There's likely few venues more appropriate to a Tom Waits styled cabaret variety revue show than La Boheme, with its bourbon bottle chandeliers. The Glitter + Doom Salon (named for the recent Waits live-tour album) features the talents of songstress Jennifer Kingwell on MC duties, and she performs her duties admirably, re-sorting late acts whimsically on the fly – "loosey goosey", as she would put it.
Our first act for the evening was then Jack Dancer (Chris Shepard), "the necromancer", who preformed a small excerpt from his show Jacks Back [sic]. Shepard plays Dancer as a character who seems like he wandered straight out of a Tom Waits song, with the gravelled yet unctuous voice of a broken salesman, and his portrayal is top-notch. It's a shame, then, that his efforts towards a clear absurdist narrative and affecting choreography never really coalesced into something more impactful in this short format. His dedicated show later this month may prove better.
Following up this act, we discovered why our now-second act was so late to the stage, as Jessica McKerlie of Gender Spanner performed an elaborate striptease escape beginning with the world's most fabulous straitjacket, all to an industrialised remix of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun". The performance had clever overtones of women shrugging off the confines of convention and gender roles that heterogeneous society imposes on them, yet I found McKerlie far more captivating wholly dressed as she returned later in the second half to sing and ukulele us through the world's wittiest ditty on LGBTQ matters, "Gender Issue or Feminism?" and one other hilarious creation from her full show, Gender Spanner.
There was a definite whiff of Amanda Palmer lingering in the air as local favourite Anya Anastasia followed McKerlie with a couple more bubbly yet emotionally raw little songs.
The great thing about variety shows is in the name: you're likely find at least a few acts you enjoy. This value comes with the price that you'll also likely sit through some you didn't enjoy as much. I found Shepard's later routine more than a little puerile, and admit to switching off almost entirely to one of the acts belting out (admittedly very well) some K.D. Lang songs.
Variety shows are always going to be haphazard affairs, with a wide spectrum of acts on offer, but the good ones always ensure there are more than a few moments to take away with you when you go.
Mine was when MC Kingwell slammed into a well-known classical intro halfway through a Waits cover. Think I lost my composure for a moment there, shouting out, "Yeah, Rachmaninoff!"
For show times and to book tickets, go to the Cabaret Fringe site.