MEDIA 2005



Tony-winning actor-singer Lillias White has been a fixture of New York's Broadway musical scene since the early 1980s, her credits include Barnum, Dreamgirls, Once On This Island, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, and The Life. Her autobiographical cabaret From Brooklyn to Broadway, offers a rare opportunity to hear her magnificent voice in an intimate club setting.

Much of her repertoire is drawn from the musicals she's appeared in, but don't be put off if you think an evening of show tunes sounds a bit dusty. White works the pop, soul, and R&B end of Broadway, with a splash of calypso too.

As a child, she says in her cabaret, her idols were Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Diana Ross. But the singer she most reminds me of is Randy Crawford, with the same purity of tone driven by what would seem to be a bottomless reservoir of power.

Apart from that blitzing voice, White has two other great assets: she sells a song with an actor's commitment and intelligence; and she's funny. All three attributes come together in The Oldest Profession (from The Life), a song written for her and in which she's humourously transformed into a world-weary hooker.

The soupy sentiment of power ballad The Power Of One, one of her encores, would probably play better to an American audience. This is the only miscalculation in a performance with tremendous crossover appeal, solidy backed by John Rutledge (piano), Dave Hatch (drums) and Cameron Lees (electric bass).














"She's alive" despite her success, Lillias White remains generous and level-headed.

A queen of Broadway wants the young to know that dreams come true, writes Bryce Hallett.

Even off stage Lillias White has that special, indefinable something. Ebullience and ease are part of the equation, so too her curiosity and laughter.

The award-winning music-theatre performer from New York is neatly summed up by the French waiter in the cafe where we meet for this interview. "She's just great. I like her - she's alive!"

Though the word diva is invariably used in relation to Broadway belters and leading ladies, White is level-headed, warm and generous with her time. Her fans know her as the woman who lent her voice to the soul-singing Muse in Disney's animated feature Hercules, as well as for her dazzling turns as Sonja in The Life, and as the wishful ugly duckling Effie in the pulsating musical Dreamgirls.

For the past two weeks, White - an acclaimed jazz vocalist who featured with Tony Bennett on the composer Cy Coleman's last album - has been preparing for her Sydney debut with the autobiographical cabaret From Brooklyn to Broadway.

"It's a chronicle of my life, the ups and downs, the shows I've done and the people I've worked with," says White. "When I was four years old I'd get up on my grandmother's dining-room table and sing and dance. My family were always supportive and they valued the arts, as did my teachers. That support and attitude was important because it gave you the confidence to be who you are and to be a performer.

"My mother took us to Radio City Music Hall every year for the Christmas shows and the [Brooklyn] neighbourhood I grew up in was totally integrated. My public school was outward looking and the curriculum included opera, ballet and music.

"From an early age I had the view that the arts were part of our lives It's been eroded and it's a shame the arts has been taken out of the schools. It's important because it can make people calmer and reduce fear about other people's difference. My mother didn't tolerate discrimination. In my neighbourhood, if you were a racist you were out."

White talks about her rite of passage and her "blessed career" as a way of offering young people hope; as testimony that dreams do come true.

As a teenager she aspired to be a ballerina but jazz and the allure of Broadway seized her attention. One of her favourite musicals was The Life, for which she won the Tony Award for best actress. Other shows included How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Once on This Island, Romance in Hard Times and Rock 'n' Roll: The First 5000 Years.

There was also Cats, an experience she'd prefer to forget. "Cats was the most challenging musical I've done; it was challenging to my good nature," she quips. "I played Grizabella for six months, which was six months too long. There was a stage manager from hell and I was also going through a divorce. I married too quickly."

Her first Broadway musical was Barnum, starring Jim Dale, in 1980. "I auditioned for Cy Coleman and [director] Joe Layton," recalls White. "They put me at ease and made it fun. I was asked to sing, which I did, then they said, 'Can you juggle?' I took a deep breath and went, 'Here goes.' I wasn't very good but I said, 'It gets better!"'

And so it did, not only the juggling but the facility to keep a cool head while singing from the heart. Her training as an actor in the New York theatre company Demigods helped. Beyond the Great White Way, the performer has popped up on many TV shows, including Law and Order and NYPD Blue. In 1992 she won an Emmy Award for her role as Lillian Edwards on Sesame Street.

Although White features on various original cast recordings, including Dreamgirls and a Gospel version of Handel's Messiah titled Too Hot to Handel, she insists her talent is better suited to the stage. "It's to do with the way I communicate with an audience and it's hard to re-create the magic of a live performance on a recording. When you come [to the show] you'll know what I'm saying."




















Singer Lillias White says she never experienced a revelation she would be a performer. "I didn't realise it, my family did," White says. Now White is in Australia for a series of cabaret-style shows, showcasing the entire journey from "grandmother's table to Broadway stardom and beyond," along with some great jazz tunes.

Entertainment was in the blood. White's aunt, also named Lillias, was a dancer on The Jackie Gleason Show.

"I was very much encouraged by my family. I was always singing and dancing around the house," she says. It was a very creative household and also a very musical one. "I always heard the greats of jazz playing in the house.

"Ella Fitzgerald, Sara Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Johnny Mathis."

White took to her first stage -- her grandmother's dining table -- when she was just five.

"My grandmother used to have a big dinner every Sunday. After the homemade dessert she would have my grandfather clear the table and go and wash the dishes -- because that was his job -- and she would put me up on the table to entertain my family."

White first trained as a dancer and later discovered her talent for singing.

It was when she was attending college that she met playwright and founder of the Demigods theatre company Joseph Walker, who invited her to join.

From that company she went on to Broadway fame, with roles in Barnum, The Wiz, Hair, Cats and a Tony Award in 1997, for her role in The Life.


















Legendary Broadway musical Dreamgirls, based on the story of Motown supergroup The Supremes, is heading to the big screen early next year with a star line-up already confirmed in the cast.

Beyonce has been cast as the Diana Ross character called Deena, with recent Oscar winner Jamie Fox, Eddie Murphy and Usher also confirmed.

But if Lillias White, the woman who played the lead Effie Melody White on Broadway to great acclaim, has anything to do with it, she will among the cast when the 1981 musical finally goes before the cameras in January.

"Oh, I would love to do that role," says White during a chat in her Sydney hotel room during her first Australian visit. "I did that role for a long time and I think I did it pretty damned good.

"The movie is long overdue and it is time to make it now. I know Beyonce has been cast as Deena, but I am waiting to hear who will play the other two girls. I am not 22 anymore, or 34, but I am older than I look," she says with a wink.

"There is a Broadway girl named Ramon Keller who is very good, and I know there has been some talk about American Idol's Fantasia, but I would love to have a shot at doing the movie. My only wish is that the movie was done when Michael [Bennett] was still alive."

White is referring to the legendary Broadway director and choreographer, who created Dreamgirls as well as the musical A Chorus Line. Bennett, one of Broadway's first openly gay talents, died of AIDS in 1987.

When White replaced Jennifer Holliday in the central role of Effie, the overweight lead singer who is pushed into the background to allow the pretty and thin Deena to take her place, Bennett is said to have exclaimed about White, "I finally have an actress in the role!" She recreated the part for a concert performance in 2001 which was released on CD.

White says working with the tempestuous Bennet changed her career, and helped open the doors for the many shows and awards that later came her way, including 1997's Tony Award for the musical The Life.

"Michael was crazy and wild, but he had a vision and respected talent," she says. "He was about taking that talent and then making something out of it. I feel a lot of love for him as I didn't end up mad with him at all.

"He was fine when we were working with him, as far as we knew. We didn't know he was really sick until near the end."

Some of her brightest moments in Dreamgirls will be among White's repoitre when she makes her Sydney debut at @Netwown for three nights in mid September.

Her one-woman show, Brooklyn to Broadway, charts her life story, from singing on her grandmother's dining room table in New York's Harlem, through the ups and downs of her personal life and to her stage triumphs. Apart from Dreamgirls and The Life, she has also starred in Barnum, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Cats, The Wiz and Once on This Island.

She is also an acclaimed jazz vocalist, and is often called 'Broadway's First Lady of Soul'. Back in 1990, she was a back-up singer on such hits as Madonna's Rescue Me and Jeffrey Osborn's If My Brother's In Trouble.

"Madonna was interesting to work with me again," she says. "We had been cast together in a Broadway show in the early 1980s called Rock'N' Roll!The First 5000 Years, and she dropped out because she said she got a record deal. We all huffed, 'You are leaving a Broadway show because of a record deal?' And the rest of it, of course, is history!

"In my show, I chronicle my life and talk about the shows I have done, the people I have worked with and my former husbands! We have a good time with it.

"This is actually a very freeing time of my life. I have had a really wonderful career, but I have also had two great children (a son and a daughter, both in their 20s). I am blessed, but it also means I can say to them, 'You guys are now grown and settled, so Mother is going!'" she laughs.

"I can now get on a plane and go wherever I am called, and do my thing. And here I am in Sydney!"

For a performer who is an above-the-title star name on Broadway and has won TV's Emmy Award for her appearances on Sesame Street, White admits she has found it surprising she has such a following in Sydney.

"That is very humbling. I am amazed how many people I have met in Sydney who have told me they saw me in The Life on Broadway. That doesn't really register at all, as I thought there might have been a few, but it seems to be so many people. I am amazed to even think I am in Sydney and people are coming to see my show!"

White has a dedicated gay following in the US, from not only her Broadway roles but also her appearances with the Gay Men's Chorus in both New York and Boston, and appearances at HIV/AIDS fundraisers.

"I will always help when I can to raise money for people living with HIV/AIDS," she says. "I have lost too many friends, so when I get called to do a show, I just do it."

But she also believes her audience is also thanks to the cult gay following of Dreamgirls and the experiences of the character of Effie.

"Gay fans seem to like her as they know she is the one with the voice and should never have been put in the background. It is like as gay man in a show who has the talent, but because someone knows he is gay, they push him out the back. That is not right.

"I think gay people empathise with Effie, and they love that she is triumphant in the end. She is the underdog who does not deserve what she gets. Gay men understand that."



















19 AUGUST 2005

It's One Night Only with Tony award winner Lillias White @Newtown.

And it's not only the Tony she's won.

Together with her Tony, White also received the Drama Desk Award, Peoples Choice Award and The Outer Critics Award for Best Actress in a Musical -- Broadway's prestigious quadruple crown -- for her 1997 role as Sonja in The Life. She also won the Obie for her role in Romance in Hard Times and a Drama-Logue Award for her role in Dreamgirls.

Showtune Productions artistic director David Hawkins says he first met White in 1992 at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway where she was playing Grizabella in Cats. "It was actually at that first meeting when I was 18 that she said, 'If ever you can get me some gigs in Australia I am there.' Well, all these years later the time is now," says Hawkins.




















6 JULY 2005

A year on from her memorable first Sydney visit, Belgian singer Micheline Van Hautem returned with her muse, Jacques Brel, and her miraculous musical partner, Frederik Caelen. What ensued may have been less intense than it was in the more intimate Sound Lounge, but she still lit a slow blue flame under Brel, and made
his songs writhe a little.

Brel stared down the black void of despair, and defied it to win out over the miracle of life, however meagre that life may be. This fierce affirmation lies at the core of his work, and it is that which Van Hautem, at her mesmerising best, can lay bare on a stage, so that we watch it like so many medical students standing around a dissected corpse in which, against the odds, a heart still palpitates.

She moved seamlessly between French and English lyrics, so the meaning could hang tangibly in the air somewhere between those tongues. The effect was akin to watching a foreign film without subtitles; one so narratively adroit as to still communicate - in this case the swirling, conflicting passions beating in Brel's songs.

Van Hautem's busy, coiling hands could wring meaning from the words or set them free. On La Valse a Mille Temps she and Caelen (on accordion) first flirted with the waltz time, then danced with it, and finally sank their teeth into it until it
reached a frenzy. While Caelen made ice sculptures on piano, she ripped at the fabric of Ne Me Quitte Pas, although she may have been too quick to deliver the coup de grace this time, there being enormous power in holding back the torrents of that song, as I recall her doing last year.

There was the wicked playfulness of Le Diable (Ca Va) and the deep, dusty sadness of The Old Folks ("They hold each other's hand like children in the dark/but one will get lost anyway/And the other will remain sitting in that room/Which makes no sound"). Brussels and Amsterdam were both celebrated and damned in their respective songs, while the bitterness of Au Suivant brought out a fiercer Van Hautem.

Caelen was never dominant, never passive. Whether on piano or accordion he could be a rambunctious sparring partner, or simply make the songs glisten.


















13 APRIL 2005

"Tradition" was the first song Bette Midler sang on Broadway in 1966 in the ensemble of "Fiddler On The Roof" and last night thirty nine years later she once again gave us a huge serve of tradition. The kind of tradition that one could think has been forgotten in our crazy fast paced modern world, I am talking of the good old fashioned tradition called SHOWBIZ. To see a woman in her 60th year rip up a packed arena of over 20,000 people using every trick in the trade is really an experience no living human should miss.

One is struck immediately by the hugely theatrical set built originally for New York's gigantic Radio City Music Hall proscenium arched stage; the design is riddled with the Midler style. Themed around Coney Island at the turn of the century, from this Midler pulled the structure for what was to be the amusement ride of our lives. As she told us "some rides are scary, some are fun, and some are both" she did not disappoint us in our travels one bit.

Every fan was screaming as soon as we heard the opening tribal beats from her past live hit "Big Noise From Winnetka" which developed into "Kiss My Brass" using genius parody lyrics by Eric Kornfeld. Midler made her entrance in a sailor suit on a larger than life carousel horse, like ten thousand stampeding horses she proceeded to dazzle us with her electric energy and that trade mark strut.

There could be no mistake the DIVINE was in the house, her opening was so well crafted it landed like a Boeing 747 on a perfect day. "How ya doin Australia!" she announced to us with force, we were all still breathless after her jet speed opening.

Before we knew it we were at the mercy of the Divine Miss M, "Last time I was here the audience was on drugs, now their all on medication". Whilst strutting she informs us "When I arrived at the airport they asked me if I had a criminal record, I replied: I didn't know it was still a requirement". She greeted the front row calling them "My own personal Double Bay", and then under her breath "Or should I say Double Pay", waving to the top balcony she shouts out "Hello Blacktown, show us your mullets."

The Divine introduces the staggering Harlettes (her infamous female backup trio) telling us "they love their accommodation at the local Refugee Camp", and continues "I have to keep getting new girls, they just seem to get old unlike meI'm not retiring and you can't make me, I'm just like John Howard".

Introductions done, exposition completed we start our journey with "Stuff Like That There" with Bette in full swing doing all the choreography with the girls. Our divine leader then pulls back the reigns and sings a stirring ballad from very early in her recording career "Skylark".

She tells us of the seventies "Oh the seventies (lying on the floor), ahhhhh the seventies, George Bush once came to my show in the seventies you know yeah,.. apparently his cocaine dealer bought him the tickets" the audience lost it. Then the big payoff "I shouldn't be so mean to poor George Bush, you know he is about to having MAJOR surgery next week...He is having John Howard removed from up his ass"

No time to linger suddenly we are in a time warp with "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" her first hit, now the energy in the Superdome went right up as fans bathed in a chance to jive along in the flesh with Midler. Images of her doing the number at various times in her career were flashed on the massive screens, choreography the same through the years only the look obviously changed.

Time for a costume change, and a bit of a filmed comic sketch about her failed television series: "Bette". To expose her awareness of the situation she chose a parody of "Judge Judy". In this Judge Judy puts Midler on trial against the CBS eye; it is amusing and a great set up for Midler to reappear as the devil. Joining her Harlettes for a medley of "I'm Sorry", "No Body Does It Like You" and her big hit "Friends". The first two songs were done with Kornfeld's parody pen, with the basic out come that she has two major markets the Jews and the Queens and they were wrapped up as friends.

Devil ears removed she tells us how she was shocked when Barry Manilow called her "He is such a good sport" as she had abused him the last time they spoke many years ago. He asked her to record an album of Rosemary Clooney songs with him; this is her latest offering to her vast recording catalogue. She did "Hey There" with a full brass section a sound that was to die for, then pulling it back even further for a touching rendition of "Tenderly".

Look out it is bouquets and wedding veils on the Harlettes, this means one thing and that is "Chapel Of Love", the divine joined the girls but in a huge swan that she rode around the stage strategically. Jumps out of the swan and into the song, so once again the audience could bath in the past for a moment. Then a series of recently failed celebrity married couples appear on the screen, and finally Liza Minnelli and David Gest appear, and she says "I saved the best till last" with that David Gest ends up with a black eye.

The genius of Midler you soon realise is her amazing gift to have you laughing your head off like a lunatic and then two seconds later you're crying your eyes out. She stood in the light of a single spot and delivered like a true diva the stirring ballad from Beaches "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today". Now we start to get intimate with her as she pulls us right into her heart and soul, she turned that Superdome into a small cabaret venue and had us all in her palm. A massive switch of gear again and we are reminded of the blues/rock voice Midler has with "When A Man Loves A Woman" she really let go on this and the audience responded accordingly.

The Harlettes then took us for a moment as their leader was preparing for her next entrance, they sang "Walk Right In" whilst wearing their turn of the century bathing suits and setting up the stage for an entrance we had all been waiting for. Suddenly from the door stage right "I will never forget it you know" Soph has finally appeared. Soph is a character that has been in her shows since the beginning and is based on the late great American vaudeville star Sophie Tucker. Soph has always been the vehicle for her blue jokes, cleverly written by Midler with her writer Erick Kornfeld and formerly Bruce Vilanch. She must have done well over ten jokes and Soph has gotten older in appearance she looked like a tarot reading gypsy lady within the Coney Island theme.

The first act ends with Midler reappearing as herself again singing a heartfelt version of "Shiver Me Timbers" and riding off on the carousel horse she rode in on. Midler showed us her totally youthful earthy self, bare footed running up to the horse like a playful child.

Act two opens in 'Side Show Alley' with the freaks, of course Delores De Lago the toast of Chicago is one of the major attractions. Delores is a mermaid and therefore gets around the stage in an electric wheel chair. The art of wheel chair choreography is something Midler has down to a fine art now, Delores like Soph has been in her shows since the early seventies. Delores is almost a tribute to the art of the lounge act, your ultimate Vegas cheap songstress, except this one is a mermaid. Over the years she has been on a constant search for fame and fortune, and has a vicious ego that she inflicts amusingly on her backup girls who are also wheel chair using mermaids.

Delores has a new quest and that is to break out of the Side Show and get on Broadway and so our mad journey begins "Delores De Lago Fish Tails Over Broadway". She starts with Gypsy's "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and then it is all out on the show tunes. I sat there thinking this is amazing here we are at an arena FULL of a very mixed demographic and we are all listening to classic show tunes.

We visit "West Side Story", "Phantom Of The Opera", "Cabaret", "Carousel", "Annie" and "Dreamgirls", during the turning point in the comic plot she finds herself at a broken down dressing room table to get herself ready for Broadway. She lights a cigarette, has a bitch about her tragic existence before she finds divine inspiration to make that big Broadway debut. Then a fish appears stage left and does the opening trumpet solo from "Chicago", we are then hit with a final round of genius parody material by Kornfeld with "All That Jazz" becoming "All That Crab" with other hysterical seaside punches that had us in stitches. Dolores' golden oldies came thick and fast with an amazing spoof on the "Hello Dolly" set, "One" the big tune from "A Chorus Line" became "One Swimmable Sensation", plus shows "George M" and even "Oklahoma" get a look in.

This really left every audience member awe struck, and it was nice to see some people surprised and shocked like "What is she doing in a wheel chair" and then they would just break up. The time and effort that would have gone into choreographing that piece of stage craft is immense the sheer precision of their movements and timing whilst all the time singing is mind blowing and that discipline is something that is really lacking these days in entertainment. Not to mention the breath taking musical arrangements, that are a total credit to her musicality and professionalism.

After a brief movie feature called "BMTV (Bette Midler Television ­ All Bette, All the time!)" that showcased her screen and television appearances topped off with an animated boxing match between one of her oldest topics Cher. Midler used to say in her concerts in the seventies "I donated my tits to CherAnd she was so glad to get em, I can't even begin to tell you" well once again it is Cher's body that gets the punch. The Bette character is unable to destroy Cher's face with anything, trying a shovel, jack hammer and blow torch. Then it is decided that after a nuclear war only Cher and Cockroaches will remain on earth.

Midler then comes back out for her final stretch, she talks about the state of the world and how you would think by now we may have found another way other than wars to solve conflict. Touchingly "From A Distance" is delivered with supreme beauty and heavenly vocal ease. We have one more laugh as she tells us "If any of you have a doob left from the last time I was here now is the time to light it up and enjoy the special effects" then delivering with her Harlettes "Do You Want To Dance".

"Wind Beneath My Wings" was the sign that we were definitely coming to the end of our ride, the artistry of this woman is immense with her continually pulling you into her whilst she is sending out the most wonderful energy. Emotions started to flow and fans took flowers to the stage, she gracefully took them saying "How Sweet" then my favourite true Midler moment a girl took a program and a pen up to her and amazingly she signed it. This of course prompted another girl to get up with a program with that she said "Get a grip girls" and moved on, it was beautiful. She then sat on the stage in true Judy Garland fashion and said she had one more song to do.

We all knew it was "The Rose", the piano had been moved downstage and the mood set for an intimate connection with her audience. She then asked us to sing it and we did for two verses until she joined in and we all sang together like a lost religion found again.

Audience on feet screaming heart felt cheers for a legend that has stayed away from our shores for far to long and she admitted it. She then had some beautiful words about Sydney and Australia and said "Don't tell anyone; otherwise they will all come here". Telling us of our great contribution to the music industry worldwide and what a talented nation we are, she set up for a classic song by her friend Peter Allen, "Tenterfield Saddler" which she sang with emotion and great lyrical skill, finishing sitting with her backing singers around the piano as the curtain closed.

She is a major legend and superstar, and one of the few that has kept the art of music theatre and cabaret alive in the main stream for many years. I believe because she has used very strong theatrical traditions to find her voice, she is a true original. Her style is a stirring mix of European Kabarett traditions: with her topical often political social commentary, Broadway: with her stunning musical arrangements design and staging, Vaudeville: with her themes and sketches, and Burlesque: with her raunchy stand up and bawdy language.

Put all those elements together and you end up with a hip, and now artist who has conviction to stay in the moment constantly. Many current artists could take a few lessons by seeing this master class in how to fill a stadium with energy and pure talent. This is not achieved by high tech gadgets although Midler uses plenty as her wild imagination obviously can go crazy now on the budget, but never are these the selling points of the show they are merely the dressing. Under all that theatrical magic you will find a physically tiny lady who has a massive heart for the human race, and she is telling us how she sees it through music, dance, words, laughter, love and hope.

There really is not much more to say except go and see BETTE MIDLER, she is playing two more shows in Sydney, three in Melbourne and one in Adelaide. Go to for a special online booking offer.
















MARCH 18 2005

Hot off the press, Arts Hub has learned that the Sydney City Council has officially ceased its support of the Sydney Cabaret Convention.

As reported today by Nicholas Pickard:

In a letter to cabaret producer, David Hawkins, the council has blamed the amalgamation of South Sydney and the City of Sydney councils for its failure to continue its support.

Pickard reveals that the letter from council indicates the Convention is no longer a part of the city's 'cultural emphasis and focus'.

In the letter, Manager of Cultural & Community Affairs, Ann Hoban stated that as there are now more venues for cabaret in the city, the 'primary aim of the convention has been achieved'.

Pickard, a Sydney writer and theatre director, cites an angry response from cabaret producer David Hawkins (behind the monthly Kabarett Voltaire at the Seymour Centre). According to Pickard, Hawkins said: the cabaret industry is certainly not thriving in Sydney and can use all the help it can get. The Sydney City Council over many years have greatly harmed our industry and brought major disruption to the Australian theatre touring circuit by allowing our city to be butchered of venues.'

The Convention, which has showcased some of Australia's most well-known performers and given a boost to many emerging artists, has been a part of the Sydney theatre landscape since 1997.

Despite strong support from the sector, trouble has been brewing for a while.

In 2004 the annual event was completely dropped from the Sydneys cultural calendar, but it was expected to resurface in 2005. At the time, the Sydney Morning Herald reported moves were afoot to ensure the event happens next year and that organisers were hoping to clinch a deal with a co-production partner.

Its unclear whether the Convention, launched in 1997 as a sister event to the prestigious New York Cabaret Convention, had indeed made these arrangements for 2005, but the Councils decision would seem to nip any efforts in the bud.

Not taking it lying down, musical and cabaret artists in the city are planning an official 'Sing-a-long' at the Sydney Town Hall to protest the Councils decision.

Arts Hub will bring you further news as it comes to hand.

















MARCH 19 2005

They stormed the barricades in Les Miserables and now many of our music theatre stars plan to protest at the demise of the annual Sydney Cabaret Convention, on the Town Hall steps.

They are incensed that the City of Sydney has scrapped the event without consultation or an appreciation of its cultural worth.

The cancellation of the week-long convention, which gave singers seven minutes to strut their stuff and compete for a trip to New York, coincides with the cash-strapped Sydney Dance Company's uncertain future and the demise of the cabaret program at Villa Caprese in North Sydney, Kabarrett Voltaire at the Seymour Centre and the Side On Cafe in Annandale.

The producer and director, Les Solomon - the one time driving force behind David Campbell's career, said yesterday that the City of Sydney's decision "lacked foresight" and would diminish the chance for emerging talent to get a foot in the door and the chance for international exposure.

The event pushed the careers of singer Hayden Tee, who has left for London to try his luck, and actor Tim Draxl, who plans a brief cabaret comeback next month.

"To my knowledge, the council never had any serious talks with industry players about keeping the convention afloat," Mr Solomon said. "It simply didn't fit their plans and they've kept it all a mystery. It's a great shame they couldn't see its potential and value."

The producer and performer David Hawkins, who created Kabarett Voltaire, has led the call for cabaret artists and fans to complain to the council.

He said they would protest at the Town Hall when the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, is in her office, and sing a heap of well-known show tunes "to let the council know we are serious and want the cabaret convention".

In a letter the council's manager of cultural and community affairs, Ann Hoban, said: "The focus of events produced by the new council was shifted towards events that reflect its City of Villages concept and enable wider community participation."
















MARCH 18 2005

The Sydney City Council has today officially stopped supporting the Sydney Cabaret Convention. In a letter to cabaret producer, David Hawkins, the council has blamed the amalgamation of South Sydney and the City of Sydney councils for its failure to continue its support.

The convention which has successfully showcased singers such as Todd McKenney, Jackie Love and David Campbell, has been apart of the Sydney theatre landscape since 1997. The council, however, no longer sees the Sydney Cabaret Convention as part of the city's 'cultural emphasis and focus', the letter said.

In the letter, Manager of Cultural & Community Affairs, Ann Hoban stated that as there are now more venues for cabaret in the city, the 'primary aim of the convention has been achieved'.

David Hawkins who produces the monthly Kabarett Voltaire at the Seymour Centre has responded angrily to the letter stating that 'the cabaret industry is certainly not thriving in Sydney and can use all the help it can get.'

'The Sydney City Council over many years have greatly harmed our industry and brought major disruption to the Australian theatre touring circuit by allowing our city to be butchered of venues.' Hawkins says.

Musical and Cabaret stars in the city are planning an official 'Sing-a-long' demonstration at the Sydney Town Hall. The demonstration is aimed directly at Cr Clover Moore to reverse Sydney City Council's decision.

























31 JANUARY 2005

RUFUS Wainwright is not your conventional pop or folk star. He is both, yet much more: a purveyor of everything from opera to punk. He also believes the family that plays together stays together.

The openly gay singer-songwriter son of Loudon Wainwright III of Dead Skunk fame tours Australia this week with his mother and aunt, acclaimed 1970s folk duo Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and his sister Martha Wainwright, who is about to release her debut album.

Wainwright's latest CD, Want Two, contains everything from the opening Gregorian chant of Agnus Dei, through chunky rock on The One You Love to the chamber orchestra of Little Sister. "I've really always been someone who has lived in parallel universes," Wainwright says.

"I've always been an opera fan, and been on a major label, and been brought up in a folk environment and wanting to fall in love with punk boys.

"That's sort of been the story of my life.

"If anything, now I'd like to focus a little bit more in a particular direction for the next record. I'd like to maybe make a solo piano record, or write an opera or do a record of standards."

While his parents are no longer together, Wainwright says their house was always full of music while he was growing up.

"We always sang," he says. "There were always a lot of other musicians and bands who would visit. But I think the main thing was just the discerning taste and high demand for quality that my mother had, which really transmuted itself to all the arts.

"It didn't matter if it was reggae or classical or punk rock. As long as it was great, she loved it. That explains a lot of my eclectic tastes."

In his teenage years of the late 1980s, there was also great diversity in pop music.

"Annie Lennox was nothing like Tina Turner, who was nothing like Prince. Each performer was like their own universe and I think that had a big effect on me as well, on my early awakening of what a pop musician should be," he says.

The extended clan publicly emerged in 1998, when Kate and Anna recorded The McGarrigle Hour with guest spots by family and friends. "The producer, Joe Boyd, wanted to make that kind of record," Anna McGarrigle says.

"That was the formal outing of the kind of concept of what we are doing.

"Rufus right now is the main guy in this whole thing. He's great to be around so energetic and positive. He's kind of our leader.

"He sets the rules and we just all play ball. I don't know if Martha likes it she doesn't give in that easily."

Young artists often distance themselves from their roots when trying to establish their own name but not so in the Wainwright family.

"Rufus has been signed since the late '90s and he's made three records, so I think he's gone through that thing where he has distanced himself and now he doesn't mind us," Anna McGarrigle laughs.

"I'm reminded of myself not wanting to have anything to do with my parents, then at a certain age actually sort of admiring them it happened almost overnight."

Family musical ties stretch even further back.

When Wainwright recently played in Montreal, he told the audience about his French-Canadian grandmother, who wouldn't tolerate inactivity or excuses and always wanted the children to entertain her.

"She remembered going to vaudeville shows with her father and that was the kind of entertainment she enjoyed, the song and dance part," McGarrigle says. The McGarrigles also had an aunt who was a songwriter in the 1940s and '50s and "had a radio show somewhere in northern Ontario in a mining town".

"But it wasn't considered a nice profession to go into as far as our parents were concerned," Anna McGarrigle says.

The McGarrigle sisters, who were born just a year apart and "brought up almost like twins", have also written songs with another sister, Jane: "We were a trio, I suppose, when we were really young, just doing talent shows here and there in the village where we grew up."

The McGarrigle sisters have also just released their second French-language album 24 years after 1980's French Record.

Meanwhile, many of Wainwright's lyrics on Want Two are political and seem deliberately provocative, in particular the explicit Gay Messiah, in which he takes the role of "Rufus the Baptist".

"That song is very interesting. So far it has had three lives. When I first wrote the song, it was a total joke and was meant to make people snicker at parties and blush," Wainwright says. "As the political climate heated up, and it was obvious that there was going to be a showdown over who was going to inherit the United States, it then became a political rallying cry and was a bit of an anthem for some people." In the wake of the Democrats' loss in the US election, Wainwright says the song has "become a literal prayer it's a total plea for divine intervention, for an actual gay messiah to come down and let us breathe again".

Wainwright scored an international hit with his cover of fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, from the more family-friendly Shrek animated film soundtrack.

He also covered songs for the Moulin Rouge and I Am Sam soundtracks: "I don't really write technical, radio drivel. So I have to be pretty agile to survive."

Both Martha and the McGarrigle sisters feature on Wainwright's latest album.

"I'm blessed in that both my parents achieved a level of fame that wasn't too all-encompassing for our family," he says. "The funny thing about it is that, in the end, if I don't make millions of dollars and sell millions of records and I end up with the life that my parents have, which is very modest and very comfortable I will have really been the winner."

While in Australia, the family will feature at a Leonard Cohen tribute show in Sydney.

Their other concerts will see them perform together, then do individual material, occasionally helping each other out.

"There are so many great examples of that the Carters or the Everly Brothers," Wainwright says.

"Nothing can really match the glory of people who are related singing together."














13 JANUARY 2005

Singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright brings his unique sound and family to Sydney Festival. The family that plays together, stays together ... or so says Canadian troubadour Rufus Wainwright.

After dazzling discerning music fans with his ambitious, theatrical pop music for the past few years, Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright is finally making his way to Australia.

As with everything the avant-garde artist does, this will not be your run-of-the-mill tour. His three-week spell in Oz was initiated by the Sydney Festival and will now also incorporate solo shows and a much-anticipated run of concerts with his mother and aunt, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and sister Martha. "I do have to make a living," he laughs when asked about the disparate collection of concerts."

His family members are also involved in one of the hottest Sydney Festival shows, Hal Willner's Came So Far For Beauty - An Evening Of Leonard Cohen Songs.

They have performed the acclaimed event - which also features Nick Cave, Beth Orton and Jarvis Cocker in its impressive cast in Brooklyn, US and Brighton, UK.

"We all know each other quite well at this point and respect each other tremendously and enjoy watching each other perform," Wainwright says. "In terms of being a songwriter, you can't help admire Leonard Cohen's work for its utter purity.

"In a lot of ways, this concert is like summer school for us professionals. "Wainwright, who has "hung out with Leonard a few times", credits the songwriters' songwriter for delivering advice which changed his approach to recording. "I remember when my first albums came out he complained that he couldn't hear my voice; there was too much production. You listen to his albums and his voice is 20 times louder than anything else," he says. "I make different records to Leonard but I do take that into account, it was a good lesson to learn."

"There was definitely some hiding going on and on this new record album (Want Two) you can really hear the words and the voice - it is more central - and that is substantially due to Leonard's suggestion."

Want Two is the aural equivalent of a Baz Luhrmann film - bold, ambitious, lush, theatrical, operatic, richly textured and pretty much like nothing you've heard in at least the past couple of years.

The comparison is warranted if only for the fact that Marius de Vries produced the Moulin Rouge soundtracks and Want Two. It follows Want One, released in 2003, which was a more accessible collection of songs.

Depending, of course, on your definition of accessibility.

"When I first came up with the concept of Want One, I knew there was another album there - and I knew I wanted to dress in drag," Wainwright laughs, referring to Want Two's album cover image of the singer in a Gothic bohemian frock.

"And I knew The Lord Of The Rings had come out in 40 parts so I thought a two-part album project ... so I lied to the record company and the press and told them there was already another album. So I ended up doing three months of work in three weeks."

You realise instantly you are in for an anti-pop listening experience as Want Two opens with the soaring symphonic Latin piece, Agnus Dei. Iconoclastic religious imag-ery also flavours the album as does his more traditional singer-songwriter leanings.

One of the album's more personal tracks, Memphis Skyline, mourns the death of another groundbreaking tunesmith, Jeff Buckley.

"I had a real opera-style relationship to him," Wain-wright explains. "Firstly, I only met him once and I had hated him for years before then because I was jealous of his success. And his hair."

"Meeting him was a pivotal moment in my life in terms of releasing that jealousy and envy and harbouring bad feelings toward another artist - which is all pretty futile."

"And then he died a month later. A lot of people compared us when my first album came out and certain hardcore Buckley fans hated my guts, thinking I was trying to usurp his throne."

Wainwright jokes that one of his Australian touring companions - younger sister Martha - could indeed usurp his own throne in the alternative music world. The mischievous troubadour doles out lavish praise for his sister while accusing himself of suffering a modicum of sibling rivalry.

"Now I have to say with Martha's first album coming out, there's to be some adjustments made. I used to be the youngest one with a record deal," he laughs.

"I am very, very proud of her. I believe Martha has more of a chance in this climate of being a huge pop star. I really do think she's amazing. And you have to feel that way or else you are in hell."

The pair shared the stage at various times during their childhood with both their mother Kate and father, Loudon Wainwright.

"The touring together was tumultuous for a while but we have developed our proper shields to manoeuvre around ... we know how to mind each other. It an be very intense," he says. "And we have a little act going now."














12 JANUARY 2005


Rufus Wainwright is curiously dressed as a woman on the cover of his new album Want Two, the much anticipated follow-up to 2003's Want One. It turns out he's supposed to be the Lady of Shallot, who fell in love with Sir Lancelot only to be raped by him. She then went insane, hopped into a boat and sang herself to death down a river with the whole town listening.

Wainwright felt the tragic tale fitted perfectly with the mood of Want Two which, much like his other three albums, is full of songs about heartbreak and longing for true love. He also related to the Lady of Shallot on another level, as he was raped as a teenager and experienced a mental breakdown in his late 20s.

Today the 31-year-old New York-based singer seems more self-confident and comfortable in his skin than ever. When asked how his love life was going Wainwright laughed down the phone from Montreal, Canada, where he had just spent Christmas at his family home and was preparing for his Australian tour at the end of January. "Well, let's just say that things get better after you hit 30," he answered. "You lose a lot of baggage somehow."

"There's a very strange thing that happens where there's a whole new section of the gay male population that is suddenly attracted to you because you're a little older. So it's not doing too badly at the moment."

But, he added, "I'm not madly in love or anything."

Wainwright recently declared he should stop chasing pretty boys and start dating nerds like singer Jarvis Cocker, whom he's been working with in the Leonard Cohen tribute Came So Far For Beauty which is being staged as part of the Sydney Festival. But the plan hasn't panned out yet. "I'm still a sucker for classical beauty in terms of the whole pantheon of classical beauty, whether it be a construction worker or a dandy or a black postman," he said. "Certainly nerds have their own little department in my shopping centre. I'm very, very open."

Wainwright's style of music is difficult to pigeonhole but is generally described as a mixture of pop, folk, classical and rock. While Want One is "a presentable, accessible entity", he said, Want Two contains some of the more "operatic, weird stuff" the singer is famous for. And critics the world over can't stop singing the new album's praises.

He made the two Want albums at the same time in the space of just six months, whereas his first two CDs ­ Rufus Wainwright (1998) and Poses (2001) ­ each took years to complete. He puts the speedy production down to a desperate need for "some kind of divine nourishment" following his breakdown and stint in rehab due to crystal meth addiction. He also felt a sense of urgency in his life following the September 11 terrorist attacks. "Somehow those elements conspired together and the baby just shot out of my womb," he laughed. "It was a kind of amazing experience actually."

Wainwright's struggle with crystal meth and subsequent month in rehab have been well documented. He believes the drug is currently the biggest problem affecting the gay community in the US. "Recently I went to my doctor and got all the tests done, like a good gay boy should do, and he said: 'Every new case of HIV infection that I get is due to crystal meth. Crystal meth is always involved.'

"I mean, I can just speak from my own experience, which is that the minute you sniff a line or you smoke a pipe of that substance you are so quickly rendered helpless in terms of your judgment about the proper things to do in terms of sex.

"I know I'm just a step away from it happening again for me. It can happen so quickly. It's like you do it and then an hour later you want to get on the internet wanting to get fisted or something!" he laughed uproariously. "Not that I have anything against people who want to get fisted. But you know, so long as you're safe, whatever."

In Wainwright's song Gay Messiah on Want Two he claims many gay people look to him, one of the world's few famous openly gay men, for salvation. But, he assures us, the gay Messiah he is not.

"Who is? I would have to say that they haven't arrived yet Only because they haven't presented themselves backstage," he said before giggling like a schoolboy again.

He doesn't consider himself religious but he does believe in God and that gays are loved by whoever God is. "There is a divine reason for homosexuals to exist," he said with conviction, "and we fit very, very neatly into the story of humanity. That's precisely why we're never mentioned in the Bible and it's never really dealt with, because we are sort of the missing link. I really believe that."

Wainwright came out to his family at the tender age of 14. His parents, singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, "didn't know what to do, mainly because I was so young and also it was right at the time when AIDS was at its onset and, basically, being gay was considered a death sentence".

"The year that I did come out I was very promiscuous, for a 14 year old, and ended up actually being raped, and thus didn't have sex for about seven years. Which, strangely enough, I think was better for me at that time only because AIDS was so prevalent." Today, he said, his family is the most important thing in his life.

As for the future, Wainwright is ready for a change: "To be honest I do think that Want One and Want Two are a type of summit or apex of my early career, and certainly if I want to keep it interesting and keep it kind of new I should probably focus on other areas of music and other types of sounds in my next project. For instance I'd love to make a French record, or I'd love to make a really scaled-down album with just piano and voice. Or I'd like to write an opera."

He's also about to be seen acting in the Merchant Ivory movie Heights opposite Glenn Close, and then there's the Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett. In both films Wainwright plays singers, something he hopes to do again. "I would love to be in a musical film," he said. "I was thinking it would be great if they did a sequel to Moulin Rouge, called 'Moulin Blah', where the brother of Nicole Kidman comes to Paris and takes over where she left off."

Would he play a courtesan like Kidman? "I could be a courtesan," he agreed. "I'll be whatever you want me to be."

















10 JANUARY 2005

It is so easy to hate Rufus Wainwright. And surely Wainwright, who confessed to once briefly having an irrational hatred of Jeff Buckley born of artistic jealousy, would understand. After all, there's just too much to complain about with this Canadian singer/songwriter.

You could forgive his raffish good looks and shock of hair made to be thrown back flamboyantly as he laughs. You could forgive his amusing patter and camp throwaways, such as how his foray onto Manly beach earlier in the day wearing pink swimmers with tassels and a big red hat had scared the locals more than any shark sighting.

You could forgive his facility with the piano (particularly as his guitar playing is much more rudimentary) and even forgive him a voice that can soar, roar and cuddle up next to you and ask for a hug, as it did in the slow-burning torch song In My Arms. And, if you had to, you could forgive him a songwriting ability that pulls in references from Nina Simone and Cole Porter to Elton John, Puccini and Mozart with grace and often spectacular results. But no way could you forgive him for having all of them at the one time. That's just unfair.

Holding court in the intimate surrounds of this hole-under-the-wall room, Wainwright offered us the elegiac Pretty Things, which you can imagine a Michael Feinstein-type covering as a modern standard in a decade or three. With only a guitar, he took a sceptical look at the charms of the West Coast life in California, while nonetheless filling the joyful song with that state's fabled sunniness and optimism. And in Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk he straddled Broadway, Fire Island and the Brill Building.

He trumped those with The Art Teacher, a virtual Douglas Sirk 1950s melodrama in song - not just because of its storyline of a woman who looks back on a wealthy but bloodless life and remembers her crush on her high school art teacher "and never have I loved since then", but because it is a song that - while suffused with colour - is built from constrained passion and emotional tension.

I could tell you about how he bled his song about Jeff Buckley, Memphis Skyline, into a gorgeous version of a song now associated with Buckley, Hallelujah. Or how when he sings he rolls into songs like a man sneaking up on seduction, simultaneously reclining languidly and gripping you.

I could but I fear I may already have painted him as some marvellously talented joy of a writer and performer you should make it a point to discover. Don't you hate it when that happens?


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