Stars of the musical stage join a hot season of cabaret
They’re three very familiar faces in a very unfamiliar milieu. But then, cabaret is far more than most of us assume it to be — as the Hayes Theatre Co’s upcoming June cabaret season demonstrates so beautifully.
The month-long program features wildly varied shows — from celebrations of rock legends Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison, to Wharf Revue star Phil Scott’s exploration of the life of Oliver! composer Lionel Bart. Melbourne comedian Geraldine Quinn looks at her role of aunt to 23 nieces and nephews, while Darren Yap has written and directed a piece about a fictional young woman’s rise through the US music industry.
There are masterclasses, including one run by Les Miserables star Hayden Tee (June 27), and even a celebration of the 1998 collaboration between Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello Painted From Memory, starring Michael Falzon and Bobby Fox.
“We’reWe re trying to give people as many options as possible,” explains Hayes Theatre Co’s Victoria Wildie. “And also look at how the boundaries for cabaret are expanding a bit; it’s not just an artist getting up there and singing a combination of songs from musical theatre shows.
“It’s about saying that cabaret is about people using music to express something, and it doesn’t really matter what that music is.”
Which brings us back to our cover stars — musical theatre’s Marina Prior and Rob Mills, and singer-songwriter Damien Leith, stretching his performance muscles in a very different discipline.
Leith’s cabaret journey began a few years back with an invitation from Hayes Theatre Co. founders David Campbell and Lisa Hewitt when they were running the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
Leith, a friend of Campbell, embraced the idea.
“When he asked me, I thought, ‘Well I always loved acting as a kid,’ ” Leith says. “I didn’t actually get interested in music until I was about 16; I used to write plays and put them on with my friends, so I jumped at the opportunity.” The resulting piece has been refined over the past four years and is now a complete work. The Parting Glass — An Irish Journey tells the story of an adult son, back in Ireland for a visit after migrating to Australia, and catching up with his dad over a few drinks in a pub. It’sIt s not autobiographical but is informed by things Leith has seen and people he’s met, and includes a heap of classic Irish tunes.
“It’s family, it’s immigration, it’s love, it’s loss. It’s like one of those tragic Irish songs — bright and breezy, then tragedy strikes and they come through it all,” Leith explains.
Much more personal is A Prior Engagement — An Intimate Evening With Marina Prior, which sees the star of such musicals as Phantom Of The Opera, West Side Story and Cats revealing a very different side of herself.
While we might be more accustomed to an elegantly costumed or ballgown ballgown-clad clad Prior, she did begin her music career as a guitar-playing busker in Melbourne and will be bashing out a few Irish and Scottish folk songs.
“I love the freedom of choice, being able to chat and laugh and tell stories as me. A lot of the time, the audience doesn’t know me as me, just as whatever characters I’ve played,” she says.
But Prior has been a huge stage star for a long time — about 30 years — so there will be musical-theatre pieces and a few stories along the way.
While Rob Mills hasn’t been around for quite as long, he’ll also be doing some looking back in a show called Rob Mills Is Surprisingly Good. Yes, it’s a phrase that has been deployed his way. It seems that, despite a solid, decade-long musicaltheatre career — including two years as Fiyero in the original Australian production of Wicked — the weight of Australian Idol still hangs around Mills’ neck.
“It doesn’t matter what you do in theatre, you’ll just get remembered for what you did on TV all those years ago,” he says. “I am grateful for that legup but with all the experiences I’ve had, I’ve now put it all into a one-man show.
“It’s a little bit of a look at where I’ve come from, and d where I’m going, a bit of footage from my first performance on stage as a 15year-old, and a look back at my first go at being judged,” Mills explains.
Of course he will also canvass the washout from Australian Idol, the brief career areer as a pop-star and his eventual tual journey to musical theatree where he found his home.
“I think I’ve really been n welcomed with open arms s by the community and I really y feel part of it now,” he says. s.
Rob Mills, Marina Prior and Damien Leith all have shows in Hayes Theatre Co’s cabaret season. Picture: Bob Barker Cabaret Season, Hayes Theatre eatre Co, Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point; June 1-28, various times and prices, hayestheatre.com.au