It is always exciting when big names come to town, and Oscar- and Grammy-Award nominated singer Dame Lisa Simone brings with her one of the biggest musical legacies there is.

As the daughter of eminent singer and songwriter Dr. Nina Simone, Lisa Simone carries the same awe for her mother as the world does, taking us through her favourite songs.

Featuring a big band generously filled with some of Adelaide’s finest musicians, this show goes through her mother’s biggest hits and forgotten gems, recounting Simone’s memories of her mother and her contemporaries.

Simone is a dazzling entertainer.

She demands the attention of everyone in the room and makes their gaze well worth it. Whether she is holding a gravity-defying note or climbing around the stage and clambering over the musicians, it is hard to take one’s eyes off her.

The show begins with a band only number of a tune that is honky and brash in the way only a big band can be. Simone’s drummer is the energy source of the band. There is so much tasteful restraint in both the arrangements and performance of each of the night’s songs.

“Keeper of the Flame” is the first appearance of Simone in a burnt orange jumpsuit and black and red hair. She is a true old-school soul singer with all the charm and musical prowess to go with it.

She moves her way through her mother’s catalogue with “Fine and Mellow”, “Gal from Joe” and “Go to Hell”. Simone sits on reserves of vocal power, just waiting for the opportune time to unleash.

A seemingly false start to “I Hold No Grudge” prompts Simone to restart the tune and later have an on-stage “meeting” with the band.

Many of the night’s early songs are taken from Nina Simone’s High Priestess of Soul album, including the next song, “I’m Gonna Leave You”, as a train-chugging blues.

Trumpeter Luke White stands out as he offers several impressively melodic solos throughout the night. He is particularly sweet in “Don’t You Pay Them No Mind”.

Simone breaks out a hand fan for “Do I Move You?” as she transforms the Festival Theatre into a small, smoky jazz club. Adelaide guitarist James Muller goes into a blazing rock solo whilst she dances and caresses him, running her hands through his hair.

It is always interesting to see how Adelaide’s local musicians sit alongside international artists, particularly those of the heights of Dame Lisa Simone. On this night, they provide a tight, sizzling canvas for Simone to paint over.

Notably, a few throwaway references to the band as “gentleman” surely fell a bit flat for the women in the trombone and saxophone sections.

The second half of the show pulls out all the crowd pleasers with “Mood Indigo”, “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair”, “I Put a Spell on You” and, of course, “My Baby Just Cares For Me”.

A cover of Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Work Song”, made famous by Nina Simone, is a perfect symbol of the legacy Simone passionately describes as she offers herself as a vessel to keep the music of her mother alive.

A reflective moment from Simone highlights how these songs hold the jazz histories that are often forgotten by audiences here in Australia who are so far culturally removed from the suffering that laid the path for jazz music. The arrangement is explosive with a blistering trumpet solo from Warren Heading.

People have been more than willing to get out of their seats to dance – it seems the challenge was keeping the audience in them, especially as she left the stage to make her way through the crowd and party with the people.

Simone ends the night with some original songs of hers, “Feeling Good”, “Finally Free” and “Hold On”. These songs represent the next generation of artists that follow in the footsteps of cultural trailblazers such as Dr. Nina Simone. It is this spirit that make it clear this is not some uncomplicated tribute show – this a legacy show.

Lisa Simone Keeper of the Flame was presented in Festival Theatre for one night only as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

Read more Cabaret Festival coverage here.

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