‘Old favourites and new beginnings’: Cabaret Festival launches 2023 line-up

Australian jazz icon Vince Jones, legendary cabaret performer Paul Capsis, TikTok sensation Broadway Barbara and Adelaide’s own Anne Wills are part of the dynamic line-up for this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

Mar 27, 2023, updated Mar 27, 2023
Collective effort: Adelaide Cabaret Festival executive producer Alex Sinclair with 'Cabaret Collective' members Lisa and David Campbell. Photo: Claudio Raschella

Collective effort: Adelaide Cabaret Festival executive producer Alex Sinclair with 'Cabaret Collective' members Lisa and David Campbell. Photo: Claudio Raschella

In celebration of the Adelaide Festival Centre’s 50th birthday, nine former Cabaret Festival artistic directors have been invited back to program the 2023 winter event, which runs from June 9-24 and launched its full line-up today.

Members of the “Cabaret Collective” (announced in November) have each programmed some of their favourite cabaret acts, with Julia Holt, Ali McGregor, David Campbell, Eddie Perfect, Julia Zemiro and Kate Ceberano also starring in the already-sold-out Variety Gala extravaganza.

Wrangling nine artistic directors has been a long, organic process, says festival executive producer Alex Sinclair, adding that when the high-profile performers were approached to co-create the 2023 program, the first question most of them asked was: “How is this going to work?”.

“I had to be really honest and say ‘I have absolutely no idea’… I guess that’s cabaret, right? You never quite know what is going to happen. So they were very curious, really brave, and it’s worked out really well.”

Each artist brings with them their own “wheelhouse”, explains Sinclair, which adds to the diversity and depth of talent on offer.

“So, Eddie… his cabaret journey is really all about brand new work and writing for the stage, and that was something he really wanted to bring to the festival, so that comes out in his own show called The Blank Page with Eddie Perfect, which is an on-the-couch-style program where he will unpack how you start to write a work for the stage,” she says.

Eddie Perfect will explore how stage songs emerge from the page. Photo: Claudio Raschella

“Kate Ceberano has a love of contemporary jazz – that was really her beginning and her story is a lovely book-end. She’s got a 40-year illustrious, highly awarded career, and at the beginning of her career she performed with jazz singer Vince Jones, so she has curated for the first time ever on stage Come in Spinner, the music from that, which is the highest-selling Australian jazz album of all time still, 600,000 copies, and it’s never been done live before. Vince Jones, with Nina Ferro and a 17-piece big band, will re-create that soundtrack of old ’40s-style big-band hits.”

Ceberano will also perform her symphonic show My Life is a Symphony with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and has programmed a performance featuring Australian trumpeter, singer and composer Roscoe James Irwin (of The Cat Empire and The Bamboos) called The Life and Songs of Chet Baker. Sinclair says Ceberano has been a mentor to Irwin, who has written all the arrangements for her symphony records.

“So it’s a really lovely full-circle story where Vince Jones was a mentor for Kate and she is showcasing herself as well as showcasing someone she has been a mentor for.”

Ali McGregor will perform with a six-piece band in her own show Fool’s Gold, which celebrates the artist’s 50th year and is a “best of” from her career as an opera singer and cabaret performer.

“Ali is also bringing her award-winning Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night to the Banquet Room for the opening weekend, which will be our late-night club,” Sinclair says.

Ali McGregor hosts the Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

Julia Zemiro will hit the stage with cohort Brian Nankervis in RocKwiz Salutes Adelaide, shining a spotlight on some of the biggest names to come out of the Adelaide music scene over the years.

Former artistic directors Tina Arena and Alan Cumming are unable to attend this year’s event, but their influence will be felt through their performance picks.

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Arena has programmed Zimbabwean-Australian singer thndo’s The Reintroduction and cabaret star Reuben Kaye’s enGORGEd (performed with an 18-piece orchestra), while Cumming has brought back The Blind Date Project, which was a surprise hit of the festival during his tenure in 2021. The premise of The Blind Date Project is that “Anna”, performed by AFI award-winning actor Bojana Novakovic (seen most recently on the hit television series Love Me), sits in a karaoke bar waiting for her blind date, who is a different guest performer each night.

Broadway Barbara will make her Australian debut at Cabaret Festival. Photo: Chris Fore

“We see a live blind date unfold before our very eyes. It’s amazing,” Sinclair says.

“We had an incredible star-studded cast in 2021. She didn’t know who she was going on a date with and the audience didn’t know who she was going on a date with, so you can buy a ticket for any night or every night if you want to – it’s guaranteed to be a whole other experience every time.

“Alan Cumming, his whole festival in 2021 was really a love letter to the art form of variety and a love letter to Adelaide because he had such a great time here in 1989, his first trip here, so he’s brought back Adelaide Tonight with Bob Downe and our very own Anne ‘Willsy’ Wills.

“Some of them [the former artistic directors] really wanted to perform, some of them wanted to pay homage to the time that they had, bringing back artists they had previously; others just wanted to curate shows that they’ve seen, that they’ve been involved with, artists they admire, shows that they wished they’d done, shows that they have done, so we really didn’t apply too much of a formula to it.

“They were all so delighted to be involved that we just grabbed onto that curiosity and passion and it just kind of worked, thank God. I describe it as old favourites and new beginnings – that’s really what this has done.”

The 2023 line up also includes 2021 Cabaret Icon Paul Capsis, who will be joined by pianist Francis Greep for intimate acoustic show Dry My Tears; American performer Broadway Barbara (aka Barbara Dixon), who has become a social media sensation with her satirical take on showbiz stars; Paul Grabowski, Joe Camilleri and Deborah Conway, who team up for Edge of Reality, which reimagines hits by Elvis Presley; and internationally acclaimed cabaret star Mark Nadler, who returns to the festival after 10 years with the all-singing, all-dancing comedy Hootenanny, as well as The Old Razzle Dazzle – An Evening of Lies, Lying and Liars.

Former radio personality Merrick Watts makes his cabaret debut with An Idiot’s Guide to Wine, leading audience members on a wine flight that promises plenty of laughs around the tasting table, while British actor and singer Sarah-Louise Young will present the Australian premiere of her touring show An Evening Without Kate Bush, and celebrated Adelaide drag star Kween Kong (aka Thomas Fonua) will take to the stage in the variety show Klub Kong.

Paul Capsis will present the stripped-back show Dry My Tears. Photo: Warren Lee

Other artists include Robyn Archer, Libby O’Donovan and Michelle Nicolle, Michael Griffiths, Ursula Yovich and Michelle Brasier, with a total of 91 performances being presented across the festival, including 13 world premieres and 20 Adelaide premieres.

“It always just floors me that people can be so imaginative and so creative and so talented, and it’s just a delight to be part of,” Sinclair says.

The full 2023 Adelaide Cabaret Festival program is now online.

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