The 2024 Variety Gala

Cabaret Festival Variety Gala 2024Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Festival Theatre. One night only, 7 Jun 2024


If one wonders why the bubble bath features on the 2024 Cabaret Festival’s “Soak It In” program, keep wondering. Its wondrous Artistic Director Virginia Gay made her entrance to the Gala show clambering and tumbling from a big white bathtub onstage. ’Twas an ardently silly and memorable opener.


Gay has made the CabFest very much her own, so proud of it and her role as AD that barely an effusive compere's intro goes by without her mentioning it; ebullient, enthusiastic, vivacious, and verbose. One could go on. She certainly did. And her stars worked hard to live up to the superlative extremes of peerless, incredible talent she touted.


She was gloriously frocked up for the big night. It was an abundance of stunningly oily-looking black organza and she set the show on the road singing Ben Folds’ famous Adelaide song.

Shanon D. Whitelock’s massive orchestra was perched in two sections across the Festival Theatre stage with a classic cabaret-drapes backdrop and assorted giant light-balls dangling aloft. 

In an odd tickle of irony on this Gala night of glittering dressup, the stage crew was attired in particularly drab dressing gowns, of all incongruous things.


Fabulous Aida, comprising Dillie Keane, Adele Anderson, and Liza Pulman with Michael Roulston kicked off the program with an autobiographical song from Adele. Both fun and touching, it was called Prisoner of Gender and it contained my absolutely favourite lyric rhyme of the night: “puberty” rhymed "Schuberty”. Ten out of ten.


Mim Sarre Photo by Claudio Raschella

Mim Sarre - Photo by Claudio Raschella


According to Gay, Bert LaBonte is “the greatest stage actor in Australia”. He was not on stage to act for the Gala but he certainly sang and he was certainly “wow” factor. The adoring audience joined in on the chorus of Let’s Get it On and delivered a surprising prettiness of sound in so doing.


Gillian Cosgriff followed on at the piano with a diverting ditty about ghastly gifting delivered in a very lovely voice after which Adelaide’s own Millicent Sarre, now a Class of Cabaret Mentor, belted out I Can Cook Too in strident hot Mama style.


English gals, Flo and Jo, had the house laughing from the moment they stepped on stage. Casually clad and with recorders poking out of their hip pockets, the dissimilar sisters revved up the orchestra to accompany them in the song answering the constant question as to their genuine sisterhood before dismissing the musicans and turning back the musical clock to timeless Celtic folk harmony and their song of Lady In The Woods; a long unforgettable song with an evolution of narrative verses. It brought the house down! 


It was a hard act to follow. But, Jess Hitchcock came equipped with a very well-honed tool, otherwise known as a well-trained voice. Thus, from her A Fine Romance show, in clear, pure tones, she enabled one and all to be Suspended in Time. Then on came the Jewish genius American songster and satirist Mark Nadler.  He plays the piano like a furious sorcerer and plays the audience like a Stradivarius. Funny? Oh, yeah! Clever? Blowaway so. He’s high octane and highbrow. He electrifies the piano with his transcendent brilliance and adorns the piano stool like a comic madman. His theme was I Love a Piano and everyone loved him. He has shone forth in many past CabFests and it is pure joy to have him back in town. There’s no one like him. And no one remembers to play up to the dress circles like he does. Finesse.


Exhausted by Nadler's fearless physicality, the audience tottered out for refreshments before the second act.


Mark Nadler photo by Claudio Raschella 1

Mark Nadler - photo by Claudio Raschella


And out came the divine Reuben Kaye; exquisite to behold and outrageous to perceive.  He’s wickedly pithy, provocative, political and, dammit, he sings like an angel. He’s pure five-star cabaret and when Virginia Gay came on and announced him as the 2024 Cabaret Festival Icon, it was to tumultuous cheers. He has “it”.


It was unfortunate program timing for Gabbi Bolt and Matthew Pedney with their Murder For Two encore duet at the piano. They’re good but it was hard for anyone to outshine what had gone before with Nadler and then Kaye.


Cassie Hamilton came on and did a terrific big, bouncy musicals-style number with her fabulous voice. She’s an exciting new creative. Her show is Transgender Woman On The Internet, Crying and, despite the title, says Gay, it promises laughs. Cassie is particularly endearing in the way she uses her Aussie accent in song.


Here, she was billed up with the old-school musicals pro, that living legend Rhonda Burchmore, still fresh after 42 years in the business, giving a taste of her Tall Tales CabFest show and singing, supremely, Moving The Line. Sighs of approval.


Virginia Gay Reuben Kaye Cabaret Icon Award Winner 2024 Photo by Claudio Raschella 1

Virginia Gay & Reuben Kaye - (Cabaret Icon Award Winner 2024) - Photo by Claudio Raschella


Virginia Gay, now in a black pants suit, had been on and off throughout the show giving her garrulous introductions to an audience known as “my beautiful friends”. She’d made it clear that this was her show. But it was when she donned a leather jacket to take the John Travolta part in a duet with Christie Wheelan Brown in You’re the One That I Want - she truly owned it. She just stole the scene.  Applause.


This was another hard act to follow but, with some formal thanks to the production team which featured our beloved Mitchell Butel as director, she brought on Mahalia Barnes.  In a breathtakingly beautiful black and floral gown, that beautiful Barnes girl belted out River Deep and Mountain High. Hot ain’t the word.  The audience went wild. It was a top signoff for the Gala and teaser for the rest of our wonderful winter festival.


Samela HarrisCabaret Festival Variety Gala 2024


When: 7 Jun

Where: Festival Theatre

Bookings: Closed

More info:

Festival dates: 7 to 22 Jun