Carlotta is an Australian icon and an absolute living legend, and she’s not dead yet, darlings. On Thursday November 19th, Carlotta will be performing at the recently refurbished Regal Theatre in her new show I’m Not Dead Yet, Darlings, which will take audiences on a whirlwind journey through her extraordinary life.
I recently caught up with Carlotta to chat about her upcoming performance, her Order of Australia Medal, and her recent rediscovery of an old hobby.
“I’ve taken up another career during lock down: painting. I’ve always done it as a hobby and when I first left school, I used to paint the backdrops for David Jones display windows. I worked in the art department when I was a kid, and I think that’s where it came from. I just took it back up because I didn’t want to just sit around during COVID. I’m a Virgo; I can’t sit still. So, I pulled out the easels and the whole back room is a studio now. I’ve done 67 paintings up until now. I’ve painted different styles. I’ve done cartoons, a history of Les Girls, and familiar places around Kings Cross during the Les Girls period. I’m hoping to have an exhibition in February at a gallery in Sydney the week before Mardi-Gras, if I can get down there.”
Carlotta began her career as an original member of Sydney’s Kings Cross Les Girls cabaret show. Carlotta rose through the ranks of the show and eventually became the show’s compere and its most famous member. Carlotta’s gender reassignment surgery in the early 1970s was not the first procedure in Australia, but due to her celebrity status, it quickly drew publicity. Carlotta has always wanted to be a voice for those in the LGBTIQA+ who don’t have a voice or can’t be heard.
In 1993, Carlotta took the Les Girls show on the road and toured Australia, which was the inspiration behind a classic Australian movie.
“It was the foundation of the story of ‘Priscilla, Queen of The Desert’. We were the first ones to go out on tour with a show like Les Girls. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that sort of bus. I make a joke out of it by saying I had eleven drag queens in a Volkswagen going out bush.”
Earlier this year, Carlotta was deservedly awarded an Order of Australia medal for her service to the performing arts and the LGBTIQA+ community.
“It was an honour, I said in the newspaper at the time. I’m out there in the limelight; I’m very flattered that people thank me and think I’ve done a lot for the gay community, but it’s the people who are behind the scenes, who have no faces, who you don’t see, who do all the hard work. So, I dedicated the award to them. Society still needs a lot of education. Things have got a lot easier, but you can’t educate everybody unfortunately.”
Recently, it was announced that fellow cabaret performer, Trevor Ashley, has secured Australia Council funding to turn the life and story of Carlotta into a musical. Ashley will write the show with leading playwright Tommy Murphy, and Carlotta will consult.
“It’s exciting! I just hope I’m still alive to see it when it’s finished. I was so honoured and it’s great he’s got some money to start it. He approached me about it and I thought it was a fabulous idea. There’s enough storyline there. I am glad Trevor is involved in writing it. I suppose it will be like Priscilla 2.”
Carlotta’s upcoming performance in Adelaide of I’m Not Dead Yet, Darlings is selling fast. Carlotta will be joined by two Adelaide-based performers: her long time friend and former Les Girl, Vonni, and internationally acclaimed cabaret performer and Carlotta’s musical director, Michael Griffiths.
“I’m so excited to be working with Vonni, in fact, she’s more excited than me. She’s over the moon. I adore Vonni and I’m really going to make it her night as much as my night. I hope the dressing room’s big enough, because she will probably bring everything known to man to wear. She has a heart of gold. And I always work with Michael; he’s my top musician. Whenever I do my one woman show, Michael travels with me. He’s so talented.”
Carlotta’s performance will feature classic tunes by Irving Berlin, Rogers and Hart, Stephen Sondheim and her good friend Peter Allen.
“There will be lots of fun stories from me and I’m bringing some wonderful outfits. I’m also bringing three paintings that will be auctioned off on the night. I’ve done one of Vonni and two of me. I’m so thrilled at how well the show is selling.”
Carlotta’s I’m Not Dead Yet, Darlings will be playing at The Regal Theatre for one show only: Thursday 19th November at 8pm. Tickets are selling fast, with some seating options already sold out. Click here to book tickets.
Interview by Ben Stefanoff