Sydney’s Inaugural International Cabaret Festival

Jennifer Holliday performs at the opening of the festival at the Recital Hall, Sydney

Sydney was the original home of cabaret in Australia; it is an artform that is truly loved by all Australians.  This year organisers decided to bring back the Sydney Cabaret Festival.

Trevor Ashley is the Festival’s Artistic Director. He assembled both International and Australian cabaret stars into a 9 day extravaganza of top class entertainment. Trevor states, “I have loved Cabaret as long as I can remember. As a confused child growing up I discovered this incredible artform that celebrated unique personalities, and more than that, an irreplaceable bond between artist and audience. Seeing artists like Lorrae Desmond, Julie Anthony and Geraldine Turner live, made me believe I could be anyone I wanted to be. It changed my life.”

Trevor Ashley, 2011 In make-up for his role of Edna Turnblad for the Australian production of Hairspray
Trevor Ashley, 2011 In make-up for his role of Edna Turnblad for the Australian production of Hairspray

The 2019 Sydney Cabaret Festival features Tony Award-winner Jennifer Holliday (pictured above), appearing for the first time on Australian soil, alongside local legends like Phil Scott and Jonathan Biggins, to New York downtown darling Natalie Joy Johnson. UK’s Frisky and Mannish return after a ten year hiatus, as does diva Alison JiearTim Draxl will appear in a world premiere of his new show, along with Kim David SmithReuben Kaye and Brian Nash, plus circus and variety show Cheeky Cabaret, direct from their home in Brunswick Heads. Tim Benzie returns to Sydney with Solve-Along-A-Murder-She-Wrote. The Festival also includes a cabaret for children, Petit Cabaret, and masterclasses with Jennifer Holliday and Alison Jiear, as well as the Grand Final of the restored Sydney Cabaret Competition.

I was the Festival’s Photographer and had the pleasure of photographing and documenting most of the action. The following is a brief visual overview of how I spent my time.

Jennifer Holliday – Headlines the Festival

Jennifer Holiday headlines the Festival, appearing at the opening night at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney
Jennifer Holliday headlines the Festival, appearing at the opening night at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney
Ms. Holiday is the undisputed Queen of the broadway musical, Dreamgirls.  Her show stopping number, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going", for which she won a grammy in 1983, is her signature piece.  She won a Tony award for her performance in Dreamgirls in 1982.
Ms. Holliday is the undisputed Queen of the broadway musical, Dreamgirls. Her show stopping number, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”, for which she won a grammy in 1983, is her signature piece. She won a Tony award for her performance in Dreamgirls in 1982.

Opening Night at the City Recital Hall

Trevor Ashley gives it his all as he channels some grand diva from somewhere.
Phil Scott and Jonathan Biggins at the Opening Night.
Reuben Kaye
Brian Nash at the keyboard
New York City goddess and diva, Nathalie Joy Johnson
Nathalie Joy Johnson
Kim David Smith
Alison Jiear at the Recital Hall
Alison Jiear

The solo Performances

The Piano Bar at the Seymour Centre

The Seymour Centre was transformed into the Cabaret Hub with solo performances simultaneously running in 5 separate performance spaces. There was a great buzz of excitement and anticipation as the audiences crowded to attend each show. I ran from theatre to theatre capturing the action. Here’s a visual overview…..

Alison Jiear

Alison Jiear

Cabaret Competition Grand Final

Australia’s next generation of cabaret superstars launched their careers at The Sydney Cabaret Competition: Grand Final hosted by ‘International Queen of Cabaret’ Trevor Ashley.

9 entertainers were selected as finalists (Nyssa Milligan, Irene Nicaola, Katelin Koprivec, Sarah Murr, Naomi Livingston, Rachael Gillfeather, Ali Calder, Billie Palin and Clare Ellen O’Connor), each performed their own short cabaret shows. The judges then selected the 2019 winner.

Congratulations to the runner up – Clare Ellen O’Conner with her show Plucked! and the Audience Choice and Winner – Billie Palin, for her incredible performance in ‘From Dubbo to Death’.

Cheeky Cabaret

Born out of the sleepy, picturesque village of Brunswick Heads on the north coast of NSW, birthed at the Brunswick Picture House, comes “Cheeky Cabaret”. Full of many flavours…..other than vanilla and very entertaining, Cheeky Cabaret ran for the entire length of the Festival in the Valhalla Room at the Seymour Centre.

Frisky and Hammish

Master Class with Jennifer Holliday

Kim David Smith

Nathalie Joy Johnson

Phil Scott & Jonathan Biggins

Reuben Haye

Tim Draxyl

Tim Draxyl dazzles his audience

Toni Lamond and the Finale

The Piano Bar

The Piano Bar was a big hit each night of the Festival
The Piano Bar, the place to be after the show

The Piano Bar was a popular venue, nestled in the Seymour Centre’s Festival hub. Each night heralded a plethora of pop-up performances from various artists.

Rhonda Burchmore lying down on the job!

The Sydney International Cabaret Festival was a big success and will be now on the Sydney cultural horizon….so watch out for it next year and don’t miss seeing a few of the performers in next years line-up.


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