“Classic German cabaret, TV folk as you’ve not seen them before, a dash of politics, old Hollywood glory, a cabaret favourite re-invented, a dance mash up plus an immersive show that will be on every night of the festival! Mes amis…this is just the beginning.”

Julia Zemiro. Photograph © Diana Melfi

So says Julia Zemiro, Artistic Director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, announcing six early release shows for her first Festival, including the only Australian performance of the new show from legendary German-born, New York-based cabaret artist Ute Lemper.

Zemiro is enthusiasm personified as she chats to Limelight about this first taste of her 2019 program, revealed to the public today. The whole experience of programming the Adelaide Cabaret Festival has been “amazing” she says.

“Getting the job of finding over 50 different acts and artists to fill 16 nights in winter in Adelaide – it’s amazing. I have an amazing team and we are all on the same page so it’s been really gorgeous and really exciting, and I am just so thrilled that finally we can talk about some of the people [programmed] because we’ve been cooking it for about five months,” she says.

As to how broadly she has defined the term ‘cabaret’ she says: “It’s been the question we’ve asked ourselves as a team from the beginning, and we still ask it of ourselves every day…. I would say that in this first announcement of the acts in the early release, you get a very strong idea of what will be in the rest of the festival in terms of its bent,” says Zemiro. What’s more, the question of “what is cabaret?” is one that will be thrown open to artists and audiences in a series of talks at the Festival. So, what is she offering in her first taste of the program?

Ute Lemper in Rendezvous with Marlene

Adelaide Cabaret FestivalUte Lemper. Photograph © Lucas Allen

The sensational Ute Lemper will perform her latest show Rendezvous with Marlene, which she premiered at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York in November. It is based on a three-hour phone conversation that Lemper had with Marlene Dietrich in 1988 in Paris.

“Just as she was becoming famous in the 1980s, people were likening her to Marlene and she felt a bit embarrassed by it and felt she should send a little postcard to Marlene to her place in Paris to say, ‘look, I’m not trying to rip you off, I just love what you do’,” says Zemiro. “Marlene got in touch with her and they talked on the phone for three hours about being German and about doing cabaret work. She’s never talked about it before, but this is that show, and the only place you can see it in Australia is the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.”

Lemper will give be one performance at the Thebarton Theatre, as neither the Festival Theatre nor Her Majesty’s Theatre are available to the Festival this year, because of other bookings. “We went ‘right, where do we put our big shows?’ and I suggested that we use the Thebarton Theatre which is known as a rock and roll venue, but it’s an art deco venue that for 90 years has had everyone walk through it from The B-52’s to Blondie to Lou Reed, to Kylie Minogue to Elaine Paige and Dionne Warwick, to cabaret artists like Dita Von Teese, so to me it’s a fabulous venue,” says Zemiro.

“The last time Ute Lemper was here was in 2013, and before that she had been here 20 years prior to that and she performed at the Thebarton, so I’m so thrilled. There will be lots of other shows at the 2000-seat Thebarton Theatre but that’s the one we can announce today.”

Fiona Choi in Dragon Lady: The Many Lives & Deaths of Anna May Wong

Adelaide Cabaret FestivalFiona Choi in Dragon Lady. Photograph @ Matt Kimpton, Verve Portraits

Anna May Wong was the daughter of an immigrant laundry owner who became Hollywood’s first Chinese movie star. Her career spanned silent film, talkies, Broadway, cabaret and television before her career was stymied by alcoholism and an industry unwilling to see past her Asian face. In Fiona Choi’s show, we find her in a jazz club preparing to face her final audience. Accompanied by visual projections and a three-piece band, the show will be performed in the Space Theatre.

Born in Melbourne to Chinese parents, Choi is best known for her role as the mother, Jenny Law, in Benjamin Law’s SBS comedy series The Family Law. She graduated from the WAAPA Musical Theatre course, and her credits include the original Australian production of Rent and Mamma Mia! She spent time in New York where she built up a string of film and television credits, and she toured North America in The Silken Phoenix, a one-woman show about the lives and works of three of Asia’s most prominent female poets. This year she will appear in two MTC production, The Lady in the Van and Golden Shield.

Larissa McGowan in Cher

Adelaide Cabaret FestivalLarissa McGowan in Cher. Photograph supplied

Dancer/choreographer Larissa McGowan, who performed with Australian Dance Theatre for 11 years, takes on camp and cabaret in a solo show inspired by pop chameleon Cher, at the Space Theatre.

“I really think dance is an important part of cabaret and there is hopefully more dance this year,” says Zemiro. “Larissa McGowan is doing a camp show around Cher. As you know Cher is one of those people who has been around forever. She has had hits in every single decade since the 60s. She keeps on making music, she keeps on being relevant and I think Larissa is going to take a really interesting eye to the aging female artist.”

The Swell Mob

The Swell Mob. Photograph © Rod Penn 

Flabbergast Theatre from the UK, led by Henry Maynard, are bringing an immersive show that transports audiences into a recreated 1800s taproom and a world of bacchanalian debauchery, which will run for the entire Festival.

“In a big thing for the Festival, we are having a show that runs for the whole three weeks,” says Zemiro. “There’s never been a show that had run beyond three performances, but this show will live in the Artspace for the whole Festival. It’s an immersive show – but don’t be afraid of the word immersive. You go in, with only 50 allowed in, and you enter a world where the audience are invited to submerge themselves in the delights of an 1800s taproom. You will be invited to dance and sing and gamble and swing along in this world where anything can happen. You will not be forced to do anything but if you choose to be active you will get a much better experience out of it.”

Paul Capsis with Jethro Woodward and the Fitzroy Youth Orchestra

Paul Capsis. Photograph © Mandy Hall

One of Australia’s most renowned performers, Paul Capsis, will unleash his fierce, famous vocals on songs by Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Lana Del Rey and The Doors, along with classics by the likes of Janis Joplin, Nina Simone and Led Zeppelin. He will be backed by a live band led by Jethro Woodward.

“We are bringing The Famous Spiegeltent back and have some amazing shows programmed there. One of those people will be Paul Capsis with his new show,” says Zemiro. “The beautiful thing about the Spiegeltent is that it is only seats 300 people. It feels like there are a lot of people there but you are getting a very up-close and intimate experience of that performer.”

Dan Ilic in A Rational Fear

Dan Ilic. Photograph © Helen Melville

Comedian Dan Ilic, of ABC’s Hungry Beast fame, will savage the news in a fast-paced, satirical panel show described as being “like Q&A on crack”.

“Dan Ilic is a comedian, a writer, a showrunner. He was looking after the ABC show Tonightly with Tom Ballard [as executive producer and showrunner] and that got axed and I thought we need politics back in cabaret so I said to him ‘can you do what you do on that show on stage?’” says Zemiro. “So he is going to take the day’s events and whatever happens on that day turn it into a show that night with one original song. I love that we can be that immediate and take the day’s events and lampoon them.”

“He will be in a room at the Festival Centre called the Banquet Room, which is always used each year, but this year we are renaming it,” says Zemiro. “It’s going to be called the Blue Room and it’s getting a whole new design so that it feels like a real cabaret space. So, when audiences walk in they feel they are somewhere special and when audiences walk out on that stage they will feel that they are somewhere special.”

Megan Mulally and Her Band Nancy and Beth

Stephanie Hunt and Megan Mulally as Nancy and Beth. Photograph © Giles Clement

The six shows released today join Megan Mulally’s show which has already been announced. Nancy and Beth is a punk/vaudeville band featuring Mulally (Karen in Will and Grace) and Stephanie Hunt.

“I saw Megan on Broadway in the musical Young Frankenstein about 10 years ago, and I had no idea she could sing and dance,” says Zemiro. “This show is not going to be about Will and Grace but [shows her doing] something incredible with another performer called Stephanie Hunt. They met on a film set, they discovered they could harmonise and they loved singing together so they have got this adorable two-act show where they were the same costumes, dance, and sing songs with a band. It’s the most delicious looking and sounding show. They are only on for two night and I think that is going to sell out quickly.”

Zemiro will announce the full program for the 2019 Adelaide Cabaret Festival during the first week of April