Sunitra Martinelli of Mélange à trois presents a new show Grit to Glitz at Adelaide Cabaret Festival

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A developmental showcase of a new show Grit to Glitz: The Extraordinary Adventures and Loves of Emily ‘Mickey’ Hahn is being presented by Sunitra Martinelli of Adelaide French trio Mélange à trois at Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2023. We had a chat to Sunitra about the show.

Grit to Glitz

Sunitra, you’re known to Adelaide audiences for your French and French-Latino fusion bands Mélange à trois and Mélange Latino. You’re bringing a developmental showcase of a show to Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Tell us about the show Grit to Gritz: The Extraordinary Adventures and Loves of Emily ‘Mickey’ Hahn.

Fans had suggested that I should perform at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. I was hunting for a show angle that would blend the fabulous talents of my jazz & Latino musicians, keep my French music fans happy & acknowledge my Oriental heritage.


How did you first discover the story of Emily Mickey Hahn?

Whilst brainstorming band names, I came across a book by Taras Grescoe called “Shanghai Grand”. The title caught my attention immediately and when I read about Emily Hahn, I was hooked!


What appealed to you about her story?

Emily’s incredibly adventurous spirit and the amazing, pioneering people she met all around the world. Ansell Adams, Ernest Hemmingway, Georgia O’Keefe, Charlie Chaplin, Mao Zedong, The Soong Sisters, Mahatma Gandhi, Sir Victor Sassoon to name a few!


I was super excited to come across the story of a woman who hung out in jazz bars in Harlem, lived in New Mexico, the Belgian Congo (where Cuban son was the most popular form of music at the time & French is spoken) and Shanghai. I love jazz and world music, so I thought a show about Emily Hahn would be the perfect opportunity to blend all of my favourite musical styles.


You together with Mélange à Trois will recount Emily ‘Mickey’ Hahn’s story through a performance drawing on the musical influences of these turbulent times from smoky, jazz-infused 1920s America, Cuban influenced Latin rhythms of the Congo, Swahili chants, Chinese opera and opium inspired sing-songs from the Orient, recounting the “Grit to Glitz” life of trailblazer Emily Hahn. Apart from Belgian Congo, what are the French/French-speaking links in this show?

This show is a venture away from my fully French Mélange à Trois repertoire. There’s still some French in it-as a nod to Emily’s time in the Belgian Congo, there’s even a bit of Mandarin, but it’s mostly in English.


You’ve written original songs for the show. Talk to us about the process of writing songs for the show.

Emily’s trailblazing ways provided an infinite source of inspiration for fun lyrics. The musical palette to draw from was wonderfully broad & I’ve really enjoyed creating a body of diverse songs.


Each song has come to me with a distinct setting in mind. Smokey jazz bar, a desert road in New Mexico, jungles of the Congo, wild parties in Shanghai…For some songs the lyrics came first. With others it was the bass line or a drum beat. But I always had in mind the atmosphere I wanted to evoke with each song.


Often melodies come to me while I’m asleep, so I wake up & record them into my phone (as quietly as I can so as not to wake my poor husband) or after a glass of red at the piano in the wee hours of the night… Lyrics tend to come to me whilst I’m driving…I’ve missed several turnoffs due to moments of inspiration…


The most fun part of song-writing is getting musicians together in the studio & hearing what I’ve dreamed up alone come to life with their amazing combined talents. All of the musicians I work with bring their own finesse to the music. I’ve also had the wonderful fortune to have esteemed composer Alan John arrange one of my songs for the show. I adore collaborating with other musicians.


Why should people come along to see this show in development at Adelaide Cabaret Festival?

I have a vision of Grit to Glitz being expanded into a show that will require a considerably bigger stage, with Jazz, African, Latino & Chinese musicians, dancers & actors playing the parts of Emily’s key love interests. Come along for an intimate taste of bigger things to come….



WHAT: Grit to Glitz: The Extraordinary Adventures and Loves of Emily ‘Mickey’ Hahn

WHERE: The Quartet Bar by Corryton Burge, Festival Theatre Foyer

WHEN: 6-6:45pm on Wednesday 21 June 2023

HOW: Just show up but arrive early to secure your spot as it’s first in first served

HOW MUCH: $10 donation on entry which will go to the Adelaide Festival Centre Foundation (not tax deductible)


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