Melbourne Cabaret Festival Opening Gala

Melbourne Cabaret Festival Opening Gala: a terrific taster of this year’s festival

By Bradley Storer 

At the opening night gala for the Melbourne Cabaret Festival, we were greeted by Melbourne cabaret fixture Dolly Diamond and from the very start we were in safe hands. Dolly wielded her signature sass to maximum effect throughout the entire night, firmly guiding the evening with confidence and with renditions of the iconic ‘Cabaret’ and ‘That’s Life’ as only Dolly could deliver.

The proscenium arch erected for the night, pointed out by Dolly in her opening monologue, along with the light fixtures attached around it were used alongside a dark back drop interlaid with small star-like globes. This construction gave a wondrous and dramatic effect throughout the entire show, courtesy of Tom Willis’ creative lighting design.

Alyce Pratt in a section from her show ‘Someone’s Daughter’ – backed by band members Clare Moore, Steve Paix, Frank Di Sario and Pete Farnan – was utterly beguiling and enchanting. Dressed in a sparkling white gown beneath a black coat, she drew the audience in with compelling and mysterious original song writing. Her songs were interspersed with familial story and self-deprecating allusions, before climaxing in a ferocious performance of Jacques Brel’s ‘Amsterdam’ that whipped the audience into raucous applause.

Max Riebl, accompanied by Adam Cook on piano, followed by showcasing his glorious counter tenor voice in excerpts from his show ‘Hard to Handel’. The pairing of Elvis Presley’s ‘Young and Beautiful’ with the Handel aria ‘Con rauco mormorio’ worked beautifully, Riebl’s gorgeous tone and technical mastery in the coloratura sections delighting the audience. In the performance of Radiohead’s ‘Karma Police’ which came after, Riebl produced such beautiful and spine-tingling notes that it was tempting to just sit back and let his voice wash over you in opulent waves.


Justin Clausen and Jamie Burgess brought the first act to a close in spectacular fashion with a preview of their show ‘He’s Every Woman’. Accompanied by Burgess on piano, Clausen entered through the crowd belting Celine Dion’s classic power ballad ‘The Power of Love’ in a suitably fabulous ruffled white gown which then quick-revealed into an equally fabulous black leather ensemble for a rollicking rendition of ‘River Deep Mountain High’. Clausen’s flawless pop vocals combined with Burgess’ charming banter were the perfect end to act one of the opening gala.

After intermission and a special presentation to patrons of the arts Margaret and Ron Dobell along with Drew Downing brought the audience back in with songs from his upcoming show ‘God Only Knows: The Songs of Brian Wilson’. Although there was shakiness to the performance (with Downing admitting that his piano-playing was outsourced to another musician in the full show), the enthusiasm of the band and backing vocalists Seth Drury, Courtney Glass, Callum Warrender and Ashlee Noble helped carry the buoyant joy of ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Surfer Girl’ and ‘Help Me Rhonda’ out to the audience.

The standouts of the night were Erin Hutchinson, Tyler Jacob Jones and Joshua Haines presenting the original compositions of their show ‘What Doesn’t Kill You [Blah Blah] Stronger’. Telling unbelievable (but true!) stories of survival, the trio had the audience in hysterics with the macabre tale of the ‘Army of Cats’ and the delightfully upbeat but horrifying calypso stylings of ‘Things People Do to Survive’, complete with snappy banter and choreography.

Danielle O’Malley closed the night with a section of her tribute show, ‘Nancy Sinatra: You Only Live Twice’, with a backing band including Mark Jones, Tristan Courtney and James David. O’Malley delivered a slick and commanding performance as the eponymous ‘60’s pop star with vocals that outstrip even the original, bringing the evening to a close in a roof-raising ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’.

A terrific taster of this year’s festival, which promises for even greater delights to come over the next few weeks!

The Melbourne Cabaret Festival runs until 1 July at Chapel Off Chapel and showcases up to 10 performances daily. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 8290 7000.

Photographs: Sanjeev Singh