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Reviews/Cabaret

Festival’s rollicking finale

28 June 2021

The inaugural Perth International Cabaret Festival concluded with a bang on Saturday night, and David Zampatti was there to raise a glass to it.

‘Closing Night Gala’ and ‘That’s Not Your Light, John!’, Perth International Cabaret Festival ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 26 June 2021 ·

Ivan King OAM was positively beaming as he descended the staircase of His Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday night. The curator of The Maj’s remarkable theatre museum is not given to hyperbole and is not shy of pricking any bubbles he encounters, but the last night Gala of the inaugural Perth International Cabaret Festival had clearly met with his approval.

“Well, how about that!” he exhaled to the eager crowd gathered to hear his verdict.

Indeed.

Undeterred by losing two of its biggest names, Lior and Meow Meow, through COVID restrictions, the festival and its indefatigable director Michael Griffiths knocked together a rollicking show that captured perfectly the spirit of the occasion.

The “little cabaret festival that could” went out with a bang not a whimper.

Griffiths and his effervescent co-compere Amelia Ryan introduced a cavalcade of artists that well represented the diversity and depth of the festival.

It’s senior citizens, the uber-glamorous transgender icon Carlotta and the grizzled bluesman Rick Steele, made the unlikeliest pair as they walked arm-in-arm from the stage after their sets, and Perth Drag Queen Dean Misdale showed off some impressive vocal chops under a just as impressive bouffant.

Satirical versions of pop standards are dicey conveyances at best, and Perth TV favourite Louise Anton’s version of the Billy Joel Piano Man was no exception; her take on Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now was prettily done, but, like Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, it’s a great song performed far too often.

Things got right back on track with Libby O’Donovan’s scorching take on Etta James’s At Last to a rousing finale from the scat singing and tap dancing of the mischievous Steven Oliver, whose original songs of determination and friendship perfectly captured the spirit of the night, and the whole festival.    

John O’Hara is razor sharp in ‘That’s not your light, John!’. Photo: Vanessa Cooper

One of the Gala’s stars was the singer and raconteur John O’Hara, and his early show on the last night, “That’s Not Your Light, John!”, in the plush confines of the theatre’s basement, showed again what an experienced, versatile performer he is.

That’s not damning with faint praise; O’Hara is now (just) old enough to qualify for a Pfizer jab, and he’s used the 20 years since leaving WAAPA, and his home town Perth, to hone his technical skills and emotional impact to a razor edge. He’s got a treasure trove of tales to tell, from his early years growing up in Melville to his adventures touring the world in everything from Hair and The Rocky Horror Show to Priscilla and Wicked.

Sprinkled among the stories are the songs – he’s a master of emotional ballads (Dusty Springfield’s The Look of Love a highlight) and power pop (Queen’s I’ve Got to Break Free and Gaga’s Born This Way). He’s also got an ace up his sleeve in his accompanist, the exhilarating pianist Daniel Griffin, who leapt off the score in a performance every bit as starry as his boss’s.

Despite his show’s title, John O’Hara always knows exactly where his light is, and he’s as comfortable in it as his skin.

Congratulations to the Cabaret Festival and all who sailed in it. It’s dealt with crisis (thank God it avoided the next set of restrictions by a few hours) and established a toe-hold in Perth’s festival calendar that, judging on its debut, should thrive in years to come.   

Pictured top: Libby O’Donovan takes the Gala to a rousing finale. Photo: Vanessa Cooper

[Editor’s note: this review was updated 1 July 2021.]

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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