The Mackay Cabaret Festival

Photo Above: Joel Bow, Lance Horne, Molly Rosetto, Mayor Greg Williamson
Photo By Leah McLean

Few people could argue that the Mackay theatre scene has undergone and overhaul in the last few years since home grown theatre aficionado, Joel Bow, whirled back into town like a cyclone of thespian energy, challenging those in the wings, in the spotlight and in the audience to try something new or perfect something old for the sake of re-kindling this town’s deeply-rooted passion for the creative arts. There isn’t a company he has not supported, an artist he hasn’t high-fived or a show that he’s missed if he could help it, so to say he deserved the crowd of people that swarmed over the Mackay Cabaret Festival this past weekend is an understatement!

Cabaret Festival in Mackay, you ask? Where? How? And most importantly: WHO to headline? But what might have seemed like an incredibly ambitious undertaking on paper was executed flawlessly by Mr Bow, who not only used the three-day festival to give local stars their chance to shine, but imported celebrated artists from Australia and the US to shine by their side, guaranteeing three nights of pure, five-star entertainment in one of Mackay’s undisputed classiest venues, The Dispensary!

Thursday night featured local quintuple-threat (she sews and directs in addition to dancing acting, and singing) Vicky Bobeldyk and US songwriter, Lance Horne as the headliners, accompanied by Caireen Holt. Vicky Bobeldyk’s show, ‘Boyka’s Back’ was the ultimate way to launch the festival because her act was not only hilarious, but clever and moving. Spinning-off from her role in the Comedy Player’s production of ‘Eurobeat’ in 2017, Boyka’s Back was a tribute to the character, Boyka, the former pole-vaulting champion from Bosnia who turned to the stage after her pole vaulting career came to an abrupt end following an indecent exposure scandal- a running monologue which was broken up by musical segues into cleverly chosen songs. Mrs Bobeldyk kept up this persona for the entirety of her slot, entertaining the audience with her fictional anecdotes and her perfectly controlled voice, but what made the performance so memorable for me was the way that she worked some of the challenges that she has recently faced in her personal life into her set, by re-wording a few choice lyrics from ‘I’ve Been To Paradise’ and ‘There Are Worse Things I Could do’ to express her feelings on the subjects of bullying and dusted dreams so articulately that I went from being in peals of laughter, to a sobbing mess, to back to laughter again by the end proving that though she may just be a local girl, she’s also one in a million. And though this wasn’t the first time I’ve been impressed by the way the accompanist, Caireen Holt, handled her part of the show, I was extra-delighted to see her get in on the fun herself a few times, and hope to hear more of her voice in addition to her playing from now on because she was adorable to watch and to listen to.

Lance Horne, Vicky Bobeldyk, Joel Bow Picture by Leah McLean

Following Boyka and a brief intermission, Joel Bow kept the bar rising by introducing a friend of his, Grammy Award Winning songwriter (yes in MACKAY!) Lance Horne who spent the next hour blowing our minds with his own set ‘Double Standards’ – a one man show that was of the highest standard. For the duration of his slot, Lance sat behind the keyboard and kept the audience hanging on to his every word as he explained how he worked his way from the renowned Juilliard to Broadway, with the help of the artists he’s worked with, such as Stephen Sondheim, Liza Minnelli, Hal Prince and Alan Cumming. As a songwriter, Lance is often called upon (and at the last moment) to ‘whip up’ something that sounds like something else but is not too much like something else and he didn’t leave any doubt in our minds as to how he manages it because the man is legitimately a musical genius. His monologue had an unscripted, rambling feel to it that was insightful, hilarious and illuminating, his fingers flew over the keys without him seeming to give it a second thought at all, and the songs he sang were eclectic mash-ups of songs we know and love and the original numbers that he has written himself which were as inspired lyrical as they were melodic. ‘Double Standards’ was billed as a one man show, but Lance invited a few local performers to sing a few numbers with him, and no one could argue that Brent Dillon and Molly Rossetto blew the audiences away, first with Brent’s rendition of the classic: ‘On The Street Where You Live’ and Molly’s performance of ‘If This Was Your Last Day On Earth.’ The former is one of my favourite songs and Brent stole my heart with his incredible tenor voice, an the latter was an original song written by Lance himself, for a musical that he is currently working on. Molly knocked the ballad out of the park, and I do not doubt that the number will be one that will earn Mr Horne another well-earned Grammy soon, so check it out on YouTube so you can say you were one of the first to hear it!

Friday night opened with Molly Rosetto’s one-woman show ‘Songbird’ accompanied by Sarah Rosekrans, and although I have heard wonderful things about it, I could not get back to the festival until after work, and so I must review her based on the clips I saw uploaded online, and on the cameos she did in Mr Horne’s show the evening before. ‘Songbird’ was a mix of hits penned and sung by Australian artists like Missy, Higgins, Kylie Minogue and Casey Chambers, and her finale number ‘Born to Try’ was an audible delight, which is high praise because that is not an easy song. However, nobody that knows Miss Rossetto would doubt her ability to pull it off, because although she’s only been in Mackay for a few years, she’s already made her mark in productions by the MMCP, Red Giraffe Theatre and Joel Bow productions. It’s a shame that I didn’t get to see her whole set, but I had a few theatre-newbie friends in the audience that night who showed up not knowing what to expect and left feeling shocked that a performer of that calibre worked as a music teacher by day, right here in our little hamlet when it’s clear that she’s got the vocal talent to make a killing as a professional singer anywhere.

The second show of the evening was Madeline Caine’s ‘What Is This Thing Called Love?’ And although Madeline Caine is a graduate of Mackay’s Conservatorium of Music, she’s spent her time since scorching a trail as one of Australia’s finest performers so it was great that Joel managed to get her back here for the festival. Her show was about the evolution of romantic relationships, from meeting your first love to farewelling a true love to standing by a life-long love and the family that comes with it, and like Vicky Bobeldyk she switched gears constantly, making the audience weep one moment and fall off their chairs laughing the next while Sarah Rosekrans showed us just why she’s in such demand. Madeline has a stunning soprano voice and packed more songs than anybody into the time she had, leaving the audience feeling exhausted and sated after. She got us all giggling with the songs ‘I’m A Stalker’ and ‘True Love’ but the falling off the chair came during her re-worded rendition of the My Fair Lady Classic ‘I could have Dance All Night’ because she took out the word ‘Danced’ and replaced it with a pleasured moan, making the ridiculously innocent song so erotic that I don’t think anyone in the audience will ever hear it the same way again! Madeline has a stunning soprano that’s something better heard than described, and though she used it to blow the lid off massive numbers like the one I just mentioned, she also expertly pulled it back for softer songs that moved us all to tears, like ‘Baby Mine’ and ‘I’ll Be Here’ an emotionally-wrenching song penned about 9/11, so by the time it concluded, tissues were still being wiped over faces that were grinning again.

The final night of the show opened with Kelly Cooper doing her first Cabaret performance ‘Vanilla Lace’ which was an awesome angle to come from, because it gave Kelly the chance to tell her story: one of a girl that lives a very ‘vanilla’ existence BUT one who also gets to explore her other, crazier side via the performing arts which is a story that a lot of people can relate to! Mrs Cooper was clearly nervous, but her anxiety just made her all the more endearing, and though I was not surprised with by how effortlessly she sparkled her way through an eclectic, entertaining and flawlessly delivered set list, I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed with what she had to say between songs as well, because her script was humorous, fresh and humble, especially for a first timer. And though she reached into her repertoire to prove how she slayed the audience as Galinda the Good in the MMCP’s 2017 production of Wicked by belting big numbers like: ‘I dreamed A Dream,’ she also showed how versatile she was by performing numbers from The Book Of Morman and Avenue Q and yes, I’m please to say that there was a puppet involved!

Now we get to the final performance, and although it was billed as a one man tribute to Madonna by the accomplished Australian star, Michael Griffiths, the headliner introduced his act by saying he’s not very good at sticking to pre-meditated schedules and therefore, was going to do something a bit different, and I think we all ended up being grateful that he took it in another direction because, it was a wild and crazy ride that was all the better for its spontaneity! Michael entertained us with anecdotes about his escapades in the entertainment industry while accompanying himself, as Lance Horne had, and played songs that all know and love, from artists like Aha to Peter Allen. He had a bit about 80’s pop songs that ended up playing out like a music trivia quiz/sing-a-long that had the audience as in on the act as he was, and he treated us all to a bit of insight into the song-writing process too, by demonstrating the key points in the anatomy of a pop song using Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’ as an example, wrapping the festival up with a standing ovation that was not just for him, but for the festival in general!

Thursday Night’s Audience watching: ‘Boyka’s Back’ Photo By Leah McLean

My love for the performing arts pretty much guarantees that I am always going to have more positives to say than negatives in my reviews because I’m more of a cheerleader than a critic- but ask anyone that was lucky enough to secure one of the sold-out seats to The Mackay Cabaret Festival and I’m sure that they will tell you that it was one of the best experiences of their lives, and one that would have played just as well in front of audiences in the capital cities. Perhaps not every tune was for everyone because the collective song list was just so diverse, but that’s going to happen with any show, and I know for a fact that for every song someone may have felt a disconnection with, there were eight more that hit them right in the feels, so even the most critical audiences members would be inclined to rave as I have. In fact the only thing I can complain about is after three days, my derrière hurt from sitting and my face hurt from smiling! Aside from that, the venue was first class, the performers brought their A-Game every single second, the organizational side of things was on point and the audience was so stuffed with Joel Bow supporters from almost every theatre group in town that it was like a three day party.

Bravo to Joel Bow, the cast, the crew and the sponsors for your sold-out season- I do not doubt that next year’s Mackay Cabaret Festival will be even bigger and more brilliant!