The theme of Ali McGregor’s last Cabaret Festival as artistic director is Eyes Open, as works demonstrating the past year’s social awakening will feature alongside cabaret favourites.
Big names of music and comedy such as two-time Grammy and Tony Award winner Patti LuPone, John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and Wayne Brady (Whose Line is it Anyway) will be joined by trailblazing comedian and musician Lea DeLaria and New York performance and drag artist Joey Arias while Archie Roach and Tiddas reunite for Dancing My Spirit and the Mission Songs Project will revive Indigenous songs from Christian missions and native camps. McGregor’s final program – and first without co-director Eddie Perfect – follows the previous themes of What Comes Next and Tables are Turning with Eyes Open.
“Those themes were all born from what was happening with the Festival Centre [the redevelopment] and to find a way of incorporating that into what was happening in cabaret and the world,” McGregor says. “This sounds very ambitious but it kind of works.
“This year, Eyes Open is a reference to our brand new space [Festival Centre] and opening our eyes to see what’s around us. Also, I think this past year has felt like a year of waking up socially. There have been a lot of movements where people are waking up to other people’s stories. Cabaret’s always been at the forefront of social change, it’s always been the canary down the mine of anything that’s happening. It’s a perfect vehicle for people to tell stories and for audiences to watch and hear stories they’re unfamiliar with.”
This doesn’t mean everything McGregor has programmed is politically-charged.
“It’s also full of sequins, hot pants and frivolity. I’ve never wanted to make a completely political program. For me, diversity has been the key to all the programs I’ve been involved with. I want anyone who lives in Adelaide and beyond to come and find something that speaks to them in this festival. Some people love politically-charged cabaret, some just want to hear songs they recognise and some people want to laugh. I really want it to be, as clichéd as it sounds, something for everyone.”
This includes a record number of local acts including singer Carla Lippis, actor and theatre maker Joanne Hartstone, singer Michaela Burger, Slingsby Theatre and local cabaret star Hans.
“It just so happens that Adelaide is producing a heap of really amazing cabaret artists,” McGregor says. “I think some of the reasons are due to the Fringe, Cabaret Festival and Cabaret Fringe Festival. If you’re a performer in Adelaide there are heaps of opportunities.”
McGregor will premiere her new show about ‘50s star Yma Sumac, an exotica singer who had an impressive four-and-a-half octave range.
“Her story is really fascinating because she had this Svengali husband who badly betrayed her. She was a massive star in the ‘50s. She was signed to Capitol Records and was their biggest selling recording artist in the ‘50s. We’re talking about a record company who had Bing Crosby, which is no mean feat. She was huge. She sang all over the world and was lauded everywhere. Then that exotica movement feel out of favour, rock ‘n’ roll came in. She was seen as this novelty act.
“For the last few years of her life she was living in her modest home in LA and there were a few diehard fans, the gay community really loved her. I don’t feel like she was given the reverence she deserves. I want to explore that and look at the fickle nature of celebrity and the way we hold these people up on a pedestal and then let them drop when we’re sick of them. Women – and it still happens, but it happened much more then – were often never given their own agency. She certainly wasn’t. She was kind of managed and told what to do and where to go. Then when she wasn’t of any use to the men in question she was just left to her own devices.”
Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Friday, June 8 to Saturday, June 23