City Recital Hall, July 5


Sydney finally has a cabaret festival to call its own, rather than just scoffing titbits flicked from Adelaide’s groaning table. But “all-star gala”? I don’t think so. This opening night was more like the sky outside: the odd dazzling star, some paler ones, and some that should have hid behind the clouds.

Certainly artistic director Trevor Ashley was not going to die wondering what might have happened had he given it his best shot. His massive voice launched the night by bulldozing its way from Everything’s Coming Up Roses to Let Me Entertain You, while wearing a strawberry-blond wig that did a striking impression of a partially collapsed haystack. This would have been a tricky event for him to wrangle, with a dozen acts having one or two songs to make a splash and incline people to see their bespoke shows. Consequently it jolted from climax to climax without the cushioning of a normal concert.

Trevor Ashley and (top) Frisky and Mannish. Photos: John McRae.

The real peak was the encore: the first Australian appearance by New York’s Jennifer Holliday, whose electric performance of And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going suggested missing her might be a mistake. Earlier Alison Jiear lit up the night with Lady Be Good, a sample from her Ella Fitzgerald tribute. Then she delivered Papa, Can You Hear Me? from Yentl with singular finesse and poignancy, before seguing into A Piece of Sky, which, if not as convincing, was still commanding.

Local heroes included Tim Draxl singing with typical panache, polish and conviction, and Jonathan Biggins and Phil Scott being sveltely amusing with a slice of their new No Cabaret for Old Men show. Britain’s Frisky and Mannish proved similarly engaging with brand of comedic cabaret that’s a cousin of Meow Meow’s.

Then there were acts akin to the padding in Ashley’s gowns: the equally risque and pedestrian magician Lily Martinez from Cheeky Cabaret, the overly brash Reuben Kaye, Brian Nash’s silly-voices Les Mis send-up, Natalie Joy Johnson’s zany shrieking, and the image-engrossed Kim David Smith. But just having our own festival is worth celebrating.