Julia Zemiro unveils first Adelaide Cabaret Festival lineup

Intimacy, story and some new spaces will take centre stage in Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s first program under new Artistic Director Julia Zemiro.

“There’s a funny thing that happens when you get the brief, you look at different ideas of what cabaret is,” she says. “Every artistic director faces that. My definition is ‘close quarters, breaking the fourth wall and musical’,” she says. “Because we still have to run a festival we have bigger events in bigger spaces, but you still want to keep that sense of intimacy.”

The question of space posed an early challenge to Zemiro’s tenure, with both the Festival Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre off limits due to the Book of Mormon’s Adelaide run and the latter’s redevelopment. The solution has been to look down Henley Beach Road to the art deco splendour of Thebarton Theatre. As The Adelaide Review highlighted last year, before it became a modern venue for rock bands and touring comedians the 91 year old theatre hosted everything from whilstling vionists and jazz great Gene Krupa to 1930s bible-bashing lectures on the “De-christianisation of Society”. In other words, perfect preparation for the genre-bending rebellion of cabaret.

In keeping with cabaret’s German roots, Ute Lemper will return to Adelaide to pay tribute to one of cabaret’s original icons, Marlene Dietrich. Having last appeared at the Cabaret Festival in 2013 to revisit the work of Pablo Neruda, Rendezvous With Marlene is inspired by a three hour phone call between the pair in 1988, bridging two generations. “When Ute first found her fame a lot of people were comparing her to Marlene,” Zemiro explains. “She wanted to get in contact with her, so she rings her up and they have a three hour conversation. [Until now] she’s never written or spoken about it, so this is an Australian premiere.”

Ute Lemper (Photo: Lucas Allen)
Ute Lemper will channel Marlene Dietrich (Photo: Lucas Allen)

In addition to the Thebarton Theatre, this year the Festival has enlisted designer Michelle Delaney to add some magic to the Festival Centre precinct. “The Banquet Room will become the ‘Blue Room’, just so that when audiences walk in they’ve already received something, it’s already started. You’re not waiting for the lights to go down.”

Spanning the duration of the festival will be an intimate production from UK troupe The Swell Mob, who will transform the Festival Centre’s Artspace with an audience-focused show limited to 50 people at a time. “We saw them in Edinburgh, this show we didn’t know anything about,” Zemiro recalls. “We walked in and you get given a bag of money, and you just go ‘… why?’ The whole experience is all about you figuring it out. Immersive is one way of putting it, but it’s not the kind of audience interaction where you feel like ‘if I don’t join in everyone’s going to shit on me’.”

“Only 50 people can go at a time,” she continues. “You 50 people are responsible for what happens in this space.”

Cast of The Swell Mob (Photo: Rod Penn)
Cast of The Swell Mob (Photo: Rod Penn)

Another highlight comes with Dragon Lady: The Many Lives & Deaths of Anna May Wong, which will see Australian actress Fiona Choi (The Family Law) bring the challenging story of pioneering Hollywood actress Anna May Wong to life. “Fiona is known for TV at the moment but I knew she was a theatre performer and had seen her perform before. She trained at WAAPA, was in the original Australian Rent cast, and is going to tell the fantastic story of Anna May Wong, one of the first Asian women in Hollywood. She (Wong) wouldn’t get the roles, but would school Caucasian actresses in how to appear ‘oriental’,” Zemiro explains.

Fiona Choi (Photo: Matt Kimpton)
Fiona Choi (Photo: Matt Kimpton)

Paul Capsis will also make his return to the festival in 2019 to perform in the Famous Spiegeltent, to be erected in a secret location. “Cabaret can be anything, but when I think Cabaret, Paul Capsis has always been at the top of my list. Paul hasn’t done it in four years – he’s cabaret but, he’s so much more. Such a bold, fearless performer.”

Vitalstatistix will co-present a show devoted to Cher, but this is no ordinary tribute show with Helpmann Award-winning choreographer and dancer Larissa McGowan drawing on the singer “as a totem for exploring the reinvention of the universal ageing female artist.”

Zemiro also hopes to centre the political side of cabaret in 2019, recruiting former Hungry Beast correspondent Dan Ilic to host satirical panel show A Rational Fear. Joined by triple j presenter Lewis Hobba and ARIA-winning Tonightly alumni Bridie Connell and Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd, the two-night run will see Connell and Nixon-Lloyd pen and perform a satirical song from scratch each night.


Connell and Nixon-Lloyd’s Sex Pest won a ‘Best Parody Song’ ARIA after their show was axed by the ABC

“If cabaret initially was the place you went underground to say the un-sayable… people say the un-sayable on social media all the time. The beauty of Twitter on the one hand is that voices get heard, but people also say the most hideous things as well. So what’s cabaret for?”

“It’s about content, it’s about politics, and close proximity and music,” Zemiro says. “That’s the cabaret thing for me.

The latest announcement follows the news late last year that Will & Grace star Megan Mullally would bring Nancy & Beth, her ‘vaudeville’ punk collaboration with fellow actor Stephanie Hunt to the festival for two nights, and End of the Rainbow, the State Theatre Company’s retelling of Judy Garland’s final days.

Adelaide Cabaret Festival
June 7 – 22, 2019
adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au

Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2019 first announcement

State Theatre Company – End of the Rainbow
May 31 – June 22
Royalty Theatre
Tickets: adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au or BASS: 131 246

Fiona Choi – Dragon Lady: The Many Lives & Deaths of Anna May Wong
June 7 – June 8
Space Theatre
Tickets: adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au or BASS: 131 246

Ute Lemper – Rendezvous With Marlene
June 8
Thebarton Theatre
Tickets: adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au or www.ticketmaster.com.au or 136 100

The Swell Mob
June 8 – June 22
Artspace
Tickets: adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au or BASS: 131 246  

Paul Capsis with Jethro Woodward and the Fitzroy Youth Orchestra
June 14 – June 15
The Famous Spiegeltent
Tickets: adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au or BASS: 131 246

Larissa McGowan – Cher
June 19 – June 20
Space Theatre
Tickets: adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au or BASS: 131 246  

Dan Ilic – A Ration Fear
June 20 – June 21

The Blue Room
Tickets: adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au or BASS: 131 246

Header image:
Diana Melfi

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