Category: Cabaret

Review: Disenchanted

Has the damsel in distress had her day?

By Narelle Wood 

It’s a tale as old as time: pretty damsel finds herself in distress and is rescued by a handsome prince. Well woodland creatures, princes and enchanted rodents beware; these damsels are disenchanted with their lot and they’re not afraid to sing about it.

Disenchanted, directed by (Madison Thew-Keyworth) is a cabaret-style show lead by Snow White (Ellie Nunan), Cinderella (Courtney Underhill) and the occasionally conscious Sleeping Beauty (Tayla Johnston). To highlight the many issues with what the princesses term “the princess complex” the trio of merry maidens are joined on stage by some other famous females including Mulan, Pocahontas and Princess Badroulbadour – or as we now know her, Princess Jasmine –  (all played by Jennifer Trijo), Belle, Ariel, Rapunzel (all played by Demi Phillips) and Tiana (Asabi Goodman), the first African American Disney princess, who also happened to kiss a frog.

Together the princesses take a slightly more realistic, some may say a little cynical but much needed, look at their fairy-tale storylines, and in doing so raise a few questions around the types of messages these stories are sending and whether the idea of a damsel in distress has had its day.

There are songs about cultural appropriation, the Disney-fixation on making grim tales more palpable to children, and the capitalist venture that is princess entertainment. Cinderella’s anthem for an image-obsessed generation, All I Wanna Do is Eat, is just one of many songs that touch on body image issues, which are suggested to stem from the unrealistic proportions often used to portray the feminine physique. My favourite song though is Snow White’s truthful version of what she would like to be singing while she worked, and despite being an upbeat and perky number called A Happy Tune, Snow White drives home some pretty hard-hitting messages about household equality.

The show’s a hoot. The band – under the musical direction of Bradley McCaw – look like they’re having a blast. The cast has charm, wit and beauty, which is everything you could want in a prince, and is all wrapped up in a feisty fairy-tale princess package. Snow White is cool, calm and in control and Cinderella’s comic timing is perfect. Sleeping Beauty is, when she’s not asleep, a little over sexed – which is a good opportunity to point out that this show is not recommended for anyone under the age of 15. Best leave the little princesses at home.

Disenchanted was an Off-Broadway hit and it’s not hard to see why. It’s not the fairy-tale we know, but it is very much the modern take on these fairy-tale classics that we need to hear.

Disenchanted, presented by Mad About Theatre, is being performed at Athenaeum Theatre 6 – 8 September.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 13 28 49.

Photograph: Rick Monk


From: New York, For: Him

Rom-com cabaret sings of Trump, immigration and romance

By Narelle Wood

It is fair to say that any show that mentions the word “Trump” is probably going to elicit an eye roll or two. While Melissa David’s story might be brought to us by Trump’s immigration mess, this acts merely as a turning point in much larger story, rather than the story itself.

From: New York For: Him details David’s journey from aspiring actress, to girl in love with a married American in Australia feeling a little lost. David does not rely on the clichéd three-act narrative structure for her story, rather the story meanders through highs and lows and back again with such fluency it is hard to gauge where the story will go next, making it as charming as it is heart-wrenching.

Despite David’s clear confidence – she rocks an awesome lace and velvet skin-tight jumpsuit – there are moments of vulnerability as well. David’s rendition of Sara Bareilles’ She used to be mine epitomises both the strength and vulnerability of her performance; I’ve never quite seen anyone manage to move an audience so easily and seamlessly through such a range of emotions.

While there are some familiar musical numbers, such as Whitney Housten’s I have nothing, David also borrows from jazz and other genres to compliment her stories from Broadway auditions, hippy parents to finally making the decision to come to Australia. Accompanying her on the piano is Peppy Smears whose fabulousness does not end with his carefully crafted outfit. He not only provides the music, he is the perfect sidekick delivering additional theatrics and witty repartee that just adds one more thing to love about this show.

Leaving the theatre it was clear that I was not the only one who thoroughly enjoyed the production. Comments from other audience members ranged from complimenting the power of David’s voice, to remarking how quickly the show seemed to finish. From: New York, For: Him might be about immigration problems and love, but it feels like catching up with old friends who are recounting the adventures of the last few years.

From: New York, For: Him runs until 18 August at the Butterfly Club.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9663 8107.

Photograph: Junior Deluise

Review: Dancing on the Volcano

Celebrated star, Robyn Archer AO, delves into cabaret from Berlin in the ’20s and ’30s

By Leeor Adar

It was indeed a time to be alive, between two World Wars in Germany, the highs and lows of life were encapsulated in the music of the era. A time marked as a period in the eye of a storm, poets and artists thrived in their joy at the end of 1919, and experienced the rattling descent into Nazi Germany. ‘Dancing on the volcano’ was an apt term for the artistic world of Germany in this period. Kabarett, a German form of political satire was commentary wrapped up in performance – a musical send up of the times.

Providing the historical context of the music only adds to the gravity of its content, and Robyn Archer AO, takes her audience on an educational journey with her long-time collaborators, Michael Morley on piano, and George Butrumlis on accordion.  Delving into the political carnage of the times, kabarett was also intensely concerned with the darker facets of the human identity – murder, sexuality, and obsession. It absolutely exploded in the 1920s, and saw the likes of Bertolt Brecht, Hans Eisler, Kurt Weil and Friedrich Hollaender take centre stage in this dark and electric world. Many of their pieces are performed with a lightness of tone, but deal with child murderers and the disintegration of society.

The performance begins on a pleasant note, with charming and saucy numbers like Kurt Tucholsky’s Anna Luise, which focuses on a man’s reminiscence of his time under a buxom woman’s skirt. However, it is not long before we find ourselves thrust into darker territory, stricken with tales of criminal conduct and the seedy underbelly of Berlin. The collaboration between Weill and Brecht for The Threepenny Opera resulted in the notorious and widely loved Mack the Knife. It was a pleasure to hear Archer perform the classic, and a special note must be made to Morley’s piano playing with this piece, perhaps cementing itself as my favourite rendition.

Archer relishes in the humour of the music, and her gestures throughout send her audience into fits of laughter even when a grandmother is being slain in Frank Wedekind’s Granny Murderer. The tongue in cheek humour of kabarett often savagely dealt with the cruelties of the world, something Archer clearly appreciates. This is most notable in her powerful performance of Friedrich Hollaender’s The Jews. Archer’s performance descends into the fist and head shaking notorious of a certain Chancellor, that when she finally lays the blame on multiple minorities in a final crash, she utterly rattles her audience. We are experiencing a rise of similar attitudes in our present day. Such is the power of the kabarett.

The delivery is overall strong, however I find the occasional phrasing in English leaves Archer breathless, as the translations don’t always flow so well. I appreciated when Archer would occasionally croon in perfect German – another example of her expansive skill as a performer. I must note here though, it would be harsh to expect a non-German speaking audience to grasp the subtle and brilliant flashes of truth conveyed in the words, and so much of Dancing on the Volcano is an ode to the power of words.

After the dark turns with The Jews and Brecht and Hans Eisler’s tragic horse in Falladah, the audience is both exhausted and in need of an injection of hope. Anticipating this need, Archer ends with Brecht and Eisler’s once again in the wonderful Bilbao Song.

I exited with greater knowledge and some joy from the night out, but also exited imagining a society ripping apart the horse it once loves stays on with me.

Dancing on the Volcano was performed at Arts Centre  Melbourne 9 – 11 July.

Review: Club Provocaré

Alive and seductive cabaret complete with original acts

By Ciara Thorburn

Enter, David Williamson Theatre, enter darkroom, enter a packed yet cosy and sexy bar. Enter, Club Provocaré. The impeccable Queen of Kink, Bernie Dieter presents a killer line-up of world class acts and a delectable selection of some of Melbourne’s best performers. With favourites including Karen from Finance’s skilled and hilarious lip-synch drag and the stunning choreography in Laurie Hagan’s (Club Swizzle, Vegas Nocturne) reverse Burlesque act – this show is unmissable. Though it’s too little, too late as the entire season of Provocaré has already sold out.

With musical prowess and racy charisma, host and MC Bernie Dieter commands the stage and the audience, with her guests wrapped around her finger (and her velvet sequined unitard) from the outset. She gently caresses her audience into submission, coaxing them to divulge their fantasies and embrace their desires as she introduces each new act. The rawness of this show only added to it’s realness, with a few technical malfunctions taken in the stride of these seasoned professionals. This show is an excellent fusion of genres (drag, burlesque, circus, musical theatre) within a cabaret format, lucky to be seen and flawlessly presented by Chapel Street’s Provocaré Festival.

The facetious and charismatic attitudes of these strong female characters who dominate the production are empowering and seductive. Highlights of the show include the cultural delight Yusura – a master fetish geisha – who ventures into kink as she pours searing hot wax over her extravagantly tattooed body. Yusura leaves the audience in a sense of titillating torment.

Unique, provocative and complete with original acts performed by unparalleled performers, Club Provocaré is a spectacle of Australia’s best talent. Next year, make sure you get your tickets early.

Club Provocaré is being performed 5 – 15 July at the David Williamson Theatre. For more information about Provocaré Winter Festival 2018, take a look at their official website.

Woman – It’s A Mother of A Cabaret

WomanIt’s A Mother of A Cabaret proves even a busy mother of two can fulfil their dreams

By Owen James

The role of women in society and the role of motherhood is explored in a smooth combination of music and text in Woman – It’s A Mother of A Cabaret.

As we descend the stairs into the basement room of The Butterfly Club, everything necessary for a quality hour of storytelling is awaiting. A piano, a microphone, and a few props fill the small stage, and as the lights go down, Jodie Stubbs emerges and treats us to her own personal brand of humour and cabaret. Stubbs’ performance is amusingly archaic, as she attempts to recount the history of equality and discrimination against women throughout history, all the while being plagued by the struggle of the modern mother – calls from a worried babysitter interrupt.

Jodie Stubbs has a truly divine voice that conquers every genre and style she attempts. Many of the most beautiful moments of the show come from slow, building ballads such as ‘Life Story’, where stillness is mesmerising. Stubbs’ voice can be equally as rousing in many of the upbeat numbers, including a comical, country-esque cover of ‘Material Girl’.

Co-written by Tyran Parke and Jodie Stubbs, the script is both humorous and personal, brushing the surface of deeper socio-political tension but focusing on the story close at hand: a woman just keeping her life together by indulging her dreams and talent. Through Parke’s script, Stubbs is able to construct a portrait of mounting personal strain bubbling beneath a fragile surface, demonstrating her ability as a confident and comfortable performer.

Onstage pianist David Butler is a maestro extraordinaire. Moving with every subtle fluctuation of Jodie’s voice, the consummate professionalism of his skilful accompaniment shines in every song. Indeed, many of the best comedic moments in the show come from David’s shy interjections or brief moments in the spotlight.

Although the show never quite focuses on a single moment for long enough, it doesn’t need to. Like a collection of unravelling thoughts brewing in a pressure cooker, Woman – It’s A Mother of A Cabaret declares loud and proud that anyone – even a busy mother of two – can fulfil their dreams.

Woman – It’s A Mother of A Cabaret is being performed at the Butterfly Club 9 – 14 July. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on (03) 9663 8107.

Review: Reuben Kaye

Provocaré presents Reuben Kaye

By Ciara Thorburn

From the moment you enter the blackened theatre box of Chapel Off Chapel, you are in the domain of Reuben Kaye – and everyone is welcome. This absolute beauty of a queen is dazzling in sequins and with an immaculate and inimitable character we are drawn in. He is impeccable, incredible, charming, and hilariously inappropriate, and he gets away with it. Because he loves us, his audience, and we love him. Instantly.

Part of this year’s Provocaré Festival, Reuben Kaye’s aptly self-titled show is a one-man cabaret as you have never seen before. Joined onstage by his exemplary band ‘The K-holes’, the show is a self-narrated biography told through exceptionally crafted ballads and broadway-esque numbers. With high class audience banter, perfect pitch, and an unwavering passion, this man is world class.

A melodramatic spectacle, Reuben Kaye is deliciously self-indulgent, cheeky, and not afraid to get up close and personal with the first available audience member. As a master of extravagance, he has his audience in the palm of his hand, his sassy wit and intellect proving he is always one step ahead. One minute he commands someone’s smartphone, the next he recites what can only be described as glorified soft porn from a distant memory. Reuben Kaye is as talented as he is fabulous, and it is this honesty and pleasure onstage that makes him so mesmerising to watch. The show visits some heavy social topics which need to be addressed, and in a compelling yet comical way he highlights how these issues have defined him and formed his identity. Think the power of Hannah Gadsby’s Nannette mixed with the passion of Betty Grumble.

Special mention to the immaculate costume and makeup design, combined with well-crafted lighting and sound which enhance the overall experience of this masterpiece. Reuben Kaye is playing as part of the Provocaré Festival at Chapel Off Chapel, until 15 July. This show is for men, women, and all those in between – it will leave you feeling empowered and accepted, and hungry for more.

Reuben Kaye is being performed 7 – 15 July at Chapel Off Chapel. Tickets can be purchased online.

Provocaré runs until 15 July.  See here for a full outline of the festival program.


Review: The Best of the Magic Fest

An evening of rogue and riveting magic

By Joana Simmons

The Melbourne Magic Festival is adding a twinkle in the eye and sparkle of delight to these cold July weeks. I was treated with tickets to The Best of the Magic Fest which is a chance for audiences to meet different guest magicians every night, a chance to laugh, gasp and wonder how they do it. Hosted by multi-award-winning magician, comedian and all-around swell guy Nicholas J. Johnson, the Friday night show presented its full house with three charismatic experts: Mr Marmalade, Tim Ellis and Lawrence Leung.

It’s hard to review or retell magic without giving anything away. Nothing really can replicate the wondrous feeling of delight that springs from the flourish of the magicians’ tricks. The types of magic used were close-up, sleight of hand, storytelling, telekinesis and telepathy. Host, Nicholas J. Johnson, warmed up the expectant crowd with his take on some old favorites. The thing that I loved most was how upfront and raw it was, in an intimate venue and with each magician’s spontaneous banter it was edgy and stripped back.

Johnson kept the pace rolling as he threw in a few tricks between each act, making us feel both at home and transported to this wonderful world. Magician number one, Mr Marmalade, was as smooth as a dram of Laphroaig 10 and more dapper than the man on the Hendricks bottle. He crafted a multidimensional performance with quirky physicality and sultry tones. At one point he dropped a few cards which made the expectant air of “is he going to get it” even more exciting.

Next, award winning magician and Artistic Director of MMF Tim Ellis, told a story with cards and class. Ellis included some delightful audience participation that was refined rather than naff, and boasted an overall polished presence in a luxe velvet blazer. The final magician, Lawrence Leung, was relaxed, lovable and brilliant. Telekinesis and telepathy usually makes me tip my head to the side skeptically, but he completely proved me wrong. I enjoyed it so much I forgot to take notes, all I wrote was “WOW”.

The staging was simple and suited the The Secret Room at Circus Oz. It emphasised the skill of the magicians who didn’t need any flashy lights, backdrop or water tanks to have their audience whooping and cheering. My only critique is that many of the tricks were performed on a table and from where I was sitting I couldn’t see everything, and the people around me also ducked their heads to catch a glimpse. There are countless moments in this show you really don’t want to miss.

The Best of the Magic Fest is a great night with variety, cheek and high-class magic that makes you put your hand to your face wondering what is going to happen next. What’s brilliant about magic is how it brings out the child in all of us, and this show does exactly that and wraps it in an enjoyable adult package. It’s a perfect introduction for the rest of the Melbourne Magic Festival’s July program.

The Melbourne Magic Festival runs 2 – 14 July in a range of exciting Melbourne venues. Take a look at their official website for program and ticket details. Tickets are also available by calling the box office on 1800 710 499.