Tag: Hamer Hall


A cavalcade of demented joys and powerful emotion

By Bradley Storer

After a lengthy COVID-enforced break from the stage, Australia’s own international cabaret sensation Meow Meow returns to Melbourne audiences accompanied by the hefty forces of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and long time fans of the self-destructive and self-aggrandizing diva will find plenty of pleasures here. Entering Hamer Hall in her typically chaotic manner (which almost results in her climbing Rapunzel-like down a make shift rope from the balcony), Meow Meow clambers through the crowd whilst discarding layers of costume until finally she bares herself – physically and emotionally – before the audience.

Despite the lengthy time between gigs, Meow Meow has lost none of her powerful and flexible contralto, or her ability to hold an audience spellbound. Beginning with a disjointed and disgruntled ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, she takes full command with the rousing Rinascero – whose sentiments of ‘my country will be reborn’ feels like a loving prayer to us all. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under the conducting of Benjamin Northey plays exquisitely and brings stunning dimension to Meow Meow’s own composition Hotel Amour (and later the tear-jerking Tear Down the Stars), bathing Hamer Hall in a glorious glow of romanticism that one simply wishes to dissolve into.

The first act contains many of the characteristic Meow Meow shenanigans (many involving unwitting audience participants) and even as they draw uproarious laughter, the strength of the musical offerings and Meow Meow’s ability to embody each song completely almost renders these comic interludes unnecessary. After the shattering combination of the Weill classic Surabaya Johnny with the apocalyptic In this City (the orchestral accompaniment taking it to new, nearly Wagnerian, heights) to end the first act, Meow Meow wisely tones down the antics to focus more on the music. Making the Weimar satirical tune of profiteering and backstabbing, Alles schwindel, feel more relevant than ever followed by making an incompetent attempt at burlesque entertainment, the evening then turns to more emotional material. This allows Meow Meow to bring her full dramatic and emotional abilities center stage, before climaxing in a wonderful and joyous dance spectacle to end the evening.

A glorious return to the stage for one of our most talented and beloved cabaret stars, Meow Meow’s Pandemonium is a cavalcade of demented joys and powerful emotion that cannot fail to bring a smile (or tear) to your face.

Meow Meow played at Hamer Hall, Melbourne

Review: Conchita Wurst & Trevor Ashley with Kate Miller-Heidke

Voices of Austria and Australia combine

By Owen James

Musical events where two great artists unite always make for an evening of enthralling entertainment. Last night however, Melbourne was treated to three world-class artists at Hamer Hall, and over two hours and through various musical styles, we were taken to music wonderland. The six standing ovations throughout the night are a testament to the magic of these renowned vocalists.

The audacious Trevor Ashley kicked off with classic tunes and brazen cabaret-style anecdotes of bad dates gone wrong, warming the audience up for a wild night of dauntless divas. Ashley channelled the great Shirley Bassey, gave a stirring rendition of the toe-tapping Peter Allen rousing anthem ‘Quiet Please, There’s A Lady On Stage’, and dazzled us with cabaret classic ‘The Man Who Got Away’. Ashley’s vocals especially impressed with Broadway classic ‘People’ from Funny Girl, receiving a deserving rousing ovation.

Eurovision legend Conchita Wurst delivered stunning anthem after anthem with her unmatched, heavenly soprano tones. This was Wurst’s first time performing here, and her warm and gracious personality has undoubtedly enamoured her first Melbournian audience. Performing recognisable hits including ‘Out Of Body Experience’ and infamous winning Eurovision ballad ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’, Wurst also wowed with lesser-known tracks peppered throughout the evening. Ashley and Wurst also dedicated a substantial portion of the evening to a timely tribute to the music of James Bond, including Adele epic ‘Skyfall’, and piano-bar favourite ‘Goldfinger’.

Kate Miller-Heidke’s brief two-song stint in the second act stole the show for me. Miller-Heidke’s seamless blend of classical and contemporary vocal styles is mesmerising, showcased in both the finale from her 2016 Opera ‘The Rabbits’ and Eurovision ballad ‘Zero Gravity’ from 2019. She joined Ashley and Wurst for a gentle delivery of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ that made the perfect conclusion for the night.

Conductor Michael Tyack lead the magnificent 40-piece symphony orchestra who backed every piece with delicate nuance and soaring, rich explosions and crescendos. There’s no recorded alternative that that can match a stage full of live professional musicians in perfect synchronisation, and through every alternating musical style this set list demanded, this heavenly group were precise and moving.

Keep an eye out for the next live performance of any of these heart-warming artists.


Photography courtesy of Arts Centre Melbourne

Review: Cirque Stratosphere

All the requirements of a spectacular

By Rachel Holkner

There’s a disconnect in seeing a circus in a static building, particularly one as large and revered as Hamer Hall. But this is not mere circus, it is a reframing of circus arts as event spectacular. Spectaculars themselves continue to grow in popularity as extravagant productions with lavish sets and costumes, and an all-senses assault of lighting and music become the go-to for a big family night out.

For all the requirements of a spectacular Cirque Stratosphere certainly holds up – all the elements are present – yet the disconnect is amplified as I found none of the elements speak to each other. The show is presented as the story of NASA’s race to land a man on the moon in the 1960s, however it seems as if each of the departments went off on their own without an overarching vision. Lights and music are perfect for a ’90s rave (complete with hovering UFO for DJ Hikuri Roots), staging as if preparing for TRON and costumes lifted straight out of The Jetsons.

While beautifully realised, it is the costumes which amplified the misogynistic times of the space race. Reliant on 1960s stereotypes of women, with added boob cones, the roles for the female performers were framed as office staff and passive observers. Women were further marginalised as the two male clowns calling audience members on stage chose men nine out of ten times. If the jokes being written consistently require a male participant, perhaps there’s a need to write some different jokes.

The use of archival audio, from educational films, interviews and missions recordings, was well-intentioned, but the poor quality nature of these tracks meant that much of it was lost under the dance beats and bass drops. But in the end it was the lack of narrative holding this production together which really made it fail to launch. I found transitions stilted, the acts isolated and choreography tired. The only moment of surprise and delight was thanks to an unexpectedly talented audience member brought up on stage, which unfortunately highlighted what was missing from this circus.

There is no doubting the skills of these performers. Each worked flawlessly and tirelessly to present a solid show. Cirque Stratosphere suffers from these artists standing alone and not being part of a troupe, which goes against the mission to the moon theme where all had to work together.

Cirque Stratosphere is showing at Hamer Hall until 11 January and then Sydney Opera House from January 14th.


Photography courtesy of Jordan Munns





Melbourne Festival 2017: THE INAUGURATION with Taylor Mac

Making history

By Bradley Storer

Skewering convention from the very outset, American cabaret maverick and performance artist extraordinaire Taylor Mac (who uses the pronoun ‘judy’) entered the stage to give a pre-emptive monologue about curtain speeches before introducing the assistant festival director Jonathon Holloway (in a magnificent rainbow peacock headdress) who delivered an opening address for the festival the show began.

The Inauguration.jpg

Described as a taster and preparation for Mac’s full 24 Decade History of Popular Music, playing at the festival from next week, judy kicked off proceedings with the classic folk tune ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ rebooted into a barn-burning big-band number, the first of the stunning arrangements by musical director Matt Ray. The over-arching theme of Mac’s ‘radical faerie ritual sacrifice’ is of communities torn apart and at the same time bonded together by pain, and even in this truncated version the audience was required to be active participants. For a thrilling version of Tori Amos’ raging ‘Precious Things’, judy bought up a random audience member onstage to provide backing effects before reaching out to the entire audience to follow suit. The oldest and the youngest members of the audience danced onstage with Mac in a roof-shaking blues song, while two blond members were offered up as sacrifices to Nazi idealism in a campy carriage ride courtesy of Rogers and Hammerstein – it wasn’t entirely clear how this number was intended to ridicule Nazi ideology, but perhaps this would be clearly in the context of the full show. By the end of the evening the audience was so enthralled they were eagerly jumping to their feet to obey Mac’s instructions.

Mac is a masterful and intensely charismatic performer, able to make campy pratfalls sit easily alongside penetrating intellectual ruminations on sexual repression and political conservatism, and judy’s powerful and piercing voice is capable of encompassing rock, blues and jazz in equal measure. While there might be some who’d question the relevance to an Australian audience of an exploration of American political and social history through music, Mac made incredibly pertinent links from the lives of Jewish-American immigrants in the early 20th century to Australia’s current treatment of refugees. The re-fashioning of a homophobic Ted Nugent song explicitly about ‘fag-bashing’ into a soft, romantic slow dance under a disco ball (as well as the entire audience asked to dance with someone of the same gender) was a heavenly conclusion to the evening and made all the poignant by the current climate of homophobia being unleashed in this country.

With such an energetic, anarchic and transcendent opening we can expect a wonderful season for the Melbourne Festival this year, and can only wait in delighted anticipation for Mac’s show in its entirety next week!

Venue: Hamer Hall, St Kilda Rd.

Date: 6th October 2017

Time: 7:30pm



Divine music in all senses of the word and experience

By Leeor Adar

Born under Peter Phillips‘ directorship, The Tallis Scholars wonderfully transcend the passage of time and deliver audiences the English Renaissance polyphony.

 The Tallis Scholars.jpg

Since 1973, Phillips has been proving that polyphony draws audiences in the droves. If anything is to be said for Hamer Hall on that balmy Melbourne night, the audiences of varying generations filled the seats to indulge in these beautiful harmonies. Sixteenth-century composer Thomas Tallis, a man who won the patronage of the powerful and elite (and also held the monopoly of printing music), inspired the title of Phillips’ troupe.

Phillips challenges his singers and convention by having only two singers perform a part. Phillips aptly states that two singers for a part are ‘more precise’ and ‘vulnerable’. The fact that the performers must work harder to crystallise their sound is an even greater credit to their ability and to their director. We were treated to some of the most ethereal sounds a human voice could deliver; I was elsewhere for much of this performance, hoisted by these angelic voices to higher ground. The mysticism inspired by Catholicism clearly still affects audiences today through the sacred verses performed.

Phillips began the night with Peter Philips’ Cecilia Virgo, a piece whose text was inspired by the patroness of music, Cecilia. The piece is a perfect opener to the polyphonies that come after, signalling the skill of the alternating groups of voices. Pieces I felt that highlighted the skill of the Scholars and delivered the most compelling music to me would have to be Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah, the modern composer John Travener’s As one who has slept, and William Byrd’s Tribue Domine.

Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah I felt captured the melancholy of the destruction of Jerusalem at a greater depth than Dominique Phinot’s, which Phillips has included after Tallis’ in the program. This was an exercise I suspect in contrasting how the Lamentations could be performed differently, with Phinot’s polychoral style dominating his piece.

The inclusion of Travener’s 1996 As one who has slept was a beautiful nod to a modern composer. The piece carries with it the weight of tremendous mysticism – the varying tones that take us to sudden and melodious highs and lows were a beacon of light in the evening for me. At one point I felt chills in my body: a testament to how overwhelming choral music can be.

The Tribue Domine by one of Tallis’ contemporaries, Byrd, closed the official part of the evening. With soaring voices that harmonised so beautifully, audiences were guaranteed to leave the Hamer Hall in an otherworldly state.

While Phillips indulged us with one last encore, I was adament it will not be the last time I journey to listen to this marvellous choral music.

The Tallis Scholars performed at Hamer Hall on November 6, 2016.

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents LAURA MARLING

Warm and winning performance from young international artist

By Jessica Cornish

Draped in plain black linen and hugging an acoustic guitar, award-winning UK artist Laura Marling performed in the beautiful Hamer Hall as a part of the 2015 Melbourne Festival. Her stunning warm vocals filled the venue, complemented by her unobtrusive band mates upstage in the speckled light.

Laura Marling

The night began with a barrage of some of her more intense songs all in minor keys, and these were augmented by the stunning movement and colour splashed across the stage from the clever lighting design. All evening the lighting was vibrant and energetic, constantly changing and employing interesting lighting angles and looks or incorporating use of silhouettes and shadows.

Reminiscent of an intuitive storyteller rather than a mere folk performer, Marling’s songs have a genuine nature and often seem open-ended, never allowing us to predict when they will end, before we experience the sudden abruptness of silence. In between songs she was quietly spoken, and preferred to let her songs speak for themselves rather than explaining how they came to be or what inspired what particular composition.

She performed a catalogue of her more well-known pieces including my personal favourite “Ghost” (though she somehow managed to stumble on the words!) Laura charmingly explained afterwards she was distracted as she was trying desperately not to accidentally sing ‘shat’, which can sometimes amalgamates from the words ‘hat’ and ‘sat’ in the lyrics. She also professed Dolly Parton was a hero of hers (good taste, I have to say) and performed a wonderful cover of ‘Do I ever cross your mind?’ while impressing the audience with her new finger-picking technique, which specifically required the growth of her mutant right thumb nail.

Sometimes the lyrics were a little bit lost in the mix, but her vocal quality was continuously stunning. She has a rich, warm tone that sat nicely above the twangy acoustic guitars, and was a constant pleasure to watch and hear. If she ever comes back to Australia, I will be excited to see what this young British modern folk singer will then have in store.


Image by Deirdre O’Callaghan

REVIEW: Victorian Opera Presents REMEMBRANCE

How do you choose to remember?

By Deborah Langley

It’s a cold night in Melbourne and I must admit I’m feeling quite nostalgic. It’s been a hard week for me, the week I said goodbye to my grandmother, of funerals and sadness, of tears and regret. So it was with a heavy heart that I went along to the Victorian Opera’s Remembrance at the Arts Centre’s Hamer Hall.

Victorian Opera 2015 - Remembrance © Charlie Kinross

On this the centenary year of the ANZAC landing in Gallipoli, I was ready to remember: to shed a tear for the wasted youth and reminisce of times gone by, of what could have been and what we have lost.

With stories, songs and images we were given an historical and musical account of Australia’s involvement in World War 1. From the time of enlistment in 1914, with diggers leaving us and training in Egypt, through to landing in Gallipoli, the Somme and the Western Front and finally the homecoming of some of our luckier diggers. Remembrance gives a respectful reimagining, complete with authentic wartime ditties, but unfortunately this ultimately did not feel a truly heartfelt tribute.

Written and directed by award-winning Australian author Rodney Hall, and composed and conducted by acclaimed artistic director Richard Mills, Remembrance stars one of Australia’s best-known operatic tenors David Hobson, along with eight of Victorian Opera’s talented young artists.

Elizabeth Lewis is a standout in the ensemble, embodying characters both vocally and physically, while Michael Petruccelli and Nathan Lay give equally memorable performances as diggers throughout the war as the cast create a series of moving musical portraits against the backdrop of archival footage.

Accompanied by an impressive chamber orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, and a large rousing community choir, Remembrance does offer a glimpse into what life might have been like during World War 1: something we should all continue to remember.

Victorian Opera’s Remembrance was performed at Hamer Hall on August 13 2015, before touring:

Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo
15 August 2015, 7:00pm

The Cube, Wodonga
31 August 2015, 10:30am & 7:30pm

West Gippsland Arts Centre, Warragul
3 September 2015, 8:00pm

Eastbank Centre, Shepparton
12 September 2015, 7:30pm


REVIEW: Victorian Opera Presents THE BIG SING

With voices raised

By Narelle Wood

For one night only Victorian Opera, community choirs from around regional and metropolitan Victoria, VOYCE (Victorian Opera Youth Chorus Ensemble), students from the Master of Music Opera Performance program and Orchestra Victoria came together for the very aptly named The Big Sing.

In the magnificent surrounds of Hamer Hall we were treated to performances of Verdi, Mozart, Bizet, as well as Gilbert and Sullivan and Maestro Mills’ own arrangements of Australian folk songs “Click go the Shears” and “Waltzing Matilda”. The program provided a great variety of musical moods, from the joyful drinking song “Brindisi” from La Traviata to Purcell’s haunting “When I am Laid in Earth” from Dido and Aeneas.

The Big Sing

It was, however, the ethereal performance of “With Drooping Wings” also from Dido and Aeneas and sung by VOYCE that was a highlight, demonstrating the depth of talent that Victorian Opera has to work with.

Michael Petruccelli and Matthew Tng were very entertaining (they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves) and I could have listened to Kate Amos and Cristina Russo sing all night. But for anyone unsure whether opera is for them, nights such as these are a perfect introduction. Selection of music aside, Maestro Mills provides a history and context to the pieces in a passionate, sometimes brutally honest, but always entertaining style.

While in an opera performance the opera singers will always be the stars, listening to, and on this very fortunate occasion watching, Orchestra Victoria is an incredible experience. This time we were treated to some introductions to the various instruments, and personalities, of the orchestra, which added a relaxed and very personable feel to the evening.

I did find the request to join in the singing of “Waltzing Matilda” a little confronting and was a little too self-conscious to join voices with likes of Elizabeth Lewis and Nathan Lay. Hopefully The Big Sing will be back next year as I certainly thought it was a big hit, and who knows – maybe next year I’ll be game enough to sing along.

Victorian Opera’s The Big Sing took place at Hamer Hall on 13th Oct 2014.

REVIEW: Melbourne Jazz Festival and CASSANDRA WILSON

Innovative, iconoclastic and exquisite

By Anastasia and Peter Slipper

The Melbourne International Jazz Festival certainly brought out the star power for their closing night last night with a standing ovation for singer Cassandra Wilson at Hamer Hall.

Cassandra Wilson

Wilson’s voice – honey-smooth, seductive and powerful – had the entire audience under her spell for two deceptively long sets, so that it almost seemed that she had the power to control time itself. Infused with the swampy blues sound of her native Mississippi, her performance showcased songs ranging from her early career to her latest album, Another Country, released last year. Wilson’s performances of covers were as heartfelt and individual as that of her own material, and the encore of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time was a masterpiece.

She is known as a performer who transcends genre, and this performance was no exception, although the blues were never far away. The backing ensemble of bass, percussion, guitar, violin and harmonica wove elements of latin, country and folk around jazz- and blues-based grooves in a perfect synergy. Arrangements were often sparse, providing plenty of opportunities for the five musicians to show off their improvisatory prowess – exciting and very much in-the-moment.

Swiss harmonica player Gregoire Maret was an absolute stand-out, kicking off the gig with his version of Stevie Wonder’s The Secret Life of Plants. Often compared with Wonder, Maret created supple tendrils of sound from his chromatic harmonica, building into virtuosic extended solos.

The diversity of Wilson’s performance reflected the nature of jazz in the twenty-first century – it doesn’t fit into neat little boxes of genre, or exist in isolation, but is one of many musical styles constantly evolving and adapting with new influences and innovation.  Under the stewardship of Michael Tortoni the Melbourne International Jazz Festival is to be commended for reflecting this diversity in the programming for 2013 – and these reviewers are certainly looking forward to what delights next year’s festival may bring.

Cassandra Wilson performed at Hamer Hall on June 9 2013 for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.