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Wednesday, 03-Mar-04 20:50:44 EST

The City of Sydney Cabaret Convention 2003:
"And the Winners Are ..."


Sydney Town Hall (May 27th through 31st - 2003)
Sydney, Australia

The final evening of the Sydney Cabaret Convention traditionally has been an occasion for a big party with entertainment from performers who were often not representative of cabaret. As part of the festivities, the prizes for best performances during the showcase evenings were announced. This was nice enough, but the awards always seemed like an anti-climax. In addition, while the party was pleasant, it somehow did not feel like a fitting conclusion to a five day celebration of cabaret. This year, Ron Creager and Christopher Coogan (artistic director and producer, respectively) decided to change all that by making the real business of the night the celebration of Australian cabaret talent in all its glory. Oh yes, the winners of the highly sought-after prizes of the Sydney Cabaret Convention 2003 were announced, but the evening was a context for "the passing of the torch" to the new generation of cabaret performers.

The judges for the Sydney Cabaret Convention 2003 were Egil Kipste, Bernadette Hayes and Helen Reddy. Egil Kipste and Bernadette Hayes are both producer/directors with a strong background in theater, while Helen Reddy is a well-known vocalist, recording artist, song-writer and actress. As a team, they represented a unique compendium of knowledge about the skills that are essential musical theater/cabaret. It is also noteworthy that this year marked the first time that three judges were utilized, providing a broader perspective from which to consider the talent on offer.

As I implied in my last piece, fewer young performers took part in the showcase of the Convention as a result of the changes put in place by Ron Creager, Christopher Coogan, and their production team. Thanks to a process of live and video auditions during the month before this event, the potential field of over 100 applicants was narrowed to 12. In essence, everyone who performed this week was a winner. This lifted the general performance standard for the entire week and enabled us, as well as the judges, to take a more critical look at the work of these young artists.

As in previous years, the City of Sydney, sponsors of the Sydney Cabaret Convention, awarded three prizes. The two most highly cherished of these are The City of Sydney Award and The New York Award. Both provide recipients with round-trip tickets to New York City and passes to all sessions of the upcoming Mabel Mercer Foundation New York Cabaret Convention. However, The City of Sydney Award also includes the additional opportunity to perform during New York Cabaret Convention. The third prize is The Corporate Gold Award, a prize of $500 awarded by the judges to the act most suited for corporate events. This year a fourth award was inaugurated, The Judges Special Encouragement Award.

The first recipients of The Judges Special Encouragement Award were Lucy Durack and Matthew Robinson. These two young artists first met at the Western Australia Academy for the Performing Arts several years ago. During the Cabaret Convention, Lucy Durack performed a set of songs written for her by Matthew Robinson during the evening dedicated to new Australian cabaret material. If the sample of work is representative of Robinson's work, his is a name to watch for. His style is reminiscent of John Bucchino, with finely wrought lyrics set to long arching melodic lines. Lucy Durack, currently working in the Australian production of MAMMA MIA!, has a clear, pure soprano voice that was perfectly suited to this music. Her advocacy of this music in tandem with Robinson's singing and playing made a winning impression.

The Corporate Gold Award was given to "The Idea Of North," an a Capella group (Trish Delaney-Brown, Naomi Crellin, Nick Begbie and Andrew Piper) that has just returned from the USA, having won the Harmony Sweepstakes Award. One of our finest jazz musicians, James Morrison, has been quoted as saying that The Idea of North " - is the best contemporary a Capella group in the country!" There is little more that I can add to that. In terms of quality of ensemble and elegance of arrangements, this group's work is in the same league as that of The Swingle Singers in their heyday. On top of that, they incorporate a wry, deadpan Australian sense of humor that made their performance immensely entertaining. I might add that The Idea of North have two CD's available which can be purchased by contacting the CD Collector at http://www.cdcollector.com.au/.

The New York Award was given to Kaye Tuckerman. Her's was the last performance to be heard on the final showcase night; she stopped the show with a virtuoso set of numbers including Duke Ellington's "Imagine My Frustration," Christine Lavin's "Artificial Means," India Arie's "I'm Ready for Love," and concluding with a sizzling rendition of Carol Hall's "Twenty-four Hours of Lovin'". Tuckerman is multi-talented: she is an actress, dancer, singer and director. She has already made a number of stage appearances (the original Australian production of BOY FROM OZ, BUDDY, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, SOUTH PACIFIC) and can be seen in the MATRIX-RELOADED film. As a performer she moves like a Las Vegas dancer, sings with the elegance of Cleo Laine and delivers lines with the rapier timing of a young Anne Bancroft. I have no doubt that she will be performing somewhere in New York City when she attends the NY Cabaret Convention; don't miss her.

And finally we come to the most highly coveted prize of all, The City of Sydney Award. This year it was awarded to Shaun Rennie. Shaun started working on his career by attending the prestigious Singer, Actor, Dancer, Musical Theatre course taught at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney while still in his final year of high school (he is now just 21). Since that time he has performed in a number of corporate shows and concerts, performed in his own one-man cabaret show and landed a role in the Australian company of MAMMA MIA! Shaun's winning performance occurred on the second evening of the Convention and consisted of the most elegantly crafted cabaret set of the entire week. Starting with "I got No Strings " (Harline/Washington) as a strong opener, he followed with a moving and quietly intense version of "Starry, Starry Night" (McLean), turning up with energy with a very funny piece of Australian material entitled "I'm a Caterpillar of Society" (Weskley-Smith and Wesley-Smith) and concluded with a touching rendition of "Mama, A Rainbow" (Grossman/Hackady). The seamless construction of Shaun's set was impressive, but what stood out was the honesty of his delivery and the sheer purity and beauty of his voice.

I first came across Shaun Rennie when he performed in the showcase of the Sydney Cabaret Convention 2000. At that time, in my review, I wrote that: " - there was one young artist who impressed me and others with the quality of his work this evening: Shaun Rennie. Though his set of songs was not particularly coherent as a personal statement, his honesty in performance and ability to reach out - set this young man apart from many of his fellow performers this evening. This performer is clearly someone to look out for in the future." I am delighted to see that Shaun is continuing to fulfill the promise that was so evident when I wrote that report. I am certain that those of you who are fortunate to hear Shaun Rennie when he performs at the upcoming New York Cabaret Convention will share my enthusiasm.

I think this might be a good place to conclude. In my next report, I will talk about the Gala itself, as well as the other professionals who participated during the four showcase performances of this Sydney Cabaret Convention 2003.

David M. Schwartz


Reports of the 2003 Sydney Cabaret Convention

Reports of the 2002 Sydney Cabaret Convention

Reports of the 2001 Sydney Cabaret Convention

Daily Reports of the 2000 Sydney Cabaret Convention

Daily Reports of the 1999 Sydney Cabaret Convention

Daily Reports on the 1998 Sydney Cabaret Convention

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