Dahlesque, Adelaide Cabaret Festival

With South Australian audiences already enthralled by the magical storytelling of the great Roald Dahl (thanks to Matilda the Musical playing at the Festival Theatre), Elise McCann has brought the perfect adjunct production to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Dahlesque is a celebration of all things Roald Dahl. It masterfully melds the story of Dahl’s life with that of his character, with a healthy dose of ‘gobblefunk’ (Dahl’s unique lexicon) to keep the audience on their toes.

From the outset, McCann launches into a truly fascinating monologue, which must comprise at least 50% gobblefunk. This fast-paced tongue twister sets the scene for a show that, like magic, “must be believed to be seen”.

Backed by a nine-piece orchestra, led by musical director Michael Tyack on piano, McCann ushers the production through an anthology of musical numbers, each of which opens a unique window into the incredible story of Roald Dahl’s life. Dahlesque delves into his troubled time at boarding school, his family loves and losses, touches on his military and espionage careers, and even explores his love for all things chocolate. There is a lot to explore, and Dahlesque doesn’t miss a thing.

With familiar numbers like ‘Pure Imagination’ and the delightfully jazzy ‘Oompa Loompa’ from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and the surprising ‘You Only Live Twice’ for which Dahl incidentally wrote the screenplay, McCann clearly demonstrates her vocal prowess. Indeed, McCann is entirely on-song throughout. Unfortunately for audiences in the Space Theatre, the sound engineers were not on song. McCann’s vocal levels were, at times, insultingly overpowering – something that could and should have been fixed during the production. With ears still ringing afterwards, this technical lapse was a major detractor.

Notwithstanding sound issues, Dahlesque is still an exciting and enthralling production. The new compositions by Stephen Amos, Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes are particular favourites – cataloguing the grizzly fate of various nursery rhyme wolves. ‘Naughty’ from Matilda the Musical raised goosebumps, and the crowd simply would not have let Elise McCann get away without reprising her role of Miss Honey with the encore ‘My House’.

Dahlesque cleverly exploits the Roald Dahl enthusiasm that Adelaide is currently amidst. It is clear that Co-writers McCann and Richard Carroll have created a cabaret gem that, with some more polish, will truly shine!

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