Published in edited form in The Australian
, June 9, 2015, p.14.
The Adelaide Cabaret Festival mid-winter revels have begun. Now in its 15th year, it is currently in the mischievous care of that Lord of Misrule, Barry Humphries.
Soon after he was appointed, he impishly suggested that, for his event, the F-word would be banished, creating just the kind of panicked outrage that has warmed his Dadaist prankster heart for more than 60 years. “There are no rules” is this year’s festival slogan, and no one has been more of a cultural jaywalker than Mr Humphries.
Sampling 15 items from festival program, the Variety Gala was boisterous fun. From the arrival of host Meow Meow, with Barry Humphries on her arm, singing Willkommen to the Kabarett, to the final number, What My Public Means to Me, featuring gladioli-bearing megastar, Dame Edna, the audience was buzzing.
Humphries was greeted with warmth and enthusiasm, and in return he has gathered artists highlighting Adelaide’s own contribution to international cabaret and comedy. These include Michael Griffiths singing You’re the Top from his Cole Porter show, live wire Reuben Kaye, Daniel Koek singing Gesthemene from Jesus Christ Superstar and Adam Hills proposing that Advanced Australia Fair works better to the tune of Working Class Man.
The Tap Pack tapped, David Gauci gave a Topol variation with If I Were a Leading Man and Christa Hughes delivered AC/DC’s Back in Black from her terrific tribute show, Oz Rockin’ the Ladies Lounge.
Meow Meow not only ensured the success of the night but her excellent new show, His Master’s Voice, featuring Weimar cabaret songs by Brecht, Weill, Hollaender, Spoliansky and others, was also an early highlight.
The Art Orchestra, under the baton of Vanessa Scammell, was again first rate. Briskly directed by Andy Packer and stylishly designed by Wendy Todd, the Gala was a very nice night’s entertainment.
Peter and Jack, a tribute to the extraordinary achievements of early 20th century singer/composers Peter Dawson and Jack O’Hagan, is a project keenly developed by Humphries with director and co-writer, Rodney Fisher. Dawson’s career, from Adelaide to the world concert stage, like that of Jack O’Hagan, composer of more than 600 songs, including numerous Australian classics, is both legendary and shamefully forgotten.
But, with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in splendid form, Vanessa Scammell again conducting, and outstanding performances from baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes, soprano Greta Bradman and vocal acrobats, The Idea of North, Peter and Jack are handsomely celebrated.
Narrated by a beaming Barry Humphries, dressed in a velvet smoking jacket, we were treated to a fascinating history, driven by the new technology of gramophone and radio, and the songs which captured an era.
Jack O’Hagan’s Along the Road to Gundagai, made even more famous by the Dad and Dave radio show, his hero songs about Kingsford Smith, Amy Johnson and Our Don Bradman, and his musical Flame of Desire (stunningly rendered in the duet by Bradman and Rhodes) all featured.
As did Dawson’s greatest hits – In a Persian Market, Waiata Poi, On the Road to Mandalay, and, in a rousing encore from Teddy Tahu Rhodes, The Floral Dance. Peter and Jack is not nostalgia, it is a revelation.