The Big Apple is their Oyster

Wednesday, October 14, 1998

CABARET

AN AUSTRALIAN contingent headed by Mo Award winner David Campbell is again set to dominate the cut-throat New York cabaret scene over the coming month.

For several years, Australian performers have timed their New York seasons to coincide with the Cabaret Convention, the peak event on the US cabaret calendar.

Campbell was joined this time last year by fellow Australians Judi Connelli and Julie Anthony as nightclub headliners and feature acts at the convention, where they all played to rave reviews.

This year, Combo Fiasco and former Phantom of the Opera star Maree Johnson are expected to do the musical equivalent of selling ice to Eskimos by wowing the New York cabaret community.

Campbell, the son of Cold Chisel singer Jimmy Barnes, will open his season at the Rainbow Room tomorrow, while Combo Fiasco, the funny and talented singing trio who like to poke fun at musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera, have been playing to packed houses at the Eighty Eights club.

Combo - Tony McGill, Sharon Millerchip and Shaun Murphy - played here last year to much acclaim, and their return has been eagerly awaited. In a generally positive review last week, The New York Times praised the group's "polished lighthearted act", but was critical of "a tasteless religious joke" and a comic ode to Viagra set to the melody of Maria.

"Just a slight cultural difference," said Combo pianist McGill, reflecting on the review. "Australians loved that joke, but it's not worth pushing it. We've taken it out to make the show a little more refined."

The members of Combo Fiasco met in the Melbourne production of Phantom, and put their act together as a way of earning a living in between musical engagements.

Maree Johnson also made her name in Phantom, and her lilting voice debuted on the cabaret scene this year when she won Sydney's Cabaret Convention. "The prize was a trip to New York's convention, so here I am, ready to give it a shot," she said.

Johnson will play at Eighty Eights and another high-profile venue, Danni's Skylight Room.

New York audiences seem to find Australian performers' warm and casual approach refreshing. "People know all about Australians now," said New York promoter Tony Origlio. "It's an Aussie invasion and it's getting bigger every year."

- AAP

By GREG TRUMAN in New York - Sydney Morning Herald, 14 October 1998