Catching up with songbird alchemist Ali McGregor

Ali McGregor, billed as the Opera Australia soprano who ran away with the circus and fresh from a starring role in Club Swizzle at the Opera House, is bringing her worldwide cabaret success, Alchemy, to Sydney’s Hayes Theatre.

Claire Condry caught the show for AussieTheatre in Perth in 2013, and said: “McGregor’s mode is to take a song, standard or pop, and shake it by the tail, and reinvent it into something else. Recognizable, but changed by “alchemy” into another animal of entirely different spots.

Ali McGregor
Ali McGregor

“Boy, she is smart! And she is so vocally versatile that she carries it off superbly.”

Eleanor Wood caught up with McGregor on the fly, to talk about her unique show, just as we prepare to welcome it back to Sydney.

On Alchemy

Well the show has actually been touring for a few years, and it’s a mix of my two great loves, the jazz music I sang as a teenager and trashy pop.

On her roots in opera and how it sprang to cabaret:

“I started singing in school, and was lucky to have a music teacher who encouraged me. I sang jazz, sang in choirs and then at uni. I always did AMEB exams and I think that’s how I became interested in opera. And then I was lured into the dark world of cabaret.”

On onstage mishaps (or lack thereof):

“This is boring but I don’t think I’ve had one.”

On what makes her laugh:

“So many things. My children, people you work with. Wise and witty people. Absolute fools who are true to themselves. Cabaret should be an open and generous place with people who are open and generous.”

On her creative process:

“It might start with notes on my iphone. I did a mash-up of “Cry me a River” (the jazz song), and then combined it with the Justin Timberlake song and I realized I had an equal reverence for both. But some songs are sacred and I wouldn’t touch a song if I had nothing new to bring.”

On not hating her ‘day’ jobs, even though she was probably supposed to:

“Again this is really boring but I’ve always loved my other jobs. I loved being a waitress. I suppose being a temp waitress in Manchester was pretty hideous. Schleppiong about on the NightBus with a twisted ankle.”

Later, she says if she wasn’t a performer she’d be a waitress. “I loved it. Maybe I would be a manager by now.”

On that song she just has to sing in the shower:

“Salt n Pepa – Push It”

On her musical heroes: 

“Cleo Lane. And Swifty, I don’t mind Swifty [Taylor Swift for the uninitiated]. She’s a bit of a dork and I like that.”

Ali McGregor’s Alchemy will play at the Hayes Theatre from Tuesday 21 April – Sunday 26 April 2015. For bookings and more information, visit

Eleanor Wood

Eleanor is a writer and performer based in Sydney. She studied Classical Voice at Sydney Conservatorium of Music and graduated with a Bachelor of Music Studies (Honours). She is a recipient of the Australia Council for the Arts Artstart Grant, and has performed in opera, cabaret and theatre both in Australia and overseas. Eleanor was recently awarded the Critic in Training Mentorship with Opera Australia, where she was mentored by Opera Australia’s artistic staff and professional music critics. Eleanor is currently studying law to further her interest in social justice. She also makes excellent brownies.

Eleanor Wood

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