Mostly Marlene: an evening of whispers and glamour

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Australian Kim David Smith is performing his show Mostly Marlene at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. While Marlene Dietrich wasn’t French, she spent a large portion of her life in France and was a close friend, and rumoured to me maybe more, to Edith Piaf. We had a chat to Kim David Smith ahead of his Mostly Marlene season at Adelaide Cabaret Festival.


Image: Jose Alejandro Espaillat



Image: Jose Alejandro Espaillat

Australian audiences might know you for two very distinct shows: Kim Sings Kylie and Morphium Kabarett. You’re performing Mostly Marlene, a show which is also a tribute to a singer from the Weimar-era. What appeals to you about the Weimar-era and in particular Marlene Dietrich?

I stop short of describing Mostly Marlene as a tribute show, in that I’m much less celebrating Marlene herself, and much more evoking a vibe, or deploying the music associated with Dietrich as a séance of sorts, to enshroud myself and my audience in the whispers and glamour of one of cabaret’s most famous and influential practitioners. She’s one of my chief mega-muses, along with Kylie, Eartha Kitt, Liza Minnelli, Julie London, Judy Garland…I could go on typing!

The Weimar era is an eternally fascinating time (to my mind), and for as long as I can remember I’ve been captivated by the music, art, history, menace, and the advancement of gay rights (and LGBTQI+ identity) that proliferated during this time. It’s all so romantic and frightening!


When did you first take an interest in Marlene Dietrich?

My dad gave me a Marlene biography when I was 14 or 15 years old, and I remember being absolutely fascinated at every turn of the page — I also used to moon over Hollywood’s stars of days gone by when visiting with my Nanny (my maternal grandmother) as a child, and I remember Marlene’s photo spread in Nanny’s big book of silver screen stars as being particularly intriguing.


What can audiences expect from Mostly Marlene at Adelaide Cabaret Festival?

You know? That’s a hard one. I find expectations to be one of my least favorite things about being a human! In terms of the show, and any of my shows really, I would hope that people find an opportunity to laugh (at both myself and at themselves, too), to see themselves in in a ballad or two (I just love losing and/or finding myself in a ballad as an audience member!), and to take the opportunity to zone out from the real world, which, honestly, is a bit of a circus fire these days.


The show blurb refers to Mostly Marlene as a show which “infuses Dietrich’s blueprint for shock, glamour, grace, and gravity with queer mega-muses such as Madonna, Kylie and Liza.” Does this mean audiences can expect songs from Madonna, Kylie and Liza but performed in the Dietrich style?

That’s mostly what it means, yes! I would go on to clarify, that all of the above, including the music associated with Marlene, is reimagined and rearranged in MY style — I’m so proud of the arrangements in this show, and the translations of Kylie songs in to German in particular — my music director here in the States, Tracy Stark, and I have a fabulous working relationship. I’m so proud of my work with her, and so happy that it’s encapsulated on my live album, Kim David Smith Live at Joe’s Pub, which we released last year amid the pandemic:


You’ve been described as the “male Marlene Dietrich” as well as the “David Bowie of cabaret”. How do you feel about these descriptions?

I mean, I never say no to good press! I would firstly (and mostly jokingly) say that these are completely accurate descriptions! Secondly, and more humbly, I would say that I’m incredibly grateful whenever I’m reviewed by someone who truly understands what I’m going for on stage, and who appreciates the nuances of cabaret as an art form.


You’ve performed in English, French and German. Do you speak these languages? What is the challenge in singing in a language that is not your mother tongue?

I think it’s less challenging, honestly, than singing in English! To sing in a non-native language is very freeing, and I feel like it impacts my English repertoire very positively, in that I am encouraged to explore sounds that aren’t otherwise present in my dubious mish-mash of an Australian accent (which nowadays features many borrowed, musical, American-accented elements). I have been told that my German is quite good (thank you, whomever said that!), but that my French has an Australian lilt. Ha!

Image: Travis Chantar

You worked and lived in New York City for over a decade. Where has been your highlight performance?

I’m a 13-year New Yorker, and very proud of it! It’s my most favorite city in the world, and in all the time I’ve lived in NYC I’ve had too many wonderful experiences on stage to really recount just one as a stand out — I adore performing at Club Cumming in Alphabet City, and am equally at home at Café Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie, where I’ve been singing since 2009 — there’s nothing quite so glamorous as singing in that converted ballroom (in an old Vanderbilt mansion), knowing that Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I hangs in the gallery directly above where I’m singing!


Where and with whom is your dream performance?

I have always fantasized about recording a duets album with Kylie, but all in German, and consisting only of German cabaret tunes from the 1920s and early 1930s. I imagine it’s going to be a hard sell to get her into the studio for that!


What is your favourite Marlene Dietrich song to listen to and why?

I absolutely LOVE Dietrich’s recording of The Surrey with the Fringe on Top — it’s hilarious, and so fun, with sleigh bells to boot! I love to listen to it at Christmastime.


What is your favourite Marlene Dietrich song to perform and why?

My favorite Dietrich song to perform is DEFINITELY Jonny, Wenn du Gebusrstag Hast? I absolutely adore my arrangement, and have honed it over many years into the (I think) cabaret jewel that sits pride of place on my live album. My cabaret mother, Karen Kohler, translated the verse for the spoken word portion in the middle of the song, which, along with the undulating yearning of the repeated chorus, makes for a very special and rewarding moment (for me, performance-wise) in all of my shows.


WHAT: Mostly Marlene as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival

WHERE: Space Theatre, Adelaide

WHEN: 24 & 25 June

HOW: Tickets are available via this link

HOW MUCH: Adults $49, concession $39 and under 30s $25 plus $8.95 transaction fee.


You may also like to read our interview with Craig Ilott about the show L’Hotel at Adelaide Cabaret Festival.


What’s your favourite Marlene Dietrich song?



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Piaf & Brel: the impossible concert at Adelaide Fringe

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Piaf & Brel: the impossible concert is a new show to appear at Adelaide Fringe 2020 and even though it was the first I’ve seen for the season, it is guaranteed to be a highlight of the French music performances at this year’s Fringe. 

Piaf & Brel: the impossible concert

Canadian Melanie Gall, discovered by Emma Knights, who is putting on a number of shows at the Adelaide Fringe, while performing in Edinburgh last year, performs songs of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel in this charming one hour performance. Melanie Gall encourages audience participation by way of sing-along right from the start. Her enthusiasm is contagious and her passion for singing these songs of Piaf and Brel but also for performing generally is evident. 


Why is the concert impossible you might ask? Well of course it’s not possible in today’s times as both Piaf and Brel have long passed but even at the time that they were alive, it was impossible because Piaf and Brel never sung together. In fact, they did not even meet. 


Dressed in a sparkly dress, a bargain which Melanie tells us she loves but is having her at times coughing on sequins, Melanie opens the show with the well known Piaf song “Milord”. Having opened with. A Piaf song that is well known Melanie then moves into a lesser known, but equally enjoyable, Piaf song “Parasoles”. 


Melanie is humorous. Telling us about Brel’s poor luck trying to break it into the singing world. Telling us that he entered the equivalent of Belgium idol, for example where he reached 27th place out of a total of 28 contestants. 


Brel songs featured in performance include his famous “Ne Me Quitte Pas” along with songs showing his Belgian roots “Bruxelles” and his amusing “Valse a Mille Pas”, an extremely fast song which Melanie performed perfectly – I was wondering when she would need to take a breath!.


Melanie punctuated songs with stories either about the artists or about herself, including that she was opera trained, that she had five opera degrees and that she completed the last of those five degrees just before the GFC hit which led to many many of the opera companies closing down! 


Melanie Gall told us that she has performed the show Piaf and Brel the impossible concert all over the world including in Edinburgh where she was found and hand-picked by Emma to come to Adelaide, for the Prince of Cambodia and at a nudist resort. 


Melanie Hall’s stage presence was one characterised by enthusiasm, humour, audience interaction and a powerful voice – her opera training was quite evident when she reached high soprano like notes and held them for a significant period of time. Perhaps the only fault to find would be that such a strong voice, perhaps did not need the microphone at all times. Unfortunately, in the intimate space of the Jade, it at times felt that Melanie was screaming into the microphone rather than her voice being showcased in the best possible way. 


Melanie correctly points out that the songs of Piaf and Brel do not always accurately reflect their lives. Brel, for example sings love songs. One would assume therefore that perhaps he had been in love and had stayed faithful. Not the case. One of his most famous songs “Ne me quitte pas” was written not for his wife, but for his mistress. 


Similarly Brel sings of old lovers. But having died at the age of 49. He never got to be old. Piaf died aged 48 and a half. Neither she nor Brel saw out there 50th birthday. 


Piaf and Brel: the impossible concert is a charming ode to the songs that are known by many. It also allows the audience to discover some songs that they previously did not know. Some lesser known songs by the artists. 


We have Melanie’s opera training, yes, to thank for her love of singing and her singing talents. But it was her desire to have a free meal in the Port of Spain, Trinidad to thank for her finding the songs of Piaf and Brel, with which she has continued to this day. As a result, we thank that French restaurant in the Port of Spain, Trinidad and a hungry Melanie Gall for Piaf & Brel: the impossible concert. 


As a side note it is interesting that Melanie pronounces her French perfectly but tells us that while she is Canadian, she is not Francophone Canadian even though she went to a French immersion school. 


Piaf and Brel: the impossible concert is a fabulous opportunity to see an international artist performing well-known French songs and to also find some lesser-known songs. 



Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Adelaide Fringe


You can see Piaf & Brel: the impossible concert at The Jade at 8:30pm Monday 24 February and at 3:30pm on Tuesday 3 to Thursday 5 March.


Tickets cost between $20 and $29 depending on which performance date you attend and can be purchased at: 


To read about other French linked shows at Adelaide Fringe 2020, click here


What’s your favourite Edith Piaf or Jacques Brel song?



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