Julia Zemiro is a well-known Australian radio host, TV presenter, actor, writer, singer and comedian, who also happens to be the Artistic Director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival – the largest such festival anywhere – for 2019 and 2020. She spoke to Australian Stage's Peter Bleby about the 2020 program.

Julia ZemiroJune will see the 20th anniversary of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, so I asked Julia about the general feel she has in mind for 2020.

It’s going to be a fabulous birthday and a special celebration of all things French, because France is the home of Cabaret. And we’ve got access to the Festival Theatre this year – it wasn’t available last year – so we’re back home and I’m so excited !

The French flavour that Julia (who was born in France and is bi-lingual) is bringing to the Festival is typified in her engagement of Caroline Nin, who, she said, has been a big part of Cabaret Festivals here before, and people love her. Her bi-lingual new show is a tribute to Barbara, la Dame en Noir, the iconic French chanteuse, whose music became the voice of France.

Barbara is so loved in France for her dark, moody style – a sort of new Marlene Dietrich – and Caroline is so good at telling the stories in both French and English – she’s been described as one of music’s true angels: she’s the real deal. I think people will love discovering about Barbara and learning more about her story, which is a pretty great one.

Another feature of the upcoming Cabaret Festival that Julia is excited about is the coming of Davina and the Vagabonds from the USA for a world premiere and an Adelaide exclusive.

We were looking for a sort of sassy, kind of Memphis – New Orleans sound. Davina and the Vagabonds have been wanting to come here for a long time, and they are so thrilled to be able to come to this particular festival and have their first taste of Australia. Her voice is like a mix of Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin, and she’s very funny! They will be in the Dunstan Playhouse, which is the perfect sonic venue for them. I’m sure they will be back to tour later.

I wanted to ask Julia if she missed Rockwiz, which she hosted for a decade with Brian Nankervis on SBS.

Well not really because we still tour it live every 18 months or so, and we all started on stage, not television, so back on stage we are all in our happy place!

Rockwiz returns to Adelaide with Rockwiz Salutes New York.

It’s a special salute to the music of Broadway and other aspects of New York music that dovetails into Broadway, and being on stage it can be naughtier and broader than on TV – there’s more room to dance and have fun – it’s more of a party atmosphere.

The newly rebuilt Her Majesty’s Theatre will also be a feature in the Cabaret festival in June, as the venue for the witty, critically acclaimed pop musical SIX.

I saw SIX in London’s West End. The theatre was packed, and I didn’t know any of the songs. But it is such energetic, infectious music, and will show six of the most incredible voices re-mixing the stories of Henry VIII’s six wives.

I was interested to know what Julia felt was her greatest “coup” so far, in recruiting shows for the Festival. Given that there are lots more acts yet to be announced, she was unequivocal being really delighted about being able to bring the acclaimed celebration of the music of Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubil, Do You Hear The People Sing to Adelaide, along with Schonberg himself.

Although I did get to meet him earlier, to think that I can now talk with him on stage, along with Alfie Bow and Lea Salonga from the cast as part of the show is very exciting. This show celebrates so much of the fabulous music of Schonberg and Boubil which we will be able to talk about, like Les Mis, and Miss Saigon and more that is so close to people’s hearts. He is such a statesman of musical theatre – this is going to be simply fabulous.

So this next festival includes a look back at some of the great things of the past as well as looking to the future of Cabaret and what comes next, with some of the wonderful new shows such as Caroline Nin, and Davina and the Vagabonds.

Our conversation then turned to the future of Cabaret itself, and whether it is changing.

I think it is, but what’s really changing is the amount of extra entertainment that is out there that we have to compete with. Nextfix, for example, is keeping people at home, so we have to remind people that the live experience is important, be it theatre, music, or cabaret. So the world of entertainment is changing, and cabaret will always be a great place where there can be even one or two people presenting a comedy show in a bar, or a band of three or four people in a Spiegeltent or such, or something big that can fill the Festival Theatre.

And one of the things that’s important with festivals is that local performers can meet with international people as well – artists who might not have met before, and really exciting things can happen as they learn off each other, and create new ideas and routines. And festivals can transform a city – you can feel it in the air – there’s a buzz around – knowing that the “circus” has come to town and things are happening. The Cabaret Festival is an example, where people have such an opportunity to come from overseas and check out Australia, see what is happening, and get to perform in a beautiful arts centre.

To wind up our conversation Julia pointed to the Opening Night Variety Gala of the Cabaret Festival on June 5 to be co-hosted by her and well-known singer and TV personality, David Campbell (a former Artistic Director of the Festival).

I absolutely adore him as a performer – he can literally sing anything, so I’m hoping he will choose a really good song for the two of us to sing. And there will be a great line-up of other people in the opening and more acts to be announced in due course. I’m so excited – it’s going to be fantastic.


The 2020 Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs from June 5 – 20, 2020.The full program will be launched in March 2020. For bookings and further details visit www.adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au


Photos – Adelaide Cabaret Festival Artistic Director – Julia Zemiro. Credit Diana Melfi


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