No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Category: Cabaret Reviews

Fringe Review: Tommy Bradson’s Sweet Sixteen or the Birthday Party Massacre


How best to write about a show in which you were pulled up on stage for? Of course, it radically changes the way you perceive the show: vast chunks of it get sieved through thoughts preoccupied with “what is my face doing” and “will I be asked to strip naked.” Even when these sections are over, and you’re back down in the relative safety of your seat, the rest of the show becomes somewhat blurrier.

It’s not quite a feeling of adrenalin. Or, maybe it is, an uncomfortable adrenalin you don’t know how to place. “Did I really just do that?” you think, when, of course, you didn’t really just do anything at all, but stand on stage and over-think every action you could possibly do with your body and try desperately not to laugh – from nerves, more than anything else – while a young man in white stage makeup and panda eyes of blue eye shadow stares into your face, and speaks of that time you striped naked in front of him, diving into the clear pool water under the moonlit sky and he found himself in love with you, and then he sings.

In Tommy Bradson’s Sweet Sixteen or the Birthday Party Massacre we’ve been gathered for Lula Whitlam’s surprise sixteenth birthday party. In the Campanile Tent at the Garden of Unearthly Delights, the audience starts the night looking upon the birthday table at the foot of the stage. By the end of the night, more than half the audience surrounds the table  – Bradson brought us up in a collection of uncles, cousins, and friends. The lolly bananas, party hats, and party poppers are shared freely, as several of us crack open a beer.

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Review: Milk, White & Dark

Young cabaret performer Lucy Gransbury is originally from Adelaide,  now living with the bright-lights and big city of Melbourne after graduating from the University of Ballarat’s Musical Theatre program in 2010. In a mainly friends and family showing in Adelaide last week, Gransbury presented three short cabaret acts on different themes.

My Best-Laid Plan was written for university, and we are introduced to a version of Gransbury (who I’ll refer to as Lucy for clarity) who has planned her cabaret show down to the minute. Each step (some witty banter, an emotional ballad) is detailed: it’s Lucy’s perfect recipe for cabaret.

In Dragostea Mea, written for Short+Sweet Cabaret, Gransbury presents to us the story of Livia Bistriceanu: a Romanian woman who was convinced she was married to Leonardo DiCaprio and had his baby. In Gransbury’s version, Bistriceanu is sitting in DiCaprio’s driveway, yelling for him to come out.

Sweet Release of Death is the most structurally achieved of the pieces. Written for a group cabaret show, it has Gransbury’s droll Dorothy Parker walking through a versified version of Parker’s review of Winnie The Pooh and skipping lightly over biographical details in between the songs.

The title of show, Milk, White & Dark, relates to the chocolate which Gransbury (or at least, Lucy) turns to as a source of comfort, and it becomes a recurring theme in the three acts. You get the impression that Gransbury is well known for her love of chocolate, but that doesn’t make its interoperation through all three works any less awkward.

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Review: Josie In The Bathhouse

A side tilt and a small breathy single laugh, that’s how Gillian Cosgriff demonstrated her “fake waitress-laugh” in her Cabaret Festival show Waitressing and Other Things I Do Well (review here).  Two very sharp and loud “ha”s, that’s how Josie Lane shared her fake laugh during Josie In The Bathhouse.  Except, Lane wasn’t demonstrating her laugh to us.  It just came out.  A lot.

Writer and Director Dean Bryant has made a name for himself in the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and the wider Australian cabaret scene through his character shows, including: ‘Tegrity: Britney Spears Live in Cabaret starring Christie Whelan, Newley Discovered on Anthony Newley staring Hugh Sheridan, Liza on an E on Liza Minnelli staring Trevor Ashley, and back again at the 2011 festival with In Vogue: Songs by Madonna staring Michael Griffiths.  Bryant also created the cabaret show I’m Every Woman, staring Ashley covering artists from Shirley Bassey to Lady GaGa, and with writing partner Matthew Frank he is a well respected musical theatre writer.

Josie In The Bathhouse is a departure for Bryant away from these heavily character based works, as Lane is ostensibly presenting the show as herself.  Without the framing device of a character, personality, and repertoire, however, this production falls down, with a heightened and inaccessible Lane presented to the audience.

High gloss and high sheen (and not just on the oiled chests of the towel boys) is the call for the evening and this, paired with the rowed seating on the flat in the Space Theatre, and a show stemmed with no less than two costume changes means we don’t have any chance to get to know the real Lane.  And the Lane we are introduced to is highly unpleasant.  Not because of her seemingly sexual promiscuity (or, in retrospect, perhaps that should be lack there of – towel boy Michel (Griffiths) was having much more luck with an annoying bit about Grindr), or her watching of porn on the hotel TV, or her love for McDonald’s after a night on the town, but, rather bizarrely, because all of these things are performed – and Lane never turns off from the character she is playing – with an air of judgement.

Lane undeniably has a power-house belt which is shown off well in the song selection and with the five piece band, yet some songs were questionable.  A re-written Business Time by New Zealand comedy duo The Flight Of The Concords isn’t nearly as funny when being sung by an attractive girl in a vintage one-piece bathing suit.  An emotional ballad seems to come apropos of nothing, unless Lane truly intended those feelings about her brother’s girlfriend’s bagged umbilical cord?

Ultimately, and perhaps most disappointingly, the show doesn’t allow us to meet the Lane we’ve seen make guest appearances on the Piano Bar stage at the last two festivals.  The bawdy, sexy sensibility mixed with Lane’s voice (and the towel clad men) is seemingly the right ingredients for a fun cabaret show.  This incarnation just misses that mark.

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival presents Josie In The Bathhouse, staring Josie Lane, written and directed by Dean Bryant.  Season Closed.

For all my 2011 Cabaret Festival Reviews, go here.

Review: Introducing Molly Pope

Nervous yet confident hands grasping her small and suitably retro suitcase, Molly Pope surveys the world spread out before her. New York City. The Big Apple. The Big Time. Broadway.

This is the city which will take little Molly Pope, conveniently born a red-headed orphan when both her parents died during childbirth, from her small town to stardom. It won’t be easy, but Molly has watched enough movies in the convent, where the nuns played movies to raise money in the face of dwindling Sunday attendance numbers, that she knows how to follow a path to The Top.

Molly Pope

With her acting course she is surely qualified to be your waitress.  Oh… you… sorry?  No, but if you just look at her resume.  Are you sure, when you hear her name on the radio you can say “she worked here!”  But… Okay.  Sure.  No, no, that’s fine.

It will be rocky, sure, but if anyone can make it, it’s Polly Mope. That’s the name they’ll be yelling, Polly Mope!

Well, yes, it is is too bad they won’t be yelling Molly Pope.

It is Molly Pope!

And you’re right, it’s not the nicest bar, but it’s a job.  And she’s no waitress here, sir, so if you could just find one of the other girls.

Oh, you’re a … producer? You’re not a producer! You are?! A Broadway producer?!  Well, if you would just stick around for one song, Molly will be right back and she would love to chat. Just hold on for one quick song, she’ll be here in a flash.

Just you wait, it may not look like much now, but just you wait, it’s a long climb to that top and Molly is going to hit every rung – twice! Sure, once will be on the way down, but we can forget that one, can’t we?

But he’s not in. Again. No, no, Molly understands, he’s a very busy man. If he would just send her a text, just so she can know what’s going on.  Just a quick text, that’s all she asks.

A letter.  That’s nice.  That is nice.  That’s… oh.

But never-mind.  Molly Pope will be okay.  There’s more to the world than New York City.  Touring, escaping the city, that’s where she’ll make it.  And boy does she make it.

What?  No.  No!  She was thinking of you the whole time; it’s not cheating then.  He looked like you.  She swears he looked just like you.  Molly Pope surely doesn’t know what you’re insinuating.

And then… is that it?  Is that where it ends?  Molly Pope will have none of that. She’s seen the movies: a little drugs, a little strip, then the press loves nothing more than a good come back story. You just have to find the right angle. Or angles, even.  The right inspiration.  That Hitchock, he had some good ideas going for him, didn’t he…?

In Introducing Molly Pope we are taken along Molly’s insatiable journey chasing stardom in New York City.  In a delightful melding of 80-years of pop music (thank you, press-kit) with the jazz flavour of Pope’s rich, brassy tones favoured by the American musical of the middle of the last century, Pope takes us along the rocking journey of the heightened reality of Molly’s rise and fall.

Appearing without the band in the above video, simply (ha!) with the sensational piano stylings of the sock-footed sure-footed Kenny Melman, the wall to wall musical accompaniment can be, at times, exhausting, as Pope swiftly condenses Molly’s ten-year journey into a one-hour, one-woman piece of musical theatre.

In a world where old meets new, where the hand-cranked phone exists alongside text messaging, where a sixty’s frock exists alongside a colour headshot, Introducing Molly Pope exists in a time which is really neither here nor there, but both.

Pope’s sparsely furnished stage becomes increasingly cluttered with the contents of Molly’s suitcase and the disarray of Molly’s career, as the simple props and costume change punctuate the complex tale.  It is, like I said, at times exhausting, as Pope is near unrelenting in her story and her performance, yet forcing your brain to power through these moments means the payoff of powerful vocals, beautiful stage-presence, and captivating tale is more than worth it.

From rags to riches, to slightly more classy rags, and hopefully back up to riches, it was lovely to be introduced to you, Molly Pope.

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival Presents Introducing Molly Pope by Molly Pope and Robby Sandler.  Directed by Jesse Geiger, Musical Direction and piano by Kenny Mellman.  Starting Molly Pope.  Adelaide season closed.  For all my NYC readers, the show plays Ars Nova July 18-20.

For all my Cabaret Festival Reviews, go here.

In Brief: Adelaide Cabaret Festival Opening 2011

As per usual (well, as much as twice can be considered usual), the high sheen, glitz, glamour, and product placement of the 2011 Adelaide Cabaret Festival Variety Gala was overshadowed by the under-rehearsed, over-enthusiastic insanity of Mark Nadler’s Broadway Hootenanny. 

While the Festival Centre stage gave way to the (considerably thinned out) Adelaide Art Orchestra and some of the largest voices of the festival, it’s disappointing that as a format it really doesn’t leave much room for what is my favourite part of cabaret, the connection the performer forms with their audience, and the stories they intersperse between the songs.  Here, singers are invited onstage to sing their song: one short performance and little else.   Consequently, the performer which had the greatest opportunity to shine was emerging cabaret artist Gillian Cosgriff, with a piece by Simon Taylor entitled The Song Song, which gave Cosgriff a true opportunity to talk to her audience.

But any fears of not getting to know your performers are not necessary in the Piano Bar.  As Nadler frantically plays the piano, he brings up any performer he can find.  On opening night, we were treated to bubbleologist Dr Froth, David Daniel Boys, Nadler’s “future employer” Kate Ceberano, Carrie Rawlings, Mitchell Butel, and a line up of dancers featuring a very shocked yours truly.

Nadler’s energy is insatiable, his performers brilliant, and the love which pounds through the Piano Bar, packed to the rafters with not a spare chair in sight for the many standing or sitting on the floor, is a wonder to behold.  While the Gala is fun for its introduction to the festival, it doesn’t stand an iota of a chance standing next to the Hootenanny.

Mark Nadler’s Broadway Hootenanny continues tonight and Sunday, 9:45pm in the Piano Bar, free.  The Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs to June 25.  Click here for more information.

For all my cabaret festival reviews, go here.

Review: Something Old, Something New

This review originally appeared on

Ali McGregor, as always, is resplendent in her choice of shoes and songs. Returning to the Adelaide Fringe, this year she has left the late night crowd and has come to the Spiegeltent (or “a tent in the middle of a field in Adelaide”, as she puts it) for two weekend afternoon shows. Under the light of the afternoon sun, Something Old, Something New is a lot more tame and straight-laced than theMcGregor which has visited us in past years.

But perhaps that is for the best, as McGregor tells us Adelaide is the only city where she has gotten complaints, going so far as to send her letters complaining about the comedians and burlesque; one in particular exclaiming, “that comedian Adam Hills is clearly taking cocaine!” 

It is these stories that McGregor peppers and paints her show with which lifts it; after an hour in her presence you not only have been given some wonderful songs, some with intriguing twists, but you feel like you have gotten to know a bit more of herself.

This weekend, we are being introduced to a slightly discombobulated, but all the more endearing, McGregor, as she has come to Adelaide with her nine-month-old daughter suffering from a cold. McGregor says she knows it will all be over and fine within a week, but “try telling her [daughter] that”, who is thus acting like it is the end of the world.

With the support of a wonderfully jazzy three-piece Adelaide band under the musical direction of talented pianistMatthew Carey, McGregor gets the chance to sing some songs she has done before in Adelaide, some new ones, and she leads on to expand the expression to include something blue.

We are treated to songs given the “McGregor Pizzazz” (“No, no, that’s not a real thing,” she adds, perhaps a little embarrassed for uttering it in the first place), from Madonna’s San Pedro to Britney Spears’ Oops, I Did It Again, to popular standards Bye Bye Blues and The Man I Love.

McGregor’s richly colourful soprano silkily wraps over the jazzy renditions of these songs, filling the day lit Spiegeltent with the light of her voice, and the humour and vocal tricks that comes with it. A delightful way to spend an afternoon.

Reviews: Caroline O’Connor and Newley Discovered

Caroline O’Connor, I’m sorry to say, was my biggest disappointment of the cabaret festival.  Every other show I saw surprised me in some way, but her show didn’t.  I don’t think I articulated it very well, and I’m not even sure I know why, but there was a disconnect between me and her; she didn’t make the connection that so many other performers did.

Im sad this wasnt on of the official media shots, I love it. Stolen from Bryant & Franks Blog.

Newley Discovered, by contrast, was stunning.  Not only as a cabaret show, but just as a piece of theatre outside of that framework.  I truly believe it would stand up on any theatre company or arts festival program.  I loved leaning about the life and history of this man; I had next to no concept of who he was, and the whole show I kept on thinking “he wrote this?”  “he wrote this?”  I have been singing from Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory constantly for the past two days.

Reviews are after the jump.

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Reviews: Frisky & Mannish, and Shoshana Bean

Being the terrible, terrible reviewer that I am, I may have walked in on Frisky & Mannish’s School Of Pop.  It was a stupid Cabaret plan: Stephen Schwartz finishing at 8, Frisky & Mannish starting at 8:15, yeah I would be getting there just scraping in, but I would make it!  Then Schwartz finished just shy of 8:30.  And I ran out during the curtain call.

Yes, I ran out of a curtain call, and showed up to another show late.  So late they wouldn’t even let me to my table, but I was relegated to the benches at the back.  I still feel guilty about it.  And sad I missed the first 15 minutes of the show, because it was great!  So maybe I shouldn’t review a show I don’t see all of…. and maybe I shouldn’t admit I reviewed a show I didn’t see all of, but I  did.

Shoshana Bean was interesting.  I think the fact that I spelt her name wrong while I was writing my review today shows you how much of a fan I am.  I’m not a fan.  And not because I actively dislike her, but because I didn’t really know who she was other than recognising her name as a Wicked replacement.  But I was offered reviewer tickets, and you may have noticed that’s not something I really turn down.  I did have a quick listen to her album in the couple of days before the show, and it was not my type of music, and as it got closer to the show my exhaustion started to take over, and I wasn’t sure if I was even going to last the 11 o’clock show.  But I am so glad I did!  I was really really surprised.  They were just a fun dancing band, a really good cover band – you didn’t really get anything particularly about Bean (although I did love the song she sung from her second album, and she does have a stunning voice), but I had a good time having silly fun.

I don’t know how much my crazy dancing was appreciated by some of the fangirls, but I did move from the front to the side part way through, and that’s how I’m going to enjoy the show.  And I wasn’t the only one, there were some others getting into it as well!

Reviews after the jump.

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Review: Pasek and Paul Along The Way

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are amongst New York’s fastest rising young musical theatre composers. Graduates of the musical theatre performance program at the University of Michigan, in 2007 they became the youngest recipients of the Jonathan Larson Award, and they are currently under commission from the Lincoln Center Theater: just to make the rest of us feel woefully inadequate about our achievements.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

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Review: Mark Nadler’s Broadway Hootenanny

Mark Nadler has been the ultimate star of this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival.  With ten shows over two and a half weeks, the piano-pounding, tap-dancing, guest-staring craziness of the Broadway Hootenanny is an almost indescribable experience  – it has taken me six shows to get to the point when I am writing this version of a review, and many other versions have passed me by.

Aww, he looks so normal. Looks can fool.

Nadler has this undeniable crazy charm, which leads to some of the best one-liners you’ll ever hear, evoking peels of laughter: that is, when you’re not sitting there absolutely gob-smacked and in shock at what he just said.  Occasionally completely overstepping the line, more often just not quite thinking things through, the Hootenanny is not one for the faint of heart.  And the easily embarrassed?  Step to the rear.  Nadler is not above audience participation; rather, he relishes in talking with, and yes, making fun of his audience.  My heart skipped a couple of beats the other night just when he was talking to a woman at the table next to me with the same name!  Perhaps that is a sign I should avoid sitting at the front tables, but how to resist being that close to the insane action?

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