A PACKED and enthusiastic crowd flocked to Hats Off at Sydney’s Seymour Centre on Monday night to celebrate the arts, theatre legends and LGBTI community in the name of HIV and AIDS research.

The event, organised by Oz Showbiz Cares / Equity Fights AIDS, saw Cloe Dallimore and her co-host Tom Sharah host an evening of 15 performances, where all the artists, performers and crew donated their time under the elegance of a sole chandelier and a 24-piece orchestra.

The Hats Off 2014 ambassador was Paul Capsis and he spoke to the Star Observer after the show. He was clearly delighted, saying: “It was possibly one of the best Hats Off ever, in terms of the talent, the orchestra and the production.

“For me I had the added honour of being this year’s ambassador, and getting to sing with such a great orchestra was an absolute dream.”

When Hats Off tickets went on sale, Capsis encouraged people to attend, describing the idea of people “coming together to commune” as being quite lovely.

His wish was granted as he looked out to the Seymour Centre audience and with his interactions backstage.

“It reminded me of a long, long time ago when I started out. This thing of being part of a community of performers and artists and everyone was happy together; no bullshit – no nasty vibe. Just absolute love and support and excitement,” Capsis said.

He also shared a chat he had backstage with heartthrob Michael McCormick, who would later belt out a touching version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which was made hauntingly memorable by Jeff Buckley.

“Michael McCormick and I spoke at interval and he raved about how high the standard was,” Capsis said.

Much praise was lauded upon musical director Anne-Maree MacDonald by the crowd and after the show, and Capsis summed her up in a few words:“She blew me away.”

Some of the loudest cheers were heard for Queenie van de Zandt, who performed a spine-tingling rendition from Into the Woods.

Again Capsis was of few, but glowing words: “Queenie is a phenomenon — one of our greatest vocalists, as is Margi de Ferranti, who also lit up the room.

“Then I thought who is this Flip Simmons with Somewhere from Westside Story? Oh my God, he is amazing,” Capsis added, talking about one of the many performances that included some cast members of The Lion King: Prada Clutch, Roshani Priddis and Luke Kennedy.

The finale by Matt Hetherington and his 11 dancers was a somewhat queer twist on Superstar from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. It shook the roof and ensured the crowd left feeling the love and for being part of something, at its very essence, that was community.

“Wasn’t it brilliant that we could acknowledge Nancy Hayes?” Capsis said, continuing his praise of the evening.

“She is an Australian living legend and now has the Hayes Theatre named after her. I was so nervous performing in front of her. You know she was one of the first to get the honour of getting lead roles, as an Australian.

“When cultural cringe was high, Nancy along with Toni Lamond and Geraldine Turner were pioneers. With Simon Burke right next to her, my nerves went into overdrive with triple royalty. I am of the old school and believe our early musical theatre artists must be revered and acknowledged.”

In a touching end to the night, Capsis dedicated The Man That Got Away to the late James Waites, a community identity who died last week. When he addressed the crowd, he thanked them for being part of the community, and for supporting people living with HIV and AIDS. He also took a moment to remember those fallen from the disease.

As of event closing, nearly $60,000 was raised – which is to be shared between the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation and ACON.



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