Singer and actor David Hawkins gives a wry laugh when he recalls his first role in a big musical: entrepreneur Lee Gordon in Shout! To Hawkins’s own surprise, he has found himself running not one but three cabaret venues while maintaining a career as a performer.

I’ve realised in the last few years I’m falling into that showman bag, like Gower Champion, performers who produce as well, [that] showbiz is your life, Hawkins says. I used to for a long time think, -˜I’m either a performer or a producer.’ Now I think I do both of them and that’s the way it is.

The journey began with the death of the Tilbury, Sydney’s beloved cabaret homeland. Hawkins formed his own company Showtune productions in 1996, revived the 70s music venue the Kirk Gallery, then opened Kabarett Junction at Bondi Junction. Now he’s hit Kings Cross, in the depths of Bar Me, site of the old El Rocco jazz club. During all of this Hawkins has performed with Opera Australia and in his own one-man show, written with performance poet Wednesday Kennedy.

My company Showtune productions was started to give opportunities to music theatre performers when they’re not in major shows and cabaret performers who maybe don’t normally get attention because they’re a little bit offbeat, Hawkins says.

What I’m trying to do is go more left of centre, to the more social and political satire style of cabaret, which is why I’m calling it Kabarett, because in the German spelling kabarett means political and social satire where cabaret is burlesque, he says.

His line-up is definitely offbeat, although punters concerned about the political emphasis should be reassured by a program that is simply eclectic. Last week saw Natalie Gamsu perform, a South African chanteuse who was a hit in New York, and blew away the crowd at the Hats Off concert with her rendition of Hot Gates (a song with lyrics consisting almost entirely of the names of infamous cities). December sees the arrival of Hayden Tee (of MufTee fame) and Eddie Perfect (also a hit at Hats Off). Then of course, there’s Maggie Kirkpatrick. The Freak sings?

She’s such a legend and she’s got a story to tell, Hawkins says. I contacted her agent and apparently she was working on a show, so the timing was really serendipitous -¦ She’s not totally focused on Prisoner and the Freak, but I don’t think she can get away from it!

Does the venue work? An invitation to see Gamsu last weekend was a perfect test. Taking a left turn just before the Coca-Cola sign, the audience gingerly stepped down into a basement room with plenty of atmosphere, where jazz ghosts mingled with the spectres of bohemian crims. There were plenty of tables in the centre with orbiting bar stools on the edge and overhead fans circulating in time with the frantic drinks staff. The room was packed and Gamsu was slick and warm, lubricating the air with mezzo tones and a song list swaying from Jacques Brel to David Bowie.

The faux-Gothic d?r might be kitsch, but the space felt genuine. Somewhere between the old Tilbury and the Kit-Kat Club of Isherwood’s Berlin, Kabarett Voltaire should flourish, which for cabaret lovers can only be a good thing.

Kabarett Voltaire is at Bar Me, corner of William and Brougham Streets, Potts Point. All shows are $25 (8pm), dinner and show $40 (starting at 7pm). Phone (02) 9368 0894 for bookings. Hayden Tee appears on 5 and 14 December; Maggie Kirkpatrick from 4 December and Eddie Perfect from 19 December. David Hawkins sings at the Spiegeltent on 7 December (phone 1300 136 166).

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