Date: June 16 2012
A MINI-FESTIVAL of character-driven cabaret that encompasses the dark, the possessed and the mad will inhabit Chapel off Chapel over the last two weekends in June.
The dark comes courtesy of Traralgon-born Kim Smith, who is bringing his show Misfit fresh from critical acclaim at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. American Steven Brinberg is possessed by Barbra Streisand, whose voice he inhabits with uncanny accuracy in Simply Barbra. The mad is from British performer Sarah-Louise Young, who is unleashing a clutch of kooky characters from her steamer trunk in Cabaret Whore.
Smith has been based in New York for about five years, where he has carved out a career playing the posh Upper East Side and the earthier venues in downtown.
''Sometimes I work with a band, but mostly it's me and a piano,'' he says. ''With this show in Australia I'm working with my absolute favourite accompanist, Amanda Hodder, from the Conservatorium of Music, in Tasmania.
''Between us there is such joy, even doing harrowing songs like Strange Fruit [about black lynching victims hanging from trees] and Pirate Jenny [a woman avenging herself for the contempt she endures from the townspeople] - it can be an exorcism sometimes.
''I also do a treatment of Supremes songs, Kylie is represented, Kurt Weill, of course, Hanns Eisler, and Bjork as well, who I love, and we make them all hold hands and mash them in together somehow.''
As eclectic as the choice may seem, Smith's stage persona - a grinning, menacing lounge lizard - does indeed bring them together with some startling arrangements of familiar songs. Nancy Sinatra's Bang Bang is delivered as a murderous spray, and the Supremes' You Keep Me Hangin' On is sung in an angry staccato from a jilted lover.
A female impersonator, Brinberg has been channelling Streisand for almost 20 years.
''I did my first Barbra show at the end of 1993. I've performed in more cities than she has. I just don't have a private jet.'' He is also an Adelaide Cabaret Festival alumnus, having appeared in 2009, but he also appeared in Melbourne in 2000 and 2002 in soldout shows, but audiences will see something fresh.
''It's dictated by her shows, life and career,'' he says. ''She's announced a new movie version of Gypsy, so I open with Mamma Rose. All the other songs are rotated and changed, and I also sing songs she's never done, so the show will never be frozen.''
And just as the show changes so too does the Streisand look. ''It's usually Barbra now, so the wigs vary. Her hair is long and straight and blonde at the moment, but that doesn't suit me, or her, actually. Once you're 70 you don't need hair that long.''
But one thing that does not change is his costume. ''There's no time, without an interval - and those fingernails! Once they're on they're on. I can't go to the loo unless I have a close, understanding friend to help me.''
Young's show Cabaret Whore is different to Smith and Brinberg's in that all the songs are written for a range of characters. ''It's an hour of original songs, character comedy and quick changes,'' Young says. ''After three years of Cabaret Whore there are now seven whores in the family.
''I am bringing my favourite four to Melbourne: a country'n'western porn star-cum-philosopher, a tortured French chanteuse, a performance artiste and oddball, and a washed-up lounge singer. They get me into a whole heap of trouble.
''They are deeply flawed and self-obsessed, but at times we all feel like we should be getting more attention in life. Hopefully, people will identify with some of the themes and laugh at themselves, as well as these extreme divas.''
Misfit and Cabaret Whore June 22 -24, Simply Barbra June 28-30. chapeloffchapel.com.au
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