All eyes are on the 18-piece orchestra that fills the stage, lit with a cobalt-blue glow, when Reuben Kaye slowly enters the frame off-stage, sashaying through audience members and seductively caressing a few select heads along the way.

Holding a microphone hung with a horse’s tail and wearing trademark luscious lashes, flawless make-up, and a black satin suit topped with what he later describes as a “Nosfera-tutu” cape adding a splash of vibrant red, his presence is magnetic. The lyrics of his opening song, “I’m a Photograph”, perhaps offer an insight into both the artist we see and the individual behind the performance.

Reuben Kaye. Photo: Claudio Raschella

There seems to be a feeling among the audience that we know we’re in for a thrilling, risqué experience where anything can happen… as the man who failed to turn off his mobile phone on opening night discovered. But we’re all in it together and even if we do sail so close to the edge we’re sometimes teetering, we’re in safe (and no doubt perfectly manicured) hands.

Kaye has won multiple awards and a loyal audience with his anarchic, queer, provocative blend of storytelling, music and comedy, and enGORGEd has all the ingredients fans would expect – plus an excellent orchestra led by musical director and pianist Shannon D Whitelock. It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s funny, it’s filthy ­– and it’s so sharp it could pierce a hole in your heart.

In between songs and music mash-ups, Kaye delivers rapid-fire quips and commentary in which nothing is off-limits: from Putin to Jesus, Israel, Auschwitz, STDs, gay sex and priests. He mounts a spirited defence of drag storytime, and takes a swipe at the Murdoch media ­– which has apparently published 45+ articles about Kaye since he was last in Adelaide and a furore erupted over his pun about Jesus on Channel 10’s The Project.

Audiences can be grateful that the death threats and protests haven’t blunted Kaye’s edge; in fact, the vulnerability he allows us to glimpse adds depth and poignancy to his performance. At one point, he segues between a story about playing dress-ups with a boyhood friend and then getting beaten in the schoolyard, to a family tale that is both funny and shocking.

A costume change mid-show sees Kaye return to the stage looking drop-dead gorgeous in a floor-length black-velvet dress with train and diamanté neckpiece. “I asked for Edwardian mourning dress meets cabaret,” he quips.

The song that follows, “When I Fall Asleep it will be Forever”, is a highlight, superbly showcasing Kaye’s rich, deep vocals with flawless accompaniment from the orchestra’s strings section. He’s in equally fine form with the belter “If I Ruled the World”.

With a run time of only around 70 minutes, our only complaint is that it’s all over too soon – and this reviewer, for one, would have appreciated more songs in the mix; it seems a shame not to make more of both Kaye’s voice and musicians. The poignant finale, however, could not have been better: a beautiful take on “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”, with a spot-lit Kaye in full melancholic mode.

Check your inhibitions and prejudices at the door and get along to enGORGEd. The program promises it’s Kaye’s “flashiest, funniest and most fearless endeavour yet” – we can’t say definitively if that is true, but it definitely ticks all the F-boxes.

Reuben Kaye is performing enGORGEd at the Dunstan Playhouse again on June 17 and 24 as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which continues until June 24. See more stories and reviews on InReview’s Cabaret Festival page.

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