The Variety Gala is a perennial favourite among cabaret fans, traditionally held on the festival’s opening weekend and featuring performances by a range of artists on the program. However, with the Festival Theatre booked for another (yet-to-be-announced) show in June, the Adelaide Festival Centre has programmed this year’s gala for March 25 and says it will celebrate the launch of the full program for the June 10-25 festival.

Directed by Mitchell Butel and hosted by comedian Paul McDermott, the gala will feature performances by Tina Arena and artists from her inaugural line-up.

Arena, who takes over the reins from 2021 Cabaret Festival artistic director Alan Cumming, says she can’t wait to return to Adelaide and lead audiences astray “into a decadent world of magic, glamour and unadulterated revelry”. “Starting with the Variety Gala in March, I hope it is a chance to celebrate and reunite as an audience, as we give you a tease of what’s to come in June next year.”

Singer-songwriter Sophie Koh is part of the line-up for Songs My Mother Taught Me and will also perform inThe Shànghai MiMi Band. Photo: Morgan Sette

Also announced today is the world premiere of a new show, Songs My Mother Taught Me, which will be headlined by Arena and feature guest artists including Lior, Thando, Jess Hitchcock and Sophie Koh. It is described as an intimate evening of song and storytelling in which the performers will share their stories and heritage.

“That’s a new idea that came from something I’d been thinking about, because our earliest memories are those early songs that we hear as children, and I thought it would be really beautiful to be able to pay a tribute to those songs that actually formulate us, “ Arena tells InReview.

The singer – whose own music career began at just eight on Young Talent Time and has seen her become one of Australia’s highest-selling female artists ­– has Italian heritage and recalls listening to Italian and French music from an early age.

“I was listening to Piaf as early as probably three years of age, two or three, so I was privy to a cross-section of music from very early on,” she says, adding that as she got older, Australian pop also became a staple. “Olivia, Helen Reddy – Mum used to listen to them.”

Songs My Mother Taught Me will be presented at Her Majesty’s Theatre on June 24 and 25, and while the full line-up is still to be announced, Arena wants it to be a melting pot.

“What we’re there to do is to celebrate that eclectic bubble, that eclectic array of people that come from different places that have something to contribute and tell that we can all identify with, or not – and if we don’t, we can hopefully learn something from it.”

Tickets for both The Variety Gala and Songs My Mother Taught Me go on sale on November 8, along with two further early-release events: The Shànghai MiMi Band, a show featuring Sophie Koh that revisits the vibe of Shanghai in the 1930s, when the city was a magnet for foreign musicians; and The Piña Colada Room, a late-night weekend line-up in The Famous Spiegeltent which will pay homage to the icons of disco.

As for the rest of the 2022 program, Arena promises it will be “bursting with provocation and pizazz”.

“It’s expression,” she says, when asked what cabaret means to her. “Perhaps in a more intimate form. It’s about stripping things back to basics.”

The 2022 Adelaide Cabaret Festival will be held from June 10-22.

Note: This story has been updated since its original publication.

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