Hats off to vaudeville and goodbye to the velvet touch
Coming to Adelaide: Nouvelle Vague singer Nadeah.
MITZY the buxom redhead has moved on. The pin-up girl of the past three Adelaide Cabaret Festivals has been replaced by a top-hatted gent with a twirly moustache and more than a whiff of the vaudevillian.
For new artistic director Kate Ceberano it is one obvious sign that the festival is moving on from David Campbell, who took the event to new heights during his three years at the helm.
''The 'red velvet' culture has exploded so we've gone with a different vaudevillian look,'' Ceberano says. ''There's a warmth, a romance to the whole program.''
Broadway veteran Ben Vereen.
Working with producer Torben Brookman and assistant producer Terri Dichiera, Ceberano has assembled a line-up of Australian and international musical acts as well as an illusionist, a touch of circus and a large dose of nostalgia.
Shows that echo a bygone era include the world premiere of Sharon Millerchip's ode to Marlene Dietrich, Marlene Pop Diva, The Supremes' Mary Wilson celebrating Lena Horne in Stormy Weather, a tribute to composer Erik Satie called The Velvet Gentleman, an Andrew Sisters show and Bernadette Robinson's acclaimed one-woman show Songs for Nobodies.
International performers include Broadway stars Lea Salonga, Sherie Rene Scott, Ben Vereen and Eden Espinosa, best known for playing Elphaba in the Broadway production of Wicked, Nouvelle Vague singer Nadeah, American cellist Zoe Keating, Lenny Henry in his one-man show Cradle to Rave and Camille O'Sullivan with her new show, Feel.
Ceberano is excited about Love-Song-Circus, a fusion of music and performance with Brisbane circus troupe Circa and singer Katie Noonan and based on the stories of Australia's first convict women.
''I was looking for love letters between convicts but they were hard to find. Now they're stories about convict women, with songs written by Katie Noonan. She is sort of becoming our Philip Glass - she just crosses genres.''
When assembling the program, Ceberano ''wanted the relationship between singer and writer to be a big part of this year's festival, so I asked singers to bring a little more than they usually do''.
Thus Clare Bowdich, Troy Cassar-Daley, Don Walker and Debra Byrne will each present evenings of songs and stories, and Rick and John Brewster will perform hits by the Angels as you've never heard them (think jug and string band) as part of their musical memoir, Brothers, Angels & Demons.
And for those who think Cosentino, an illusionist who was runner-up in the television show Australia's Got Talent, is an odd addition to a cabaret line-up, Ceberano explains: ''We've extended the definition of cabaret to be up close and personal. I always felt that vaudeville was part of it.''
The effervescent Ceberano sees a festival in the midst of winter as a virtue, not a hurdle: ''I think it's good to make a song and dance about being a winter festival. When it's cold outside there's nothing better than sitting in a lovely warm theatre. You're more inclined to stay.''
Part of her plan to entice people to stay is to create a welcoming atmosphere so she asked the artist David Bromley to put his stamp on spaces within the Adelaide Festival Centre, a ''very '70s-style building with slightly brutal lines''.
Bromley's brief is to enhance some of the performance spaces, interiors and public areas to help amplify the cabaret atmosphere and provoke associations with vaudeville, circus, performance art and music of a different time. The artist, who is from Adelaide, will also stage an exhibition and create an artwork on stage while Brian Cadd performs in the show A Brush with Keys.
As for the future, Ceberano and Brookman have a wish list that is as long as it is ambitious, including Steve Martin, Eddie Vedder and even Jeff Bridges.
Brookman says their ambition isn't as far-fetched as it might sound. ''This is probably the largest festival of its kind in the world. That makes it easier to call agents in New York - they will actually take your call because they know of the festival and respect it.''
That reputation means Ceberano is wary of making too many radical changes. ''It's still about programming great cabaret performers,'' she says. But she wants the festival to become a place where artists can be free to experiment.
''Sometimes artists are not used to performing in small, intimate cabaret venues. The cabaret festival is about the cracks in between.''
She pauses, then lets out one of those Ceberano squeals: ''I am the queen of the cracks!''
The Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs from June 10 to 25.