Live RocKwiz show riffs on Adelaide’s music culture

Fancy yourself an expert on AC/DC, Cold Chisel, Sia or the Hilltop Hoods? Then you may want to get along to RocKwiz Salutes Adelaide at the Cabaret Festival.

May 26, 2023, updated May 26, 2023
The RocKwiz team last came to Adelaide Cabaret Festival with 'RocKwiz Salutes Eurovision'. Photo: Claudio Raschella

The RocKwiz team last came to Adelaide Cabaret Festival with 'RocKwiz Salutes Eurovision'. Photo: Claudio Raschella

The music culture of Adelaide, past and present, will be the star of the show when RocKwiz Salutes Adelaide hits the Festival Theatre stage.

The format of the live show mirrors that of the popular television series, with host Julia Zemiro directing the unpredictable carry-on, funnyman Brian Nankervis starring as the reliable sidekick, and house band the RocKwiz OrKestra – including Paul Kelly’s drummer Peter Luscombe and bass player Bill McDonald – providing the music.

“We have the Paul Kelly rhythm section, so I’d be very surprised if there isn’t some Paul Kelly in there,” Zemiro, a former Adelaide Cabaret Festival artistic director, tells InReview of the show.

“We all know that there is obviously something in the Adelaide water over the last 40 years that has really made some extraordinary musicians, from Paul Kelly to Sia to the Hilltop Hoods to No Fixed Address to Redgum, so what is there not to celebrate?”

While she can’t reveal who the special guest musicians will be on the night – they are revealed as part of the “Who Can It Be Now?” segment – Zemiro says audience members always know to expect “amazing people”.

The ad lib music trivia show will feature stories and songs of iconic SA bands such as The Angels, AC/DC, Cold Chisel and more.

“We will be looking at the roots of these incredible Australian artists,” Zemiro says.

“Expect surprises and stories… origin stories, such as Jimmy Barnes’ extraordinary book, Working Class Boy. Those origin stories of where people come from will be scattered throughout the show, and we are hoping, because we are in Adelaide, there will be South Australians who know their music from there.

“We’ll also do stuff about venues – like AC/DC once played across the road at the stadium there and I think broke the record for decibels, so there will be music history about what’s happened there, and also WOMADelaide. Adelaide is just such a great place for the arts.”

Brian Nankervis and Julia Zemiro will celebrate SA’s music culture.

Before the show begins, Nankervis will handpick contestants from the audience via a series of 10 music questions, culling it down to 24 people.

“Brian then gets those 24 people up on stage and does some quick rounds and it’s like a warm-up for the audience, too, who get totally into it,” Zemiro says. 

Nankervis picks the best four music brains and these willing participants will suddenly find themselves part of the on-stage action.

“We’ve done over 250 shows on TV and countless shows live and we’ve never really had a dud bunch, we really haven’t, because of that system,” Zemiro says. “And it means the show works really well because we have great geniuses… with really specific little boxes of information about stuff, and we’re here to help those with the rock ‘n’ roll [knowledge].

“When those four come backstage and I meet them for the first time, I say to them: ‘Now listen, you are through now; you’ve done the hard work you are part of the cast. You and me and Brian and the band, we are putting on a show now – people have paid money to come and see this. Just enjoy it; have fun with it. Have fun with your musician, too, when this famous person comes out. Have fun with their company and don’t be afraid about answering questions – they often know nothing, so you go for it.’

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“It’s really great because I give them permission to take responsibility for their part in the show and to really go for it.”

Zemiro, who scored the RocKwiz role in 2005, says she was chosen not because she is a music expert, but because her background in theatresports and acting have given her the skills to ad lib and run a room where there is a beginning, middle and end framework. The rest is free-form.

“I have free rein, so it’s that beautiful combo of structure and freedom that has never changed from day one.

“I am eternally grateful since I first got that gig on TV, no one ever came up to me and said, ‘Can you change what you do?’  I’ve got to say that is really rare, and maybe even rarer for a woman, to not be told to be boobier, to be leggier, to be quieter, be whatever. I’ve played my natural game for most of it and it’s been pretty great.”

Julia Zemiro says BROAD, starring Geraldine Quinn, is a must-see at this year’s Cabaret Festival. Photo: Evan Munro

Zemiro is one of nine former Adelaide Cabaret Festival artistic directors who have been dubbed The Cabaret Collective and were invited back to help curate the 2023 festival program.

She will also appear in this year’s Variety Gala concert alongside Kate Ceberano, David Campbell, Eddie Perfect and Ali McGregor, honouring the Adelaide Festival Centre’s 50th birthday.  

“Also, Julia Holt, the amazing original first AD who ran the festival for 10 years,” she notes. “We are all contributing different things into the show and I think the opening night gala is going to be spectacular.”

A couple of cabaret shows on Zemiro’s must-see list include Broadway Barbara, whom she describes as an hilarious pastiche of all things daggy, and performer Geraldine Quinn in a show called BROAD.

“Oh my god, you can recommend that to anyone,” she says. “She’s a belter, she’s hilarious, her voice is incredible and she’s funny, so definitely get along to that one.”

RocKwiz Salutes Adelaide plays at the Festival Theatre on  June 17 as part of the 2023 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which runs from June 9-24.

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