Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Festival Theatre Banquet Bar. 21 Jun 2023
American chanteuse Amelia Zirin-Brown (aka Rizo) is more than a cabaret singer, much more. Her style is reminiscent of Australia’s Meow Meow, where the singing is important, but the antics and banter are more so. Arguably, Rizo’s interaction with her audience is pivotal to the structure of her show, her celebrity, and her appeal.
For this reviewer, this performance was my first experience of Rizo, and it was an eye opener. She is part singer, comedian, burlesque-artist, social commentator, and raconteur. Rizo is the full package, and she clearly has her devoted followers.
She is first heard backstage, and after a verse or two, she emerges through the curtains at the back of the small stage in the Banquet bar. She is dressed flamboyantly but tastefully and introduces her all-Aussie five-piece band (drums, keys, reeds, guitar and double bass). They are good, very good, and alert to Rizo spontaneously moving ‘off-topic’ – usually mid verse.
Rizo has flown into Australia from Europe via China, and she doesn’t recommend it. She pronounces that “Jet lag is a real thing”, and subliminally puts the thought in our minds that maybe we’ll experience her limbering up before she really hits her straps. She shimmies, and for whatever reason decides a group-shimmy involving the entire audience is just what the occasion needs. After all, it’s the eve of the winter equinox, and its cold and raining outside. We need bewitching and warming up, and although the excellent Adelaide Hill wines on offer in the foyer are doing their best to get our blood pumping and hearts racing, a little exercise wont’ go amiss! “I can see you if you’re not doing it!”, she threatens with a broad smile on her face and an evil glint in her eye. Naturally we comply. The last thing any of us want is to be singled out and made fun of, as some second-rate stand-up comedian would do. But Rizo is not that. And the reality is that she singles everyone out – that’s her skill – but its more an act of care and devotion to her audience than anything else.
Clearly the exercise has warmed her up because she then strips on stage as if it was a topless bar, and changes into another flamboyant costume. The strip tease is amusing more than gratuitously salacious. The gloves are removed seductively, to reveal another layer of gloves. One is ‘eaten’ and then ‘regurgitated’, but it has somehow morphed into gay-pride colours! This segues into heart-felt, well-observed and oh-so-funny comments about the parlous state of conservative politics in the US of A and the brazen and unacceptable attacks on diversity. This is not the only occasion Rizzo gets overtly political in her performance or makes salient remarks about the state of the human condition.
Rizzo decries what she calls the culture of loneliness in our society but doesn’t sheet home the blame to the pandemic and what it did to all of us. She hints at something more menacing in the guise of unhinged political world leaders. Rizzo croons Queen Bee and channels Barbara Streisand in the process, and the lyrics are a metaphor for her condemnation of evil men such as Putin and Trump. (Interesting bedfellows!)
Other songs flow seamlessly through her narrative (some her own), and her vocal sound production is fascinating. At one point her voice sounds like a glass harmonica, and the backing ensemble complement it beautifully, especially the keyboard.
Meow Meow crowd surfed in last year’s Cabaret Festival, but Rizzo trips the light fantastic on tabletops in this year’s, availing herself of what might be on offer to drink, as she goes! She chooses members of the audience with whom to slow dance. Her banter is seductive, fresh, and familiar, as she almost intones Close to You and for a moment we know what it feels like to be in an intimate Montmartre-esque cabaret club.
At this point, the jet lag is shed, and Rizzo has hit her straps. Song after song (or excerpts) sign post her narrative. She sings the poignant Ghost of the Château Marmont by Ariana Savalas (Telly’s daughter) and it perhaps serves as comparison for Rizzo’s own search for her place in the world, as she tells the story of her early life as a singer trying to establish herself.
As the show draws to a close, she sits at a small table and sings a final song and “spreads her wings” as she gazes deeply into a mirror. As she does she applies fresh lipstick and dons an extravagant headdress that sparkles and shines and creates multiple images of her face in its many mirrors. Perhaps this is the ‘prizmatism’ referred to in the title of her show?
When: 21 to 24 Jun
Where: Festival Theatre Banquet Room