Cabaret to Warm Up Melbourne’s Winter Nights

Winter is Cabaret time and where best to catch up with talent, established and new, than at the 2014 Melbourne Cabaret Festival which opens on 19 June. With thirty hand-picked shows on offer at venues across the city, there’s bound to be something for every taste. Jan Chandler recently caught up with Artistic Director David Read to talk about the festival and this year’s line-up.

Evan Lever Image supplied
Evan Lever
Image supplied

Only two years ago the future looked bleak, until a Pozible campaign attracted the needed financial support from cabaret lovers and artists. Now in it’s fifth year, the festival is going from strength to strength. David proudly informs me that In 2013 they increased their audience numbers by some 89% to reach just over 15,200, a 375% increase on the inaugural 2010 festival. For David this is confirmation that Melbourne audiences have a “real thirst for quality cabaret entertainment”.

Asked what will be special about the 2014 festival, David tells me that this year the focus is firmly on Melbourne talent. “We don’t have as many interstate acts and that’s deliberate because we don’t need the interstate acts when you’ve got the best and most powerful, thriving cabaret scene in the country, and I don’t say that lightly.” All you have to do is look at the national cabaret scene to see “that Melbourne has more dedicated cabaret venues than the rest of the country combined. … All the big name cabaret success stories that are now household names, like Eddie Perfect, Meow Meow and Tim Minchin, … were established from the Melbourne cabaret scene”.

MCF15-Melody-Beck-700x460David’s claims for Melbourne as the home of cabaret talent would seem to be supported by the fact that three Melbourne Cabaret Festival artists have been invited to participate in the 2014 The New York Musical Theatre Festival. Last year in Melbourne Rachel Dunham’s Oprahfication played to sold out houses; this year the show travels to New York, with five performances between 17 and 24 July at the Ford Foundaton Studio Theatre. Melody Beck’s Unseen: A Tribute to Marni Nixon and Evan Lever’s Aznavourian will be showcased as Australian Cabaret Sensations in Concert, performing at The Laurie Beechman Theatre on 17th July.

Melbourne audiences will have the opportunity of seeing both Beck and Lever as part of the local Festival’s New York Matinee Series: Aznavourian on 28 and 29 June and Unseen: A Tribute to Marni Nixon on 29th June.

So what more is there for this year’s audiences?

Some of the highlights of last year will be returning. In 2013 Channel 31 made a documentary of the Melbourne cabaret scene based around the festival, which is still on the cabaret festtival website, and they have agreed to re-broadcast the documentary in the lead up to this year’s festival.

Spanky Image supplied
Image supplied

This year The Opening Gala will be at Chapel off Chapel, with London cabaret star SPANKY! as the host. Keen to take cabaret away from it’s traditional initimate spaces (2013’s Gala at the Palais attracted an audience of some 1,200), there is a new initiative in 2014, The Roadshow Gala, will take a selection of performances on tour. The website explains that the line-up has been specially selected so that “a mature-minded 15 year old will enjoy it … [as much as] an immature 80-year old”. People are invited to lobby their local venues if they’d like the Roadshow to come to them.

Some special picks?

David assures me that “all the shows are terrific”, and every one has been selected for a reason.  When pressed he says that Matthew Micham’s Twists and Turns offers something a little different.  The focus of the show is the difficulties Micham faced on his journey to becoming an Olympic diving gold medalist. Despite its dark themes – depression, mental illness, coming out – these are interwoven with many a comic moment to create “an absolute ripper or a show”.

Other shows that caught my eye include Mike McLeish’s Message to My Girls. How could anyone forget his performance as Keating in Keating! The Musical?  McLeish may be a charmer but David is not so sure that ‘charming’ is an apt description of this show. Be warned!

Alana Conway Image supplied
Alana Conway
Image supplied

Another show that I find really tempting is Songbird – Songs of Eva Cassidy with harpist and vocalist Alana Conway. David describes Alana as a real find, “you don’t often find a cabaret performer who plays the harp”; when played well it is really enchanting, even more so when combined with the wonderful music of Eva Cassidy, hailed by many as the best voice of her generation.

Then there’s Melissa Langton’s A Singer Must Die, set to a soundtrack of Leonard Cohen, The Dresden Dolls, Burt Bacharach, Jacques Brel, Loudon Wainwright and Johnny Cash.
What a mix of musical genres! Whilst Melissa has been part of the festival before, much of this show is new material. As David says they just keep inviting her back because she is “so terrifically talented”.

Another act that returns this year is The Beautiful Losers with Despite Popular Demand. Ex Leader of The Liberal Party, Dr Brendan Nelson once famously commented that they “would offend the vast majority of Australians”. Not wanting to disappoint fans, the show is described as “a toe-tapping horror show of Serial killers, Underachievers, Dog Handlers, Emotional Cripples and Pre-School Carers”. Again you have been warned!

The Beautiful Losers Image supplied
The Beautiful Losers
Image supplied

This is merely a taste of many wonderful shows that will be sure to heat up your winter nights. Dust off your feathers, shine up your spangles and get ready for a hectic few weeks.

For full details and bookings go to the Melbourne Cabaret Festival website.

Jan Chandler

Jan has been working freelance in the arts industry for some 15+ years in a variety of roles including: arts management; journalism (print, radio and online); publicity; and media relations. Passionate about the arts in all their variety, Jan has worked in film (production assistant; reviewer); dance (publicity; producer and presenter of 'Dance Dialogues - 3CR) and Board Member of Ausdance (Victoria)); performing arts (company manager, performer, reviewer, online editor). Jan had the honour of being the General Manager of Ilbijerri Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Theatre for some 18 months.

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