The Festival Sessions/Cabaret

Cece Desist – a showgirl and her extraordinary team

18 January 2022

Cece Desist decided there was no good reason to remain a ‘hypothetical showgirl’ and this cabaret show is the result.

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Perth’s cabaret darling Cece Desist and her live showband will premiere Cece Desist’s Extraordinary Cabaret at Fringe World. In this chat with Rosalind Appleby, Cece explains the gold star line up behind her classic Vegas-style cabaret, and how she transitioned from “hypothetical showgirl” to putting on her own live singing, dancing, sparkling, campy and hilarious show.

Pictured is Cece Desist - A Marilyn Munroe-style performer with blonde wig, red dress and gloves, in front of a pink backdrop
Cece Desist decided there was no reason why she should remain a ‘hypothetical showgirl’. Photo: WILDKAT PHOTOGRAPHY

Rosalind Appleby: For Seesaw Mag readers who don’t know you, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work? 

Cece Desist: I’m a cabaret artist, specialising in camp, drag-inspired, musical theatre-esque performance. I come from a musical family, and have been singing on stage since I was 14. My background in the performing arts is pretty broad – from punk bands, to community theatre, to singing backup for a Katy Perry impersonator. I used to think of myself as a “hypothetical showgirl”, then thought “what good reason is there for me to just stay hypothetical?”. Being drawn to unconventional hyper femininity, I eventually found myself amongst the drag and burlesque crowd, after becoming enamoured of drag queens, and wanting to be just like them. So I did just that – I learned to sew my costumes, got some big hair, and essentially started doing drag makeup. So now I have one avenue to hyperfocus all of my artistic interests. Since conceptualising Cece Desist, I’ve been really fortunate to be able to perform all around Perth, tour with the Perth International Burlesque Festival regional tour in 2020, perform at The Astor Theatre with them the following year, and debut my first solo production “Cece Desist’s Extraordinary Playlist” with my live show band.

RA: Tell us about Cece Desist’s Extraordinary Cabaret which you are presenting at Fringe World 2022.

CD: Cece Desist’s Extraordinary Cabaret is an extension on our previous show Cece Desist’s Extraordinary Playlist. Where the Playlist shows were solely live music focused, Extraordinary Cabaret is a feast for ALL the senses! We have dance numbers, costume changes, comedy, and I’m joined by special guests, such as Malaika Moon performing burlesque, Drag Queen Liberty Genre, and my fabulous showgirl stagehands Cosmo Enchantee and Mellogamy Muse! What makes this show really special is that our musical director and pianist is also my Father, Mike Nelson, who helped establish Jazz Studies at the WA Acaemy of Performing Arts in the 1980’s. I’m also extremely lucky enough to be joined by the most phenomenal showband, who have collectively worked with the likes of Shirley Bassey, Debbie Reynolds, Josh Groban, Frankie Valli and Jerry Lewis, and on large scale performances with the Perth Symphony Orchestra, and The Book Of Mormon.

RA: That’s a pretty impressive line-up! What first inspired you to make this show?

CD: Dad and I had wanted to do something like this for a long time, probably since I first started thinking about doing cabaret. I had an ambitious vision of bringing back the classic Vegas style cabaret show, and Dad was thrilled at the idea to write charts for such a project. We put together the Extraordinary 

Playlist shows really as a way of getting it Fringe-ready. As much as this is a joint project between the two of us, the bulk of the hard work can be credited to Dad, who has gone absolutely above and beyond. Everytime I thank him for his hard work, he tells me “that’s just what Dads do”, which normally applies to things like helping your kid change the oil in their car – not necessarily writing the charts for a 6 piece show band. That’s just what my Dad does.

RA: What makes your show different to all the others on offer at Fringe?

CD: I like to think that it’s everything you love about a classic variety show, but without a backing track in sight. The fact that we have the amazing show band that we do really makes it something special. There’s really not a dull moment in sight. I can honestly say we have put together something truly spectacular for everyone, from Fringe first timers to the Cabaret aficionados.

RA: What’s it like working with your Dad? What happens backstage? 
CD: Dad and I have a very similar sense of humour, akin to the likes of Nathan Lane or Don Rickles, so our ideas gel really well when we get together to construct the show. Rehearsing with the band is amazing to watch, because I’m surrounded by these music-wizards who can just read music off a page for the first time and play it back exactly how it’s meant to sound. I’m a singer, so I gladly benefit from the bar being set a lot lower for me – I give myself a gold star just for remembering the words. Rehearsals with the showgirls have been a breeze also. I bring the skeleton of the choreography and they pick it up instantly and even bring new ideas to bring it all together. They’ve been so helpful and have quickly become an integral part of this show team!

Cece Desist’s Extraordinary Cabaret plays Connections Nightclub 31 January until 5 February.

Pictured top: Showgirl Cece Desist heralds the return of 1930’s Hollywood glamour. Photo: WILDKAT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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