Curated by nine previous Cabaret Festival artistic directors dubbed The Cabaret Collective, the 2023 program is serving up a smorgasbord of what executive producer Alex Sinclair describes as “old favourites and new beginnings”.

The festival opens tonight with the sold-out Variety Gala, hosted by Virginia Gay and featuring performers including Kate Ceberano, David Campbell, Eddie Perfect, Ali McGregor and Julia Zemiro.

Adelaide Festival Centre, which presents the annual festival, says other shows selling fast include Adelaide Tonight with Bob Downe and Willsy,  Reuben Kaye’s enGORGed, Edge of Reality: Elvis Presley Songbook (with Paul Grabowsky, Joe Camilleri and Deborah Conway), and this weekend’s late-night club Late Nite Variety-Nite Night hosted by Ali McGregor.

Here are eight InReview picks from the more than 40 shows being presented over the coming two weeks.

Broadway Barbara. Photo: Chris Fore

Broadway Barbara – Live in Australia!

An hilarious pastiche of all things daggy is how RocKwiz host and Cabaret Collective member Julia Zemiro describes Broadway Barbara, who she names as one of her must-see acts at this year’s festival. Hopefully the American singer, dancer and comedian – who can be seen practising Aussie slang in a video clip posted ahead of her first visit Down Under – understands that is quite the compliment. Broadway Barbara (real name Barbara Dixon) is promising an Adelaide show full of “ribald showbiz tales and comedic spins on classic Broadway tunes”, and if you want a taste of the risqué shenanigans in store it’s worth checking out her YouTube page – the red-carpet tips are especially timely. (June 9 and 10, Banquet Room)

Michael Griffiths – It’s a Sin

Adelaide cabaret artist Michael Griffiths’ new show is his most personal yet – both a tribute to English synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys, whose music provided a soundtrack for his own coming out experience in the early ’90s, and a love letter to his long-time partner Daryl, who he met around the same time. Griffiths is supported by Julian Ferraretto on violin and Dylan Paul on double bass for the show, which interweaves his own story with Pet Shop Boys songs including “It’s a Sin”, “Being Boring” and “It Couldn’t Happen Here”, all of which have been rearranged for piano and strings. “It gives the lyrics a chance to really soar,” he says. (June 10, Space Theatre)

Cabaret performer Michael Griffiths. Photo: Claudio Raschella

Ursula Yovich. Photo: Richard Hedger

An Evening with Ursula Yovich

Language, culture and connection are at the heart of this performance by Ursula Yovich, who says it is an opportunity for her to tell stories from her homeland in Maningrida, North-East Arnhem Land. “The inspiration for this particular cabaret has come through family,” says the actor, singer and writer, who grew up in a tri-lingual household. Yovich’s numerous stage and screen credits include the film Top End Wedding and the rock musical Barbara and the Camp Dogs (for which she won a Helpmann Award); she also released an album in 2010 titled Ursula Yovich Live. For this touring show she is joined by Midnight Oil bass player Adam Ventoura and a live band. “I’m hoping people would walk away from this show feeling quite joyous; it’s a celebration of differences but also similarities,” she says. (June 22, Dunstan Playhouse)

Vince Jones. Photo: Creswick Collective

Come in Spinner ­– The Concert

This one-off show will see ARIA Award-winning jazz artist Vince Jones and singer Nina Ferro perform songs from the soundtrack album for the 1989-1990 TV show Come in Spinner. The album, which Jones recorded with Grace Knight, includes songs from World War II-era musicians such as Cole Porter and Duke Ellington and became the highest-selling Australian jazz album of all time. “We have a 19-piece orchestra, which sounds extraordinary,” Jones says of the Cabaret Festival show. “Nina Ferro is an exceptional singer; she will breathe fresh life into the songs. With some new arrangements written and conducted by Steve Newcombe, the music has become more alive.” (June 11, Festival Theatre)

Robyn Archer – An Australian Songbook

Robyn Archer’s Australian Songbook definitely won’t feature Men at Work’s “Down Under”… in fact, the 2016 Cabaret Icon award winner warns that there may be few songs on the playlist audiences will recognise as she takes them on a road trip through more than 150 years of “alternative Australian voices”. Expect a mixture of genres, including original songs by Archer herself, Goanna, Lou Bennett and Kate Miller-Heidke, plus Brisbane-based composer Robert Davidson’s “Not now, not ever” – a musical setting of Julia Gillard’s famous misogyny speech. “This songbook will certainly be unexpected,” Archer told InReviewQ ahead of the show’s world premiere in Brisbane. “This is by no means a best-of, it’s the voice of our country.” She is joined for the performance by long-time music collaborators George Butrumulis, Cameron Goodall and Ennio Pozzebon. (June 17 and June 18, Dunstan Playhouse)

Robyn Archer. Photo: Claudio Raschella

The Reintroduction – thndo

The Reintroduction (programmed by Cabaret Collective member Tina Arena) showcases music from the forthcoming album of Zimbabwean-born Australian singer thndo, who has won fans across the country with her powerhouse live performances and a debut EP (Life in Colour) that shared her experienced of growing up Black in Australia. Dubbed the “first lady of soul and R&B”, she was also a 2022 finalist on The Voice Australia, with judge Keith Urban describing her performance as one of the best he had seen in the competition. thndo is accompanied by four musicians and singers for the live show, and a video of her recent performance at Chapel Off Chapel in Melbourne is certain to whet audiences’ appetites ­– her take on Sia’s “Chandelier” is spine-tingling. (June 22, Banquet Room)

Thndo performing at Chapel Off Chapel. Photo: Leila Maulen

Reuben Kaye. Photo: Kyahm Ross

Reuben Kaye – enGORGed

Reuben Kaye is a familiar face at Adelaide’s Fringe and Cabaret festivals, much loved for his provocative blend of cabaret and comedy that has been variously described as salacious, transgressive, wicked, hilarious, brash and outrageous. So, yes, all the good things. “Cabaret was the original punk before electric music came in,” the “Swarovski-studded” queer artist said in a recent interview with ABC TV’s Art Works, describing it as an art form with no rules. Strap yourself in for the world premiere of enGORGed, which sees him joined by an 18-piece orchestra for what the Cabaret Festival program says will be his “flashiest, funniest and most fearless endeavour yet”. (June 16, 17 and 24, Dunstan Playhouse)

An Evening Without Kate Bush

It’s no secret that pop star Kate Bush has enjoyed a resurgence in the music charts since her 1980s hit “Running Up That Hill” featured in the Netflix series Stranger Things – which is excellent news for UK performer and super-fan Sarah-Louise Young, whose tribute/parody show comes with the tagline “Kate’s not here, but you are”. An Evening Without Kate Bush features the expected hits (including “Wuthering Heights” and “Baboushka”), but with a wacky and hilarious twist; it also includes stories and anecdotes about the singer and her legion of dedicated fans. The show has received a string of four and five-star reviews in the UK, and if the highlights we’ve seen are anything to go by, it might be a whole lot more fun than an evening with Kate Bush. (June 15, 16 and 17, Space Theatre)

Sarah-Louise Young channels Kate Bush. Photo: Steve Ullathorne

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival opens tonight (June 9) and continues until June 24. Keep an eye on InReview’s Cabaret Festival page for reviews.

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