Hilary Cole is the newest star in the Sydney musical theatre scene, and she certainly burns the brightest. She made her debut in Carrie – stunning audience members and critics alike with her pure tone and conviction in performance – and followed it up with an expectation-defying turn as Janet van de Graaf in The Drowsy Chaperone. In two roles and within six months, Cole had proven herself to be a versatile and exceedingly talented performer.
Now she has taken on Sydney’s burgeoning cabaret scene. OC Diva, her new show as part of the Hayes Cabaret Festival, was written by Cole, and it’s incredibly good. It’s easy to forget that Cole is so new to the stage and to writing; she has a seasoned, old-soul foundation from which she sings, filtered through bright eyes and a young, funny embrace of quirk.
From the moment she steps up to the microphone – birdlike and glamorous at once – to cleverly riff on The Book of Mormon‘s “You and Me (But Mostly Me)”, we think we understand what we are seeing. A young firecracker ingenue ready to share funny, self-deprecating stories while showcasing her voice. This is all true, and there are plenty of laughs from the audience, and she takes on Blondie and Beyonce and Jerome Kern with seeming effortlessness and excellent technique. But this is not a cabaret that is simple; it doesn’t rest on light and pithy laurels.
What’s most impressive about OC Diva – a trip through Cole’s obsessions – isn’t even her voice, though it’s pure as ever, nimble as ever. It’s her ability to draw on the intimacy of cabaret as a genre to present something honest and vulnerable to an audience. Cole makes a connection with every person in the theatre by taking us into her world, with music as our guide. Through a simply beautiful, heartbreaking use of “Colour and Light” from Sunday in the Park with George and a Rubik’s cube, Cole takes us deep into those obsessive quirks that aren’t as fun and breezy as they look on the surface.
This is the kind of soul-baring, narrative-building, dark, human cabaret that has been missing from Sydney cabaret. This isn’t Hilary Cole’s Greatest Hits. This is Hilary Cole, inviting us to see her through music, which, she explains, is her outlet for all of her thoughts and feelings, her only way to exorcise them from her tiny frame.
Cole allows herself to look silly, like a diva (there are some great running visual gags at the expense of her MD, the wonderful Steven Kreamer), and like a dork. But most importantly, she allows herself to look fragile, and by doing so, she shows us her inner strength.
Pay attention to Hilary Cole. Her star is going to ascend, her voice is going to soar, and you’re going to want to be able to say her you knew her when she was just beginning, writing her own cabaret and playing her first roles, sharing her unique, desperately necessary gift to the world.