Cabaret Festival

Cabaret Festival Review: The Variety Gala

If the acts featured in this year’s gala are anything to go by, Artistic Director Virginia Gay has certainly gathered one of the tastiest cabaret smorgasbords you could possibly imagine

If the acts featured in this year’s gala are anything to go by, Artistic Director Virginia Gay has certainly gathered one of the tastiest cabaret smorgasbords you could possibly imagine
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Presented by: Adelaide Cabaret Festival

Reviewed: 7 June, 2024

The highly anticipated 2024 Adelaide Cabaret Festival has finally opened. Every year, The Variety Gala gives Cabaret enthusiasts a teaser of the acts to feature in the year’s program to whet their appetites. If the acts featured in this year’s gala are anything to go by, Artistic Director Virginia Gay has certainly gathered one of the tastiest cabaret smorgasbords you could possibly imagine. 

After a moving Welcome to Country by Isaac Hannam, Virginia Gay entered in the only way she possibly could — clambering out of a giant white bathtub in the most stunning, flowing evening gown. Gay opened with Adelaide, a number that showcased her love for our city and the festival itself. If you were still uncertain as to why Gay was chosen as the Artistic Director for this year’s festival, you only had to see her effervescence when talking about each act and the Cabaret Festival to see her love and connection to cabaret.

The Gala was packed with a delicious cross-section of what is to come over the next three weekends. Opening the first half was Fascinating Aida, who are celebrating 40 years in the industry, bringing the house down with their witty number Prisoner of Gender. Bert LaBonté, from Swing on This, turned the heat up with his smooth voice and charismatic charm with a steamy version of Let’s Get it On. Bringing her show Actually, Good to the Cabaret Festival this year, Gillian Cosgriff performed Presents — a song that’s lyrics reflected every thought process you go through when you receive a gift and you’re not quite sure why you were given it. Adelaide’s very own Millicent Sarre, a mentor for the 2024 Class of Cabaret, was really cooking with I Can Cook Too from On The Town. Flo & Joan gave audiences a snippet of their show Now Playing with a dry yet tasty number, Lady in the Woods, that had the audience howling with laughter. Jess Hitchcock’s remarkable voice and performance of Suspended in Time, left audiences spellbound. Hot tip — get tickets to her show A Fine Romance. Rounding out the first half was the king of cabaret, New York legend, Mark Nadler with I Love a Piano. Nadler’s show Hootenanny is the opening weekend’s late-night offering.

Opening the second half was none-other than Reuben Kaye with I Want Ya. Kaye held the audience in the palm of his hand with his banter and unique views on the world. Kaye has no filter and says everything we are thinking. Fittingly so, Kaye was awarded this year’s Cabaret Icon and, perhaps for the first time ever, he seemed speechless upon receiving this esteemed award.

Following Kaye, Gabbi Bolt and Matthew Predny wowed the audience with the Encore Duet from Murder for Two — 4 hands, one grand piano…you needed to see it to believe it. Another spicy tip for this year’s Cabaret Festival — Cassie Hamilton and her show A Transgender Woman on the Internet, Crying. Hamilton’s performance of the number Falling in Love With Someone made this reviewer want to rush out and get tickets to see this show. Stunning. Living legend Rhonda Burchmore almost stole the evening with her powerful performance of Moving The Line from her new show Tall Tales. Burchmore is a master of story-telling through song. Christie Whelan Browne joined forces with Virginia Gay for You’re The One That I Want. Whelan Browne is appearing in two shows this year, Hopelessly Devoted and Life In Plastic — both should be high on your ‘must see’ list. Closing the night was Mahalia Barnes with her electrifying performance of the Tina Turner hit, River Deep Mountain High. Barnes’ show, Mahalia Barnes & the Soul Mates, has only one performance left this Sunday.

The Variety Gala band, featuring Cam Blokland (guitar), Josh Chenoweth (trumpet), Ciara Ferguson (keyboard), Jack Degenhart (alto saxophone and clarinet), Vashti Tyrell (tenor saxophone and flute) Ruby Mensforth (trombone), Nick Sinclair (bass) and Ben Todd (drums) provided the perfect accompaniment for all the acts. The band and evening was expertly musically directed by Shanon D Whitelock, who also played the grand piano.

The Variety Gala is one of the first shows at the Cabaret Festival to sell out, and you can understand why. If you are struggling to work out what shows across the three weekends to see, it is the perfect way to get a taste and then to rush out and get your tickets. My only problem is that I wish there was more than one of me so I could see them all. 

Reviewed by Ben Stefanoff

Photo credit: Claudio Raschella

Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: ended

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