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The Ford Report: Part 3

Here is the final installment of the Ford Report. Adelaide Cabaret Festival Chair Frank Ford gives his account of the final week of the 2011 Adelaide Cabaret Festival. This report will also be published on NYC Cabaret Guru Stu Hamstra’s website Cabaret Hotline Online.



By Frank Ford, Adelaide Cabaret Festival Chair 

Artistic Director David Campbell completed his third and final Adelaide Cabaret Festival by producing the most successful festival in its 11-year history!

This year’s Festival broke all previous box offices, achieving an 8% increase on the 2010 Festival. An estimated 95,000 attendances, an increase of 19% was due to people really embracing the whole Festival atmosphere – seeing multiple shows and enjoying the free activities and food and beverage offerings before, after and in-between.

By the end of the final week 35 performances were sold out.

A wonderful festive atmosphere pervaded the Festival Centre, enticing crowds to stay on after their show or come early for food and drinks. The many eating areas and bars created a vibrant buzz, an air of excitement and anticipation.  The building was specially decorated for the festival with a variety of multi-coloured lanterns and other features creating a fun, welcoming ambience. The excellent foyer exhibition of the brilliant, flamboyant Peter Alan and his flashy eye-catching show costumes was fascinating.

At the late-night piano bar up to a thousand patrons stayed on for the free variety cabaret show each night. Featuring talented Opera Australia and Famous Spiegeltent cabaret artiste Ali McGregor as the emcee accompanied by her comedian butler and a magician/contortionist.  Stars of the cabaret festival made guest appearances each night whilst also promoting their shows. These were wild nights of outrageous, sublime and comical entertainment.

Bryan Batt

Broadway song and dance man and Mad Men TV star Bryan Batt proved to be a stunning opener for the final week.  His show Batt on a Hot Tin Roof was borne out of a benefit for artists affected by Hurricane Katrina.  Batt exuded such warmth, honesty and wry sense of humour that he captivated the audience throughout his show.

Samela Harris in The Advertiser captured the image: “In his dark suit, he seems a handsome gay man from New Orleans, personable with a terrific Broadway voice…he seems just an itty bit conservative, until he let it rip with his compulsory cabaret show ‘love song’ wherein the words ‘skanky whore’ (Sensitive Song) drop like honey from his lips and the audience falls apart with laughter.”

Other comedy songs followed, “Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals”, “The Caveman Song (Way Ahead of My Times)” interwoven with his life story and sensitive renditions of “Night and Day”, “New York State of Mind” and finally, a beautiful, gentle statement of “I Am What I Am”.

The much adored Rhonda Burchmore gave us a classic cabaret tribute show about the life and songs of Julie London.  Rhonda appeared in a long slinky, sparkling black dress split at the side to show off her shapely legs which caught everyone’s eye. This seemed appropriate since London was not only a very sexy singer, but also a successful film actress and pin-up girl.  Burchmore’s smoky voice superbly delivered London’s songs, capturing her seductively smooth liquid tones.  London’s best-known songs were beautifully interpreted, such as the title song “Cry Me a River”, “Let There Be Love”, “Daddy”, “Black Coffee”, and “The Party’s Over”.

Jimmy Webb, the only artist to receive Grammy Awards for music, lyrics and orchestration gave a ‘Q & A’ session in the afternoon and later performed An Evening with Jimmy Webb.  The recently elected Chairman of the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, revealed his art and his soul through many engaging stories. It was an insightful experience as he reminisced and occasionally sang some of his famous songs such as “Galveston”.

Mike McLeish was last seen in Adelaide as the star of the highly successful Keating, a political-satirical Australian musical.  His career nose-dived after the demise of the next original musical, ending with him ‘eking out a living’ performing in Dracula’s theatre-restaurant.

Out of this wreckage came a story of survival.  There were bumps along the way as the song “The Last Five Bottles” indicates. This confessional cabaret could have been maudlin but McLeish is a consummate performer and charmer.  He entertains us with his superb comedic ability as he plays a mean piano and guitar and sings his way through a myriad of musical styles, hip-hop, swing, pop and rock in revue style. The talent is impressive, so let’s hope he is rewarded by a vehicle that lets him shine again.

Storm Large

Storm Large is an American hurricane, overwhelming everything before her, including the audience. The image is of an all-powerful singing Amazon taking on the world.  In her show, Crazy Enough, based loosely on her mother’s craziness, Storm set out to prove she isn’t crazy but she is crazy enough to take on the system.  In her early teens she discovered sex as power and a weapon to get her way.  Her powerful voice packs a punch, shocks the audience, and gets her message across.  This is twentieth first century, rock ‘n’ roll, in-your-face cabaret and its impact would perhaps not be unlike the raunchy, challenging songs of the Weimar period. Amazingly she won over the total audience of varying ages into joining in the chorus of her signature anthem, singing “My vagina is eight miles wide, absolutely everyone come inside.” Storm’s performance added another exciting edge to the Cabaret Festival.

Jane Clifton in her Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home relates her childhood of constantly shifting home around the world as the daughter of a British Army Officer.  It’s a good vehicle for this talented singer, TV actress and writer to amusingly tell her story and sing us through the 60’s and 70’s.

Michael Feinstein

The piece de resistance of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2011 came on the last night when Michael Feinstein filled the 2000 seat Festival Theatre.  Feinstein, outstanding scholar and interpreter of the Great American Songbook, used his winning charm and informal chat with the audience to create an ambience of intimacy in the opera-size auditorium. It was cabaret on a grand scale and true to all the elements of the genre.  His focal point was Frank Sinatra and he also spoke and sang of those who were associated with Sinatra or were influenced by him. Backed by the superb 17 piece Adelaide Art Orchestra he recalled Sinatra’s beginning with the Big Bands of Harry James and Tommy Dorsey.  Accompanied by his own brilliant piano playing and the orchestra, he sang some of Sinatra’s’ most famous songs as well as Cole Porter, a Gershwin medley and great songs from the American musical theatre. The performance was recorded by Foxtel for the Bio channel. The cheering standing ovations for Feinstein marked the end of a brilliant festival of a great variety of outstanding cabaret performances.

Unfortunately there were many shows I was unable to see in the last week of the Festival’s rich and varied program such as:  Amy Housewine – Back to Crack, “The world’s most famous crack-pot is now Cabaret Festival’s biggest crack-up” Patrick McDonald, The Advertiser, presented by hilarious actor-comedian Lisa Adams; Der Gelbe Stern (The Yellow Star) by Alex Fishman re-enacted a Berlin cabaret star’s demise by the Nazis; Bert LaBonte sold out his show When I Fall in Love “It seems unfair to call him a Cole impersonator. When he sings LaBonte becomes Nat King Cole – the voice, the personality and the manner”  Stephen Wittington, The Advertiser

The 11th Adelaide Cabaret Festival proved to be the most successful Festival to date. It featured 50 international artists from the USA, UK, and Canada, as well as the cream of the Cabaret crop in Australia, with 224 Australian artists, 125 of those being South Australian. 15 international shows, 15 world premieres, 7 Australian premieres, 32 Adelaide premieres, and 3 Adelaide exclusives.

Artistic Director David Campbell, Associate Director Lisa Campbell and Executive Producer Heather Muirhead have been a winning team of outstanding impresarios who have produced a trifecta of stunning Festivals.  They have progressed the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and the art of cabaret.  They have brought into being an impressive number of world premieres. They have made the best and biggest cabaret festival in the world, bigger and better.

Frank Ford


Related posts:

Click here to read the Ford Report Part 1.

Click here to read the Ford Report Part 2.


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