Words by Vanessa De lisio
As we simmered through a 41-degree Friday, the Adelaide Festival Centre debuted its Walk of Fame, a promenade from King William Road along the new Riverbank Precinct, paying tribute to the local and international stars who have brought to life the stages of the Festival Centre since 1973. When it came time for the Walk of Fame Gala performance at 8 pm, the simmer had turned to a shimmer, reflecting the star power of the 133 names already honoured in the Walk of Fame, and the select group of performers celebrating the Gala for us on the Festival Theatre main stage that night.
A welcome by the Adelaide Plains Kaurna people told us how the River Torrens has always been connected to the stars, mirroring the Milky Way, which represents good spirits and the strength of their ancestors. The star power of the evening was then first channelled through Greta Bradman, a world-renowned Australian operatic soprano, who commanded the stage from the top of a staircase beside the accompanying 12-piece band lead by pianist and Musical Director Mark Ferguson. If you thought Bradman’s opening number spoke to you powerfully, that’s because she uses her background in psychology to present music to inspire and uplift.
Our host for the evening was Todd McKenney who made his entrance telling us he was ‘Not The Boy Next Door’. Why wouldn’t McKenney want to start his evening with a little Peter Allen, when it was his ‘Boy From Oz’ performances that brought him to the attention of the nation. McKenney was also there to poke good-natured fun at the ‘heart attack risk’ in the front row, and his fellow stars, letting us in on the secret that the Walk of Fame was not the first time some of them have hit the pavement!
Next to blow us away with her talent and dynamite personality was Adelaide girl Beccy Cole. Acknowledging that the country singer was normally the least favourite act in a variety show, Cole dispelled that myth with her dirty jokes and country anecdotes. Introducing ‘Don’t Mess With The Girls’ Cole tells us of the inspiration for the song, from a country town called Dolby, ‘where the men are men, and so are the women!’ A regular part of a Beccy Cole show is the beer solo, which Cole admitted she had taken out of her act because she thought she was getting too old to scull a beer on stage, but she had to put it back in by popular demand. She does tell us that her fears weren’t groundless though, as the very next time she performed her beer solo she heard from the audience ‘I wish you were my mum!’ We were involved right off the bat too, clapping along, and as Cole sings to us to ‘kick his sorry arse right out the door’ she kicks her ‘I wish you were my mum’ stubby holder to a lucky audience member.
Energy and audience involvement continued as Peter Combe was next to bound onto the stage. Repeat after Peter: ‘What’s black…what’s black. What’s white…what’s white. And read all over…and read all over.’ Those in the audience old enough to remember Peter Combe from our own childhood happily sang along, while the spattering of children were left wondering, what’s a newspaper? Luckily Combe followed that up with ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and we all know how that goes down.
Old Hollywood glamour radiated from the stage with the arrival of Nancye Hayes singing ‘Broadway Baby’. Old and dear friends, Todd McKenney and Nancye Hayes then performed ‘You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me’ before sharing their memories of the Festival Centre. McKenney told us that Adelaide was the only place on the tour where ‘The Boy From Oz’ received a standing ovation every night. We do love our arts in Adelaide!
Critically acclaimed violinist Niki Vasilakis and classical guitarist Slava Grigoryan shared the stage next, in a moving number that felt like a high-emotion conversation between their instruments. Vasilakis uses her performances to bring peace and the language of God to those who need it, thanks to her upbringing as a pastor’s daughter, while Grigoryan emigrated from Kazakhstan in 1981, was learning the guitar at the age of seven and performing professionally by the age of 12. The pair made for an inspirational performance.
A little more audience involvement as McKenney asked for our favourite memories of the Festival Centre, and one star-struck fan shared his memories of Her Majesty’s… Bringing an elegance you would not have thought possible to ‘Wrecking Ball’, Rhonda Burchmore appeared in a sea blue gown and proceeded to perform a seamless mashup with ‘Nothing Compares’.
Welcoming us back after intermission was a team of Gary Stewart’s Australian Dance Theatre performers, displaying inspiring control of powerful legs, fluid necks and synchronised arms. Continuing to honour the star power of the adjacent River Torrens, a slideshow of all 133 artists named on the Walk of Fame played to an instrumental of ‘Under The Milky Way’.
Rhonda Burchmore was back in a sequined gown and bordered by the fluid pieces of scenery representing the Festival Theatre roof, now glowing hot pink. A Burchmore-McKenney duet of ‘Simply The Best’ showed the two having the time of their life, with McKenney even doing some light crowd-surfing. Stage and film actor Paul Blackwell then treated us to a little stand-up as his character Teddy from ‘Faith Healer’. The crushed velvet jacket and bow tie leant Blackwell the necessary authority to convince us of the power of his pigeons, his dogs and his control over them.
Having flown his own plane into Adelaide for the Gala, James Morrison had plenty left in the tank for his famous trumpeting. You don’t have to know what jazz is to know that Morrison has true star power, proven by the huge response from the audience. And if you really don’t know what jazz is, Duke Ellington’s answer has stood the test of time, as Morrison proved with his performance of ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing’.
The much-anticipated Tim Minchin was the last to trot down the stairs, and place himself comfortably in front of the piano. Tim Minchin and Todd McKenney are also old friends, as it was McKenney who discovered Minchin in a piano bar in Perth, and took him on tour. All the touring Minchin has done has undoubtedly seen him spend a lot of time in the air, so his first song was an Australian debut about keeping his cool in a crash, written in his signature I’ve-just-scrawled-this-on-a-napkin-style, with his also customary tug at the heartstrings to end the song with: ‘if I’ve wasted my youth, I’ve wasted it with you my love’.
Having written the music and lyrics for ‘Matilda The Musical’, Minchin’s next song was ‘When I Grow Up’, skilfully transporting us to the time in our lives when we thought that adulting was going to be the easy part. Minchin then takes us through his favourite memories of Adelaide, from his ‘So Rock’ tour to his performance in the Garden of Unearthly Delights, and then confirms what everyone in Adelaide who has a memory of the Festival Centre already knows, that our state puts such a great value on the arts.
To heal ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ after his marriage equality re-write, Tim Minchin teams up with Todd McKenney in another high energy Peter Allen performance to bookend the night. The final number of the night is Todd McKenney and ‘I Go To Rio’. McKenney – having seen Allen do crunches on top of a piano during the song, valiantly mimics the feat – shows that even though ‘Boy From Oz’ was 20 years ago, and even though he has to wear glasses now when he’s presenting, he still has the moves.
Living in the Festival State, the Festival Theatre is in our blood. South Australians all have their favourite memories of the Festival Theatre, whether that’s the awe of attending our first performance there at five years old, celebrating a special anniversary with dinner and a show, walking out onto the stage in the footsteps of the greats for our own graduation or gracing the stage again in an interactive circus performance. The Walk of Fame has given us the opportunity to memorialise the stars who poured their hearts and souls into making those memories for us, in a display unique in Australia, and given budding young stars the goal of seeing their name in lights as part of the Riverbank landscape.