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Lusty cabaret collaboration

New York pianist Lance Horne and singer Christa Hughes strut the ivories for their upcoming Sydney show, Love Me.

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New York pianist Lance Horne loves being part of Sydney's ''great international family'' of cabaret performers.

He's performed with Alan Cumming at the Opera House and composed and arranged for Amanda Palmer and Australia's own (though she refuses to confirm it) Meow Meow.

Horne says Sydney is an ''amazing platform for the arts, and cabaret in particular''. Much of this he credits to Virginia Hyam, the former Opera House head of contemporary culture, who was programming such acts there when cabaret was less fashionable at many other venues.

Trevor Ashley has donned sequins and ribbons as Liza Minnelli in Liza on an E, as Natalie Portman (Portly) in Fat Swan, Shirley Bassey in Diamonds Are for Trevor and the little orphan in trAshley. He hosts the all-star cabaret Showqueen, running Sundays through February at Ginger's at the Oxford Hotel. His guests on Sunday February 24 are Marika Aubrey and Amanda Harrison (Elphaba from Wicked). Photo taken 24/01/12. Click for more photos

Sydney Cabaret

Trevor Ashley has donned sequins and ribbons as Liza Minnelli in Liza on an E, as Natalie Portman (Portly) in Fat Swan, Shirley Bassey in Diamonds Are for Trevor and the little orphan in trAshley. He hosts the all-star cabaret Showqueen, running Sundays through February at Ginger's at the Oxford Hotel. His guests on Sunday February 24 are Marika Aubrey and Amanda Harrison (Elphaba from Wicked). Photo taken 24/01/12. Photo: Edwina Pickles

  • Trevor Ashley has donned sequins and ribbons as Liza Minnelli in Liza on an E, as Natalie Portman (Portly) in Fat Swan, Shirley Bassey in Diamonds Are for Trevor and the little orphan in trAshley. He hosts the all-star cabaret Showqueen, running Sundays through February at Ginger's at the Oxford Hotel. His guests on Sunday February 24 are Marika Aubrey and Amanda Harrison (Elphaba from Wicked). Photo taken 24/01/12.
  • US pianist and musical composer Lance Horne and Sydney cabaret performer Christa Hughes rehearsing in Sydney in preparation for the all-star cabaret LOVE ME at The Standard, above Kinselas in Surry Hills, to be held on Sunday February 24. Horne has composed for Alan Cumming, Amanda Palmer and Meow Meow, among others, and in March 2013 will  appear on stage in New York with Liza Minnelli.
  • With his rich, soulful voice, singer-songwriter iOTA - star of the 2011 Sydney Festival Spiegeltent hit Smoke and Mirrors - is not above popping up at little cabaret gigs around town, dueting with erstwhile host and pianist Phil Scott at Showqueen at Ginger's at the Oxford Hotel on February 17, 2013. Photo taken Sydney Opera House 17/01/12.
  • The Scottish stage and screen actor Alan Cumming will appear in a pre-recorded video cabaret performance at LOVE ME at The Standard on February 24, to which local performer Courtney Act will duet. Photo taken Sydney Opera House 17/02/2009.
  • Call her Candice, call her Spanky: whatever the alter ego, New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based, London-raised cabaret performer Spanky (Rhys Morgan) is playing his/her first Sydney show, a comedy cabaret called Candice McQueen: Nasty at Slide Lounge on February 28. Find out why both Elton John and Alexander McQueen requested his private shows. Photo taken in Melbourne 13/07/12.
  • Folk-pop songwriter Brendan Maclean is playing his one-man show at Factory Theatre on Friday February 22. He will be debuting new material for Sydney Mardi Gras - and he's a compulsive Twitter user. Photo taken at the Spiegeltent, Melbourne 04/02/13.
  • Six women take on the world's most famous male musicians and reinvent them as surprising, bawdy cabaret, Lady Sings It Better. From left, Maeve Marsden, Libby Wood, Chandra Franken, Belinda Crawford, Jenni Little, Monique Potter. February 23 & 24 at Factory Theatre. Then they will perform at Jurassic Lounge on February 26 and the Sydney Comedy Festival in April.
  • In the 2012 Sydney Festival, she thrilled Spiegeltent audiences with A Little Match Girl, a cabaret agitprop take on the Hans Christian Andersen fable. Next up for the crowd-surfing cabaret diva Meow Meow will be weimar va-voom when she teams with Barry Humphries, Australian Chamber Orchestra and its artistic director Richard Tognetti and violinist-singer Satu Vanska to sing a Berlin-inspired concert of Weill, Eisler, Krenek, Brandt, Grosz & Tocj on April 24. Photo taken in the Fairfax Sydney studio 21/11/12.
  • The Montreal choreographers and puppeteers Cabaret Decadanse are back at LOVE ME at The Standard, Sunday February 24. Be warned: the puppets are decidedly sexy. "Montreal has one foot in American productivity, and one foot in French refinement", co-founder Serge Deslauriers once noted.
  • Last seen playing the flute, wearing hot pants and top hat in all-star Kylie Minogue-inspired cabaret at Slide, the flaunting flautist, Jane Rutter, is about to celebrate French poetry, music and song with her show French Kiss at the same venue on April 17. She's also got a new album to launch around the same time.
  • Four years after winning the 2009 Sydney Cabaret Showcase, Tom Sharah has played one-man shows and became the popular runner-up in Ten's prime time series I Will Survive. Sharah returns to Slide on February 22 with It's Raining Me.
  • Shay Stafford has written about the life on and around the Champs Elysees in Memoirs of a Showgirl and will perform the story in a show of the same name at Slide on March 7 and 8. Described as an "unashamedly camp pastiche of song, dance, feathers and sequins".

Now the city is experiencing a cabaret renaissance in venues such as Slide, Ginger's at the Oxford Hotel in Darlinghurst, The Standard in Surry Hills, the Bordello Theatre in Kings Cross and the Factory Theatre in Marrickville.

And Horne's assessment of the local scene carries heft. Next month he will perform with Cumming and Liza Minnelli at the Town Hall Theatre in New York.

Before that, however, Horne is musical director for LOVE ME, an all-star cabaret at The Standard, presented in association with ACON and Sydney Mardi Gras, with a line-up including Tom Sharah, Elana Stone and Steve Smyth.

Riches don't always follow a passion for cabaret: a few years back, Horne had to use budget accommodation in a hotel on Pitt Street. Sleepless, he got up and wrote a song called January, which Meow Meow recorded: I overlook the McDonald's/Lest it overlook me …

''Audiences love cabaret because it returns them to a natural state of interaction with a performer,'' says Horne, who has brought to Sydney a video of an Alan Cumming performance to which performer Courtney Act will duet on Sunday.

But Sydney cabaret chanteuse Christa Hughes, another star of LOVE ME, says cabaret's appeal is more about artifice.

''What I like about cabaret is that it's not natural,'' says Hughes, wearing a fez, long lashes and hot pink lycra. ''I think everybody wants to escape reality TV.''

Phil Scott, the Wharf Revue writer and pianist, recently filled in at Ginger's as host of Sunday night cabaret Showqueen in Darlinghurst for regular host performer Trevor Ashley. Last Sunday, Scott duetted with special guest iOTA.

''The cabaret stage is where you work out what makes you unique, and different from everyone else,'' says Scott, who doesn't include burlesque in his definition of cabaret. ''Cabaret is about paring back to an innate truth - even when it's comic - whereas burlesque is about commenting on and through performance, and adding an ironic perspective to it.''

Performer Maeve Marsden, artistic director of Blackcat Productions, which programs cabaret at different venues, agrees there has been a renaissance of cabaret in Sydney.

''But it's hard to promote cabaret in Sydney, with media and audience often not knowing whether to expect burlesque or musical theatre,'' she says. ''Fortunately, Sydneysiders are finally starting to realise that cabaret is both and neither.''

It is a ''fusion of music and story and politics and sex and silliness''.

New Zealand-born ''demi-drag'' cabaret artist Spanky - whose characters include Candice McQueen and whose day drag name is Rhys Morgan - spent seven years performing a London residency and has given private concerts to Elton John and Alexander McQueen.

''A lot of bars are putting on cabaret performers as a way of drawing people back into the bars,'' he says, noting that big-production musicals are expensive to see. He is about to do his first Sydney show, Nasty, at Slide on Oxford Street on February 28.

''Don't get me wrong, I love seeing a great big show, but the scope and even the political aspects that can come through in cabaret, there's nothing like it. I love that cabaret is so intimate. You're so close. I can literally reach out and touch people.''

Performer and pianist Jeremy Brennan, who also programs cabaret acts at Slide on Oxford Street, says that for musical theatre stars, ''it's part of the thrill to break out of character and take to the stage without the artifice of production''.

LOVE ME, The Standard, Surry Hills, February 24; Nasty, Slide, Darlinghurst, February 28; Meow Meow performs with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Opera House, from April 23.