Cabaret Festival. Festival Theatre. 17 Jun 2023
It is not practical to hold RocKwiz in an intimate environment with punters seated at tables enjoying their favourite tipple. Why? Because the show is so hugely popular that the venue would need to be arena sized. So, its RocKwiz in concert mode in the huge Festival Theatre playing to a sold-out audience! Yes, sold-out! And deservedly so!
This show is just so much fun. Before it even starts, it puts a beaming smile on your face as Brian Nankervis, who co-created the show and hosts it with Julia Zemiro, struts through the theatre foyer drumming up volunteers to be contestants. With his shock of silver-fox hair (compared to Don Dunstan’s in his heyday) and his distinctive brogue, he strides up and down whipping the crowd into a frenzy as he shoots off his sharp one-liners encouraging wanna-be contestants to flock to him like lemmings. Already you know you’re in for a damn good time, and two hours later when it’s all over and you’re making your way home (or to the next cabaret Festival event!) the smile on your face is still there.
RocKwiz has been around since 2005 and has been a favourite on our TV sets across a range of channels. It has received AACTA Awards and has even been nominated for a Helpmann Award. RocKwiz has also become a successful touring franchise and has staged national tours and special appearances at festivals, such as the current Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
The show runs to a formula of sorts, with potential contestants being quizzed by Nankervis to win a spot. Zemiro comes on stage and asks the contestants to identify the first concert they ever went to. For the audience it’s a walk down memory lane, but for Zemiro and Nankervis it’s an opportunity to exercise their razor-sharp wit with funny remarks and banter and to whip the audience almost into a frenzy. Then, through a series of ‘who am I’ questions, the special guests for the evening are introduced and they join the two teams at various times. Tonight’s show featured Anne ‘Willsy’ Wills, David Campbell, John Schumann, and Jess Hitchcock.
Of course, we all know Willsy, Campbell and Schumann, and have enjoyed their songbooks over many years, but Hitchcock is perhaps lesser well known. She is a Melbourne-based Indigenous singer-songwriter with a powerful mezzo-soprano voice who has sung everything from pop, country, folk, music theatre to opera (Opera Australia, and Short Black Opera). Tonight, she won a new legion of fans with an impressive rendition of Chandelier by Australian singer and songwriter Sia.
Campbell gave an excellent account of Paul Kelly’s Adelaide, which fitted the tone of the evening that purposely included as a many local references as possible in the quiz questions. (The show of course was themed as a salute to Adelaide.) Schumann of course sang the iconic protest song I Was Only 19 – we would have expected it, and wanted it – which never fails to have an impact on the listener, and many members of the audience were drawn to their feet as they applauded.
The show ticks along at an unrelenting pace, and the four-piece RocKwiz Orkestra is superb as it entertains with excerpts from songs throughout the show. Clio Renner is outstanding on the keyboard, and Olivia Jayne Bartley (aka Olympia) on lead guitar and vocals gave a soulful and skilful performance of the 1971 classic Because I Love You by The Masters Apprentices.
A highlight of the evening was the amazing general music knowledge of the contestants, especially ‘Victor’, who, as we found out, is the current manager of The Masters Apprentices! One could almost be forgiven for assuming he was a plant! And he has a trigger finger on the buzzer!
What a professional show! Ninety minutes passed by in the blink of an eye, and Zemiro and Nankervis had us eating out of their hands. Whether you are a popular music aficionado or a novice, do not, I repeat, do not pass up an opportunity to enjoy a live RocKwiz event. It is an absolute blast!
When: 17 Jun
Where: Festival Theatre