Thousand tops

With 2020 being largely taken out of the mix, it has taken me just over 8 years to review 1000 shows as Blue Curtains Brisbane. And my top 10 favourites from within them, appropriately feature shows from 2013 to 2021… a mix of comedy, cabaret, musicals, theatre and festival fare.

1. Delectable Shelter (The Hayloft Project)

The Hayloft Project’s 2013 out-of-the-box black comedy, “Delectable Shelter” literally took place in a box as bunker at Brisbane Powerhouse in its claustrophobic tell of five doomsday survivors planning a utopian society. With ‘80s power ballads and hilarious homages to their ancestors from later descendants, there was so much by which to be entertained in the anarchy of its apocalyptic storytelling, making it my absolute favourite.

2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (National Theatre of Great Britain)

In 2018, the National Theatre of Great Britain provided QPAC audiences with an unparalleled insight into the mind of someone living with an autism spectrum condition with their acclaimed production of Mark Hadden’s much-loved novel. Inventive, imaginative stage design which saw the floor and all three walls of the boxed-in set transformed into mathematical graph paper, provided many visually memorable moments authentic to experience of the show’s London production.

3. All My Love (HIT Productions)

HIT Productions’ sensitive “All My Love” chronicled the fascinating and little-known relationship between the larger-than-life writer and poet Henry Lawson and the radical socialist and literary icon Mary Gilmore, taking its audience along an evocative journey about the people beyond their words, but also their passion in a “Love Letters” type way.

4. Ladies in Black (Queensland Theatre)

The musical so nice, Queensland Theatre programed it twice. With stunning visuals and costumes, a soundtrack featuring over 20 original Tim Finn songs and humour, the Helpman-Award-winning musical took audiences into both the glitz of a high-end 1950s department store shop floor and the personal lives of its employees with infectious wit and charm.

5. The Revolutionists (The Curators)

The Curator’s 2021 drama-filled French-revolutionist play about a playwright writing a play was passionate, powerful, political and full of important messaging about women’s importance in history and the fundamental role of theatre and culture in history and civilisation.

6. The Tragedy of King Richard III (La Boite Theatre Company)

In 2016, Daniel Evans’ gave meaning anew to Shakespeare’s depiction of the Machiavellian King Richard III through bold exploration of its story’s silences, gaps and biases and dynamic discovery of new character depths and unexpected provocations.

7. Hamnet (Dead Centre)

As part of the 2018 Brisbane Festival, Ireland’s Dead Centre used audio visual technology in combination with live performance to give us the perfectly-pitched and movingly thought-provoking story of Shakespeare’s one son (just 11 when he died), knowing that he is just one letter away from greatness.

8. Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

My favourite ever Queensland Theatre show…. More than just recreating Trent Dalton’s story, the company’s landmark 2021 production of “Boy Swallows Universe”, honoured the original text and transformed it as a work of its own, dynamic in its realisation and anchored around its theme of resilience.

9. California Crooners Club (Parker + Mr French)

The 2016 Spiegeltent saw audiences treated to the first Brisfest appearance of the cool-cat cabaret crooners of the “California Crooners Club”. The energetic and charming show from genuine, generous performers (led by concept creator Hugh Sheridan), was a marvellous mixed bag of old, new and original numbers curated together and harmonised like familiar favourites.

10. Forthcoming (shake & stir theatre company)

Shake & stir theatre company’s contemporary adults-only choose-your-own-adventure romantic comedy “Fourthcoming” not only placed the course of the narrative in the audience’s hands, but provided an avalanche of non-stop laugh-until-you-cry moments.


Special mention to La Boite Theatre Company’s “Still Standing”, which in 2002 and 2003 presented a music-filled immersion into the Brisbane rock scene of the 1980s as counter-culture to the repressive Bjelke-Petersen regime that although I saw before starting reviewing, still stands as my favourite ever Brisbane theatre experience.

Feel the vibe-ration


South Bank Piazza

September 17 – 18

In many ways the late-night cabaret slot can be a difficult festival gig, given the spirited energy needed to maintain the engagement of an often already ‘celebratory’ crowd. “Hughman”, however, is the perfect show to fulfil this brief at the Brisbane Festival. With music that never stops, it all is about the upbeat vibe from the outset of its spectacular Queensland premiere under the giant disco ball of the South Bank Piazza. As we bounce into each new number, there is increasingly “I love this song” exclamations about its setlist. Indeed, with co-creator (along with director Dylan Mahoney) Hugh Sheridan initially spinning beats from a mixing desk high at the back of the stage, the curation of disco-esque classics takes the audience to an Ibiza-like dance party celebration of everything, complete with a shirtless Sheridan.

From Wham and Prince to Sia, The Jacksons and a dance-along ‘Xanadu’, the feel-good music is all incredibly infectious in a boogie-wonderland way that has you wanting it to continue all night long. There is not a lot of substance per se, but as performers integrate into the audience and sections of the crowd are soon on their feet dancing, nobody seems to mind. It’s all about the vibe really and in that regard, “Hughman” is a perfect celebration of life, love and music, saxophone number and all.

Hopefully audience members know what was in store from the show’s promise of seeing Sheridan in a new light, otherwise there may me some disappointment as to his role in things. And it certainly would have been nice to have a couple more signature smooth vocal numbers from the performer, as when he does take to the microphone for ‘My Way’, his vocals are as polished as ever. And California Crooners fans are in for a treat as he shares one of the group’s original boppy numbers, ‘I Need You’.  

Adding to the program’s diversity is a dynamic array of talented performers, Chase Vollenweider, Demi Jenkins, Winston Morrison, Nathaniel Hancock, Emma Pavich and Dion Bellow, who get the crowd buzzing thanks to their exhalating dance moves. From a high-voltage tap routine to Diana Ross to roller skate and hula hoop numbers, and even some fire twirling, it is all quite the spectacle of fun. And as performers frolic about in bohemian kaftans and alike by Camilla and rainbow flags, it’s difficult to no become caught up in the ecstasy of freedom that exists at the core of the show’s sentiment and celebration of what it means to be part of a big resiliently human family.

“Hughman” is a spirited, invigorating festival experience, guaranteed to make you feel good vibrations about the world. The kaleidoscopic mash-up of music, costume, colour and dance not only represents the very essence of festival culture, but takes on a new resonance as we celebrate being one of the few cities in the country in which the arts can currently continue. The dance party format guarantees a good time, making it the perfect way to finish off your night out, or maybe just get it started.

Sheridan stories and songs

Hugh Sheridan Live

South Bank Piazza

September 3

“Hugh Sheridan Live”… it does what it says on the tin really, but while the Brisbane Festival opener does feature the Australian television star and crooner live on stage with a full band, it’s aptness is more about its content, which features Sheridan sharing his story in meaningful jazz and swing songs, intertwined with heartfelt storytelling of his life and career journey to-date.

Those who have experienced the infectious cabaret stylings of the California Crooners Club of Sheridan’s previous Brisfest appearances, know of his charm in working a crowd so are probably not surprised to see him entering the Southbank piazza space from within, in share of Taylor Swift’s ‘Blank Space’ suavely decked out in a dapper suit. His debonair attire suits the shows early segments which see him fronting a full band of accomplished musicians in share of some lush jazzy sounds. And it is wonderful to see band members showcased in their own right within numbers, such as the a big and brassy slide trombone solo in ‘This Could Be The Start Of Something Big’ and an infectious piano segment in ‘Give Me The Simple Life’.

From the commanding swagger of Sheridan’s visits into the cabaret seated audience, the show progresses with a frank and honest vulnerability. The tone shift initially comes courtesy of his touching reflection of his relationship with his cherished father Denis, from whom, he tells us, he got his love of jazz. And just days out from Father’s Day his share of a song last sung at his father’s funeral, brings with it all sorts of feels for those who have suffered a similar loss. Indeed, slower and more graceful tunes are all beautifully interpreted in sometimes soul-stirring ways, including Bobby Darin’s ‘The Curtain Falls’ closing tribute.

Even when about the brutality of the performing arts, Sheridan’s recollections are profoundly introspective, especially around the controversy that arose from him being cast to play the lead role in the 2021 Sydney Festival production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, which leads into his on-stage transformation into the genderqueer East German singer for delivery of two of the rock musical’s numbers. When ‘Wig in a Box’ morphs from mournful ballad into potent punk anthem, its rambunctious is infections in its energy. And it makes the rousing ‘My Way’ that follows even more uplifting in its messages of reflective wisdom, resilience, belief in oneself and appreciation of life’s journey.

As a sub-in since the festival’s program launch, “Hugh Sheridan Live” had limited rehearsal, meaning that things are a little loose, but in a good way the suits the fun of the festival scene. And while transitions may, understandably, lack the polish of a more prepared show, the cabaret’s songs are delivered as if Sheridan has truly lived every word of them. And there is no denying the quality of his vocal prowess, across a range of musical genres. His interpretations of jazz standards are smooth, yet also bring with them a charismatic vitality and, as he shows in Tony Bennett’s ‘Who Can I Turn To’, he can hold a crisp high note as well as ever. With natural charm and engaging charisma, Sheridan gives us a cabaret show that is authentic and moving, but also ultimately joyous, meaning that we can only wait with anticipation of what is to come with his later festival Queensland Premiere of “Hughman”, an entertaining mash-up of music, colour, and costume set to show him in a new light.


Cool-cat cabaret

California Crooners Club (Parker + Mr French)

Aurora Spiegeltent

September 3 – 11

Conceived by Australian television star Hugh Sheridan, “California Crooners Club” was born of late night banter with talented mates Emile Welman of South Africa and Kansas’ Gabe Roland backstage in the jazz clubs of Hollywood. The idea of starting a band to merge their love of jazz classics with their varied styles of singing, seems simple in its premise. The result, however, is something incredibly special, beyond definition apart from declaration that the show is a must-see.

Expectation is of a playlist treat of traditional tunes of the Sinatra sort of croon. The classics make appearance with ‘I’ve got you under my Skin’ and a ‘Come Fly with Me’ medley, but beyond its jazzy opening, it is quickly apparent the show is simultaneously not like what was expected, as, backed by a band of excellent musicians, the trio breaks into a bouncy take on Bieber’s ‘Sorry’.


If cabaret hates rules, then “California Crooners Club” is cabaret at its best with its marvellous mixed bag of numbers serving as one of its most engaging aspects. The mix of old and new is just right, featuring, as it does, tributes to Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse alongside a Cole porter medley, Ray Charles number and Sia’s soaring ‘Chandelier’. The program’s curation is ingenious, no better evidenced than in move from ‘The Bare Necessities’ to ‘Jungle Boogie’. And boogie they do, sometimes along with audience members grabbed to dance in the aisles.

This is an energetic yet still charming show from genuine, generous performers, thanks to its playful banter and serenades to audience members. There are lots of laughs courtesy of some obligatory “Packed to the Rafters” puns and Adelaide digs in acknowledgement of Sheridan’s home town, making it sure to send audience members home with the biggest of feel-good smiles.

Original numbers are a highlight, including a standout ‘I Need You’ (garnering immediate audience calls to play it again) and the equally-peppy newly-released single ‘Just a Little More’. Together Sheridan, Welman and Roland’s sounds harmonise to make even these unfamiliar songs feel like old favourites, with voices that are brightly individual but also rich in depth and accord.

Clearly, “California Crooners Club” is one of the highlights of this year’s Brisbane Festival. The only negative is that its 75 minute running time flies by far too quickly. With all the dapper swing and style of The Rat Pack, even in rap, these cool cats cast their spell so successfully, that getting up to return to the real world seems initially impossible.