A stage show called I’m Not Dead Yet, Darlings featuring glamorous costumes and the ‘Queen of the Cross’? It can only mean CARLOTTA. The living legend spoke with PETER HACKNEY.
Carlotta is a journalist’s dream.
Pick a topic and the cabaret singer, TV star, Les Girls legend and all-round Aussie icon will have an opinion—and she’s not afraid to give it. Carlotta, as they say, gives good copy.
Giving her take on Australian television—one of the mainstays of her career—the Number 96 and Beauty and the Beast star says: “It’s a waste of time these days, darling. Except for maybe Studio 10 and a couple of other shows, it only caters to young people. God knows why—Millennials don’t even watch television.”
She adds: “You think queens can be bitchy? Try working in television. A knife in the back, I tell you.”
Of her career, the singer, dancer and raconteur offers: “I don’t rate myself very highly, I’m not into self-adulation. I’ve seen them come, and I’ve seen them go—and when you believe your own publicity, it’s the end.”
On her looks: “Darling, I’m 76-years-old. Your photographer better use the brush touch.”
Her dear friend, the late, great Peter Allen?
“He really came into his own when he met Judy Garland … then he went the whole hog and married Liza.”
Ms Minnelli, she recalls, was “very quiet the times I met her. She was very young then. Or maybe she didn’t take pills yet.”
On celebrities in general: “There are a few I could name who are really up themselves. I’m not going to, so don’t ask. But people like Kylie Minogue, Johnny Farnham and Olivia Newtown-John are just lovely. They’re all down to earth.
“Some of the new ones are so rude. They’ve been on Gogglebox for five minutes and they’re spoiled rotten.”
What gets Carlotta really going, though, is the state of her beloved Kings Cross.
Carlotta’s relationship with the Cross commenced in 1962, when she arrived in the renowned Sydney locale as a sixteen-year-old boy.
At the time, it was a bohemian district of smart clubs, counterculture cafes, red-light temptations and international hotels.
In 1963, Les Girls—a cabaret club whose shows were performed entirely by drag queens and transsexuals—opened its doors on Darlinghurst Road. Carlotta joined the revue, soon became its most famous performer, and has been known ever since as ‘Queen of the Cross’.
With Carlotta at the helm, Les Girls became a tourist attraction. Before its closure in 1993, it was Sydney’s fabulous equivalent of the Moulin Rouge in Paris, and the lynchpin of the exciting Kings Cross scene.
But as for Kings Cross today?
“You wouldn’t put your garbage bin out in it, darling,” quips Carlotta, who now lives on the Gold Coast.
“Greedy landlords” and “stupid people” have ruined the area, she says.
“They need to do something about the landlords who just sit on empty shops in the Cross. They need to change the laws, so these places have to be rented out or sold—because at the moment, landlords can sit on an empty property and claim it as a tax loss.
“Who wants to walk down a street where half the shops are boarded up?” she asks.
Carlotta is aware of how some people might take her comments (“I sound like a cranky old bitch, don’t I?”) but despite her strong opinions, nothing about Carlotta feels angry or bitter.
Interviewing her, the main feeling that comes across is how grateful she is for her life: the subject of her new show, I’m Not Dead Yet, Darlings.
The production—which runs for five shows only at the Hayes Theatre, Potts Point from 23 October—sees Carlotta telling tales from her life and “talking about how it was in the Cross”, backed by songs and of course, glamorous frocks.
The surprisingly self-deprecating Carlotta says: “Personally, I think my voice sounds like a foghorn but if people want to hear it, I’m happy to sing. The costumes will be amazing though.”
The show includes special guest appearances and rare archival footage, and will be accompanied by a three-piece band, led by Helpmann Award winner Michael Griffiths.
“Carlotta is a wonderful raconteur and has never sung like this before. Sydney audiences are in for a real treat,” says Griffiths, who will be performing his own show at the Hayes, a Kylie Minogue tribute called Songs by Kylie, from 23–27 October.
“What I want to highlight is how fabulous a life I’ve had,” Carlotta tells the Star.
“I can’t tell you how grateful I am and how fortunate I’ve been in my career.”
What she doesn’t say, but what’s self-evident, is that fortune is just a small part of the tale.
Hard work, talent and tenacity all play a big part in the Carlotta story.
Occasionally, a performer with little to offer can ride the Zeitgeist for a short time if the stars align. But for more than half a century? Forget it.
“Whatever the reason, I consider myself very lucky to be working at my age. And doing something I love. I feel very sorry for people who are in a job and they don’t like it.”
Carlotta, who was diagnosed wth bladder cancer last year (“Lucky for me, they got it very early and it hasn’t returned.”) says she has no plans to slow down.
“Next month, I’m taking the show to His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth, then in December I’ve got my Christmas special at HOTA (Home of the Arts) on the Gold Coast.”
Guest appearances on Channel Ten’s Studio 10 will continue “when I’m in town and when they’ll have me”, she says.
“The show’s called I’m Not Dead Yet, Darlings—and darling, I mean it.”
I’m Not Dead Yet, Darlings starring Carlotta plays the Hayes Theatre, Potts Point from Wednesday, 23 October to Sunday, 27 October inclusive. Tickets ($45-$50) can be purchased online at hayestheatre.com.au or on (02) 8065 7337.