Cabaret / “Canberra Cabaret Festival”. At ACTHub Theatre, November 16-18. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.
IT’S taken Canberra a while to catch up with other capital cities, but now it can finally boast its own cabaret festival.
Beginning modestly with five different shows over three nights, it had the laudable goal of providing a platform for emerging Canberra artists. Things began promisingly with Tim Maher having the unenviable honour of being the first cab off the rank with his one-man show entitled “Café Boomer”.
Accompanying himself on an artfully disguised keyboard, and drawing on his experience as a physiotherapist, Maher fashioned his show around relationships, beginning with a sly parody of Billy Joel’s “Honesty”, before launching into Leon Russell’s “Masquerade” to support his proposition that “we are all wearing masks”.
Moving away from the keyboard, Maher began an amusing discourse on relationships of various kinds, emphasising particular aspects by weaving in songs from well-known musicals, among them, “To Break in a Glove” from “Dear Evan Hansen” and two Stephen Sondheim songs, “No More” from “Into the Woods”, and a virtuosic rendition of the challenging “Franklin Shepard Inc.” from “Merrily We Roll Along”.
A monologue from Yasmina Reza’s play “Art”, a quote from Michael Leunig, and a medley incorporating eden ahbez’s “Nature Boy”, John Farnham’s “You’re the Voice” and The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” rounded out an engaging, confidently performed and thoroughly entertaining presentation.
Marcel Cole’s “The Ukulele Man”, directed by Mirjana Ristevski, tracked the story of British music hall star, George Formby, who with his ukulele and a repertoire of double-entendre songs, became Britain’s highest paid entertainer, winning worldwide fame during the ’30s and ’40s mainly as a result of a series of popular B-grade films, and for his indefatigable efforts entertaining troops during World War II.
Cole told Formby’s story through a selection of his most popular songs, including “When I’m Cleaning Windows”, “With a Ukulele In My Hand” and “Leaning on a Lamp Post”, accompanying himself on ukulele and banjolele.
A surprising feature of Formby’s story was the influence exerted by his wife, Beryl, a former entertainer who managed his career with an iron fist. In “The Ukulele Man”, Beryl is played by Cole’s mother, Katie Cole, who not only portrayed Formby’s wife, but also Formby’s disapproving mother and a BBC announcer; contributed accompaniments on keyboards, violin and ukulele, while accomplishing lightning-fast costume changes.
All these she achieved with considerable panache, as Cole also changed costumes, stylishly portrayed emotional moments and even included some eccentric dancing. Well-chosen sound effects and lighting all contributed to a hugely enjoyable, brilliantly executed cabaret experience.
For their cabaret “That’s What Friends Are For” Cabaret Festival curators, Dave Collins and Louiza Blomfield, drew on their personal friendship and finely-honed ad-lib skills to present a relatively unstructured but delightfully entertaining selection of ballads and show tunes.
Both are superb vocalists, so particular highlights included an emotional rendering of Jason Robert Brown’s “It All Fades Away” sung by Collins, and a powerful rendition by Blomfield of “The Winner Takes It All” from the musical, “Mamma Mia”.
Their duet, “The Song that Goes Like This” from “Spamalot” is probably the funniest version you’re ever likely to experience.
For his cabaret, “Be Brave, Changeling”, George Belibassakis drew songs from a variety of sources to illustrate an excoriating, deeply personal account of his life so far. An arresting a capella rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” followed his revelation of self harm, while the Doors’ “Hello, I Love You” explained his efforts to reach out. Thomas A Dorsey’s “There Will Be Peace In The Valley” and Nickelback’s “Gotta Be Somebody” brought an often confronting, but ultimately optimistic, cabaret to its conclusion.
The festival ended with an intriguingly entitled show “Cruise Ships and Crematoriums” presented by Lawson Reid. Revealing an engaging personality and an enviable talent for stand-up, Reid regaled his audience with a stream-of-consciousness account of working on cruise ships, living in government-subsidised hotels after being made homeless by floods, then finally discovering his niche as a “Pet Aftercare Specialist and Corpse Removalist”.
Accompanying himself on guitar, Reid augmented his own, original songs with others including Carrie Underwood’s “Drinking Alone”, The Eagles “Hotel California” and Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” while keeping his audience agog with revelations so bizarre that they just had to be true; thus providing a fascinating climax to Canberra’s first highly successful cabaret festival.
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