Choose Your Own Adventure (Queenie van de Zandt)
Judith Wright Arts Centre
Unlike in traditional musical theatre, cabaret performers address the audience during their shows. In Choose Your Own Adventure, Queenie van de Zandt extends this basic feature by taking what is an all-encompassing performance genre and putting its realisation firmly in the hands of its audience… literally, as, with smartphones in hand, we vote as to how the evening will unfold at its every turn. From what she should wear and drink to what story or song she will go on to share with us, decisions are at the audience’s discretion, which makes the program unique in its every outing.
In accordance with the traditions of the theatrical form, the show, which was created also by James Cutler, features a mix of music, song, dance and drama. Queenie’s versatility as a performer is clear as she takes us through personal and professional life anecdotes alike, with self-deprecating honesty that only adds to their hilarity, alongside her stunning vocals.
The program offers not only something unique in its every outing, but something for everyone in segments, which include, for example, competition to identify the most number of song snippets in a 30 songs in 30 bars segment, for us of Aussie rock numbers rather than musical theatre songs. There is humour aplenty peppered throughout the cabaret quest, including from cameo appearance of Queenie’s alter ego Jan Van De Stool, and recall of some of the Canberra-born-and-bred performer’s stories from her years living in Brisbane. Memories are intertwined within the fabric of the show’s intent, starting from a slideshow of photos and videos from throughout a career that began with poetry performance at aged 8 as part of her prestigious Trinity School in London exam. It’s all very meta as she allows art to imitate the choose your own adventure of her story (like Barbara Streisand in “Yentl”) as we are taken through her life, her career and her influences.
Queenie’s voice is as stunning as ever as she effortlessly delivers serene ballads and big belt moments alike. As always, a highlight comes when she reminds the audience of already-fans, of her acclaimed tribute show “Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell” with a sublime ‘Both Sides Now’, however, “Choose Your Own Adventure” is a show of many musical highlights, including the beautiful (and beautifully delivered) ballad ‘Come Back For Me’ from “Smoke and Mirrors”, with exacting accompaniment from pianist Meg Burstow. Even the fragments of songs sung the night’s games show just how brilliant and versatile a performer Queenie truly is.
“Choose Your Own Adventure” is an interactive cabaret event like nothing you have likely seen before. It may have been devised during lockdown as an online experience, but its Queensland Cabaret Festival outing illustrates that its entertainment value is only elevated by its collective in-real-life experience. Queenie is a consummate performer who never disappoints and, with audience members taking control of how the night unfolds, anything other than outstanding entertainment would really be on us anyway. Indeed, the only detriment to the show’s format is that providing two song choices just leads to audience requests to hear both, because here in Brissy we just can’t get enough of Queenie van de Zandt’s delights.