There’s sure to be plenty of Sondheim, a dose of Herman, not to mention melodies by Gershwin and Lloyd Webber heard in the many cabaret acts playing at this year’s Mardi Gras Festival.

While showtunes from the Broadway hits are always popular fare, this year’s festival also sees cabaret taking an innovative turn with pop tunes, original works, as well as some gender-bending and comedy thrown into the mix

Fifteen cabaret acts are headlining during the festival, some as tributes to such power divas as Bette Midler and Liza Minnelli, some as performers tell their own tales, and others as political-edged comedy told with music.

Slide nightclub hosts the Mardi Gras Festival Bar, with six acts taking to the stage of the intimate new venue.

Cabaret wonderboy Shaun Rennie is the first cab off the rank at Slide. Rennie, the winner of the 2003 Sydney Cabaret Convention, will sing material he performed in his recent New York seasons, including such tunes as Burn For You and Starry, Starry Night.

Cabaret is the most revealing form of live performance there is, Rennie says. Good cabaret should be a chance to get to know the person up on stage on an intimate level. And because this show is for Mardi Gras, I can make it a bit cheekier, Rennie laughs. It is the party time of the year and I can have some fun with it.

Suburban housewife cabaret entity Aunt Mavis follows with her show Scones & Songs, while Andrew Threlfall promises his celebration of Valentine’s Day will be a very gay affair, exploring the joys of love, Barbra and Britney -“ in that order.

Keeping Young stars musical theatre talents Matt Young and Rose Keeping, who showcase the music of the past three decades, as well as revealing the traps of a showbiz life. Featured tunes are from such talents as the Bee Gees, Cyndi Lauper, Elton John and Meat Loaf.

Most of this show is duets and we talk about the significance of the songs to us, Young says. I recall performing Summer Lovin’ from Grease in my lounge room as a kid, through to songs about coming out and the discoveries of first love.

We also have a very camp segment called Disco Duel, where we debate which decade had the better disco hits -“ the 1970s or the 1980s. Rose belts out a host of 70s hits, while I work my way through the 80s.

Grammy-nominated singer Sophie B. Hawkins will be intimate and live in her one-woman show, and Belinda Lemon will perform 30 of Bette Midler’s best in her tribute show, Outrageously Divine.

I love doing this show at Mardi Gras as Midler is such a great icon of the queer community, Lemon says. But it has always been a two-way relationship. She has been very well supported, but she has in turn spoken out in support of the community many, many times, and began her career in a gay bathhouse.

Drag diva Courtney Act takes to the Civic Hotel in her first one-woman cabaret show Boys Like Me, and at The Studio at the Opera House, acclaimed New York performers Kiki and Herb present a hilarious look at a lounge act that turned bad years ago, but refuses to give up.

Bar Me at Kings Cross hosts three shows in the festival. Buster Daniels In Nancy Boy promises a gritty exploration of manly love, and Buster describes himself as a cross between Julie Andrews and an Alsatian in a show billed as bareback cabaret.

Singer/ songwriter Martin Badoui presents his one-man show, The Music Calls, at Bar Me. Badoui has written all the songs and performs with a six-piece band. I like to think I am crossing the boundary between pop and cabaret, he says.

The performer says his show is based around the illusions of fairytales. This is about a journey I have lived and the fairytales we try to live, he says. It’s a show about my life and a lifetime of wondering where I fit in.

Also at Bar Me, The Bugger’s Opera mixes Peggy Lee with Burt Bacharach and The Police in a show starring the talents of Nadia Piave, Sally Whitwell and chorus Door in the Wall. The Smutty Salsa Spectacular at the Sly Fox, Enmore, is an all-drag, all-girls, adults-only cabaret starring the Lesbos Latinos.

The inner west gets into the cabaret groove with @Newtown on Enmore Road hosting drag legend Hugh Monroe in his hilarious song and comedy drag act, while the show Legends presents three men singing the tunes of Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand as they argue over which is the greatest gay icon.

Debby Doesn’t Do It For Free at the Imperial Hotel looks at the world of the sex workers and explores through music and stories the hilarious highs and the tragic lows of working in the world’s oldest profession.

For more information:

Slide Festival Bar website or 8915 1899

Bar Me website or 9368 0894

@Newtown website or 9557 5044

Boys Like Me website or 9209 4614

Kiki and Herb: Sydney Opera House website or 9250 7777

The Sly Fox: 95571016

The Imperial Hotel website or 9519 9899

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