“Quiet please, there’s a lady on stage
She may not be the latest rage
But she’s singing and she means it
And she deserves a little silence”

The lady on this stage – resplendent in a full-length sparkling gown with flowers in her hair – is Mama Alto, self-described “jazz singer, cabaret artiste and gender transcendent diva”. Her rich vocals give full force to the emotive lyrics of the Peter Allen song, with the audience happily responding to the request to “put your hands together and help her along”.

Mama Alto. Photo: Claudio Raschella

It’s a superb way to begin Homage, a spin-off of artist and producer Maeve Marsden’s popular national LGBTQI+ storytelling project Queerstories. For this show, the focus shifted to queer musicians and the songs that shaped them – but there’s no Kylie, Cher, Madge or Babs in the setlist.

“The premise is simple – it’s queers singing songs by iconic queer artists,” says Marsden, who is joined on stage by fellow host Victoria Falconer (on piano), singers Mama Alto, Brendan Maclean, Kween Kong and Malaika Mfalme, and a brilliant three-piece band (guitar, bass/double bass and drums).

It’s Dusty Springfield – the subject of her teenage closet sapphic yearning – whom Marsden channels for her first number, with the singer’s 1964 hit “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” humorously interspersed with lines from Missy Higgins’ angst-ridden “The Special Two” to encapsulate how hard it is to break up after you’ve “lesbianly merged”.

Tanzanian-Australian non-binary artist Malaika Mfalme stakes their claim as an emerging talent to watch with a gently joyful performance of London artist Cat Burns’ “Free”, before later paying tribute to their early influence, Tracy Chapman, with “Fast Car” – a song that perfectly showcases Mfalme’s unique vocals and guitar skills.

Kween Kong – more regularly seen lip-syncing rather than singing – gives her own wonderfully deep voice full rein with Kim Petras’s saucy “Coconuts”, the adapted lyrics a retort to a racist comment made early in the drag artist’s career.

Brendan Maclean plays the piano during his performance of “Glacier”. Photo: Claudio Raschella

When multi-instrumentalist Falconer takes up the autoharp, she explains she will be playing songs from her own recent wedding and that of her mothers-in-law. The result  – a mash-up of “The Book of Love” and “WAP” – garners plenty of laughs… and a few gasps, especially since the Adelaide-based in-laws are in the audience.

Alto returns us to the golden age of jazz with Billy Strayhorn’s beautiful “Lush Life”, before Maclean – who recently performed backing vocals for Electric Fields at Eurovision – takes the energy levels up several notches with a smooth segue into the Scissor Sisters’ “Take Your Mama”.

There are many special moments in this showcase of queer artistry, but a highlight is when Maclean takes his place at the piano for a heartfelt rendition of folk artist John Grant’s “Glacier”,  featuring Marsden and Falconer on violins. The song, with lyrics both heart-wrenching and defiant, encapsulates what Homage is all about.

Virginia Gay with fellow performers in Homage. Photo: Claudio Raschella

No celebration of queer song would be complete without kd lang, but the surprise of the evening comes when Adelaide Cabaret Festival artistic director Virginia Gay (not listed on the bill for the show) slinks onto stage and takes up the mic, telling us how much she loved lang’s Ingenue album as a teenager.

“But despite this, despite how much I loved that album, I was 34 before I realised I was queer… I’m a late-life queer. And it was here in Adelaide that it happened… it was in this very Festival Centre… I was seduced by a chorus girl!”

Gay – who it was announced yesterday will also direct next year’s Cabaret Festival – presents her own tribute to “unrequited sapphic yearning” (and chorus girls) with an impressive performance of “Constant Craving”, featuring soulful backing from the rest of the cast.

The show could have ended there but the ensemble kicks into party mode with Todrick Hall’s “Amen”, a nod to queer club culture led by Kween Kong, who proclaims: “This is a gay church… here at this church you are all accepted!”

Amen to that.

Homage was presented at the Dunstan Playhouse for one night only as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which runs until June 22.

Read more Cabaret Festival coverage here.

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Support local arts journalism

Your support will help us continue the important work of InReview in publishing free professional journalism that celebrates, interrogates and amplifies arts and culture in South Australia.

Donate Here

. You are free to republish the text and graphics contained in this article online and in print, on the condition that you follow our republishing guidelines.

You must attribute the author and note prominently that the article was originally published by InReview.  You must also inlude a link to InReview. Please note that images are not generally included in this creative commons licence as in most cases we are not the copyright owner. However, if the image has an InReview photographer credit or is marked as “supplied”, you are free to republish it with the appropriate credits.

We recommend you set the canonical link of this content to https://inreview.com.au/inreview/cabaret-festival/2024/06/17/cabaret-festival-review-homage/ to insure that your SEO is not penalised.

Copied to Clipboard