“PEOPLE might come to my show expecting Liza Minnelli, but they’re going to get Freddie Mercury instead,” says former Canberran Toby Francis of his new, self-produced cabaret show, “The King Is Dead, Long Live Queen”.
Flanked by a four-piece band, the Australian Institute of Music graduate and former Canberra boy will perform around 20 songs by one of the world’s biggest bands, Queen, when he takes to the stage at Sydney venue The Basement later this month.
This will be Toby’s second cabaret show after his debut solo show last year, “Blokelahoma”, which received glowing reviews from critics.
Toby, 24, says he wanted to “steer away from the usual formula of cabaret” with his second show.
“I wrote this show in a way that breaks away from the original formula – I didn’t want it to just be speak, sing, clap and so on,” he says.
“This is more like a freight train, the songs sort of move into each other. There’s still some talking, but it’s understated. I want to keep the audience excited.”
The show’s music will be intertwined with Toby’s shared experiences of “change and growing up”.
“I love that with cabaret, you can completely involve your audience and tell them a story in between songs,” he says.
“I think cabaret is a really exciting medium because it doesn’t have its own format. The way you do it is entirely dictated by you, it’s not about being safe. You’ve got to take risks. If you play it safe that’s not exciting. That’s what I like about cabaret – you can do anything.”
Toby hopes the show will also pay homage to his “idol”, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
“He was just so fearless, so I’m hoping to capture some of that in my music,” he says.
“He made no apologies for who he was, and what he wanted to do on stage, and I envy that.
“My voice isn’t like his – it has a bit more ‘rock’ to it. But I hope people can appreciate my take on him.”
Toby will team up with musical director Andrew Worboys, who has worked with the likes of UK band Florence and the Machine, for the show.
“I worked with him on my first show, and I told him this idea, and he was on board,” he says.
Though he struggles to pick a favourite Queen song – “they’re all amazing” – Toby says all of their lyrics are “intensely relatable”.
“I love that their music is combined with this sort of camp, ‘we don’t care what you think’ feeling,” he says.
“I think camp carries off well in cabaret. But this isn’t an impersonator show, although I will be wearing Queen-inspired clothing.”
Since moving from Canberra to Sydney four years ago to join the Australian Institute of Music, Toby has been working two jobs in-between his performances, sometimes working 16-hour days.
He admits he “sort of just fell into cabaret”, after originally wanting to become an actor.
“I always sang, and I liked writing and stand-up comedy, so it was sort of a way to do both of those things, to be able to sing and speak to people,” he says.
He performed in musicals at school, attending Hawker College.
“The Canberra arts scene is great, the guys and girls in the music scene up here in Sydney are surprised by how such a small town has an overflow of talent,” he says.
Toby hopes “Long Live Queen” will be more than just one show.
“Pending the success of it, I am hoping to bring the show and a little Freddie Mercury to Canberra next year,” he says.
“The King Is Dead, Long Live Queen”, November 19 at 8pm, The Basement, Sydney. Bookings to thebasement.com.au or call 9251 2797.