at the start of the show. He didn’t read its formulaic words from a card. It wasn’t recorded. He asks us why artists don’t make the Welcome To Country statement uniquely their own instead of playing a standard recording at the start of the show. It’s a good point.

Kaye’s pianist is studious-looking, sportscoat-clad Shanon D. Whitelock. More accomplice than mere accompanist, Whitelock unassumingly builds and maintains a sonic framework for over an hour of talking and singing. A musician/composer nationally known for his work in theatre, film and music, Whitelock provides the perfect musical and emotional foil to Kaye’s risky flamboyance. Together, they command the room.

Kaye, who is about to take his work to London, Edinburgh Festival and Berlin, did one show in this year’s Cabaret Festival. If you weren’t in the room with us tonight, you missed a memorable experience created by two consummate artists whose greatest artistic achievement is their uncanny ability to look as if they’re doing nothing special while provoking and entertaining everyone.

Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson

Rating out of 5: 5

Season Ended – One Night Only

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