In the next two months I will have written and directed five cabarets. Cabaret is an odd term – I was trying to figure out what it meant the other day, talking to the music director of Experiment (Cole Porter songs used to explore romance and sex) – he said “Oh, cabaret’s anything that has music and someone talking…” When Matt and I graduated from drama school it seemed like one of our friends was doing a cabaret every week. You’d dutifully grab your drink at Capers or Chapel off Chapel to see a very talented person sing their favourite songs and talk about their life experiences (they usually ranged from 18-23 years old, so…not so many as yet). Then it felt like I didn’t see any cabaret for years. When I returned to it, chiefly due to David and Lisa at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, suddenly cabaret seemed edgy and theatrical and often a lot vibier than the theatre and musicals I’d been seeing.
Cabaret seems to be firstly about the performer. It’s usually one performer, and cabaret is the chance to see that person do the thing that they do better than anyone else in the world. The cabarets that I’ve worked on in the last year harnessed that. ‘Tegrity: Britney Spears Live in Cabaret came into being because Christie Whelan, who Matt and I wrote it for, is three things; funny, beautiful and vulnerable. Liza on an E explodes into life because of Trevor Ashley’s chutzpah – he does the impersonation stuff brilliantly, but above all he can channel that sheer energy that Liza has – that “I’m-on-the-stage-my-God-I’m-here-right-now-POW!” force of her.
The other cabaret I wrote last year was about famed English writer/performer Anthony Newley. I knew nothing of him, besides Goldfinger and the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory songs, but David Campbell was a huge fan and wanted a piece about him for the Festival. With the brilliant Phil Scott we wrote a show that had to capture the sexiness and charm of this performer, whose songs, usually with Leslie Bricusse, are a real legacy. We built the show around the talents of Hugh Sheridan, a triple-threat who has the gift of perfect taste and a complete ease with the audience. His performance is remarkable – to the point that legendary cabaret performer Julie Wilson said it was the most amazing debut she’d seen in thirty years. I’m thrilled that Sydney audiences get to see this when it plays next week at the Opera House.
The Adelaide Cabaret Festival opens tomorrow night – cheers to the form that defies definition but is as close to the heart of performing as anything.