Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Space Theatre. 16 Jun 2023
She’s the last one standing.
Lionel Williams, Ernie Sigley, Kevin Crease, and Roger Cardwell are gone and that gracious Ian Fairweather is deliberately lost in the mists of time.
Now it lives as favoured nostalgia.
It was Channel 9’s Adelaide Tonight which performed for the workers at the opening of the Festival Theatre fifty years ago this month. And it is Adelaide Tonight which is back with bells on as a variety show in the Adelaide Cabaret Festival - again.
Anne “Willsy” Wills and her 19 Logies are indomitable. She’s 79 already, and not shy about it. She’s kept her voice and her idiosyncratic sense of style. Hence, performing in duets with her beaut sister, Susan, it is in homemade costumes of sequins and feathers.
They are adorable and the CabFest audience whoops with love for them. Having shown the audience a 70s Pru Acton mini frock worn by Sue entertaining the troops in Vietnam, they harmonise on the song Among My Souvenirs with sisterly ease and beauty.
In many ways, Adelaide Tonight at the CabFest is Bob Downe AKA Mark Trevorrow’s show, although he was never a Channel 9 live TV star back in the day. He functions as MC and star of the new Adelaide Tonight. He has the old 70s wig and exaggeratedly corny polyester attire (one outfit no less than Butterick pattern 3459, he reveals). He has all the moves and the vocal slides of his parody persona. And, he is funny. As ever. He’s been doing it for decades and, while it actually is old, it never feels old. He nailed it back in the 80s and it stands as a great, nay classic, Australian comic characterisation. One would say it was iconic, but the icon de jour rocked up onstage on opening night. Hans, the Germanic superstar was just crowned CabFes Icon 2023. Don’t you Want me, Baby? he sings. Everybody wants him. He gives. The audience takes. He is big, sparkling inside and out, witty, accomplished - and ours. He straps on the accordion and the audience thrills. Of all instruments to deliver millennial stardom, but there we are. Hans belts out Treaty and audience members join with “yes”. He is sounding better than ever. Aussie songs ring forth.
Bob Downe has another friend for the show: Pastel Vespa. Lovely crystalline voice, good dancer, quirky character with a solo of When Doves Cry and then a duet with Downe.
Fabien Clark comes as an unexpected delight. Says he’s a “bogan hippie”. A mass of dreadlocks and conventional attire. While one is coming to terms with his look, one has been beguiled by his diabolical standup routine. Kids’ crafts will never seem the same again.
Accompanying a thoroughly entertaining variety show, the Adelaide Tonight Band of Sam Leske, Bev Kennedy, Chris Neale and Nick Sinclair adorn the stage, along with a vintage TV camera and screen for vintage Yo Yo and Safcol ads. Nostalgia blends with the new in a fast, impeccably paced hour.
And, here it comes - a really triumphant new turn, a wildly alternative addition to those good olde days of live telly variety. Therein, Willsy Wills had always been the cute and funny weather girl and popular singer. Stripping down to black corset with red bows and a wild red fascinator was never a “thing” in those good old days. No. But in 2023 Willsy is stretching her wings and her vocals with a bit of the old Weimar style. Down comes the register. Down. How low can she go? Suddenly, it’s “move over Robyn Archer. Willsy Wills has dived into your territory".
And, she’s fabulous.
Adelaide Tonight turns out to be very “today”.
Bright, funny, fresh, clever, warm, and not a bit old school or homespun.
It will be running two more nights through the CabFest with different entertainers making guest appearances. Rightly, it is packing in the audiences so grab a ticket pronto. You won’t be sorry.
When: 16 to 18 Jun
Where: Space Theatre