Cabaret triumphs over Covid in Showqueen

Bob Downe (left) and Trevor Ashley in rehearsals at Paddo RSL. Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

Covid-19 be damned – Trevor Ashley is bringing Showqueen back to Sydney, with a little help from Bob Downe and other famous friends. By Rita Bratovich.

Entertainment luminaries Trevor Ashley and Bob Downe (AKA Mark Trevorrow) have felt like fish out of water being away from the stage these past few months. Finally, as restrictions begin to ease, they’re diving right back in with fervour – and so are the fans. 

Showqueen is a cabaret show that, prior to lockdown, had run virtually non-stop since it was devised by Ashley 12 years ago. It’s been re-launched at Paddo RSL, with the first show selling out in mere hours. 

“We sold out so fast we didn’t have time to do the press release!” says Ashley. 

Demand was so great they had to add a matinee and it looks like the same thing will happen for the upcoming shows on October 4, 11 and 25. 

It’s very reassuring after a long hiatus. 

“I haven’t done a Bob Downe show since the last time I did a P&O comedy cruise in February,” says Downe.

“For me it was with Conchita on the stage of the State Theatre for my birthday – so February as well,” adds Ashley. 

With so much time on the bench how do they stay match fit? 

“You don’t,” they say in unison. 

“I’ve got no idea what I’m going to do,” Downe elaborates. 

“There is a feeling that no time has passed. There’s a feeling that we’ve all been in suspended animation.”

– Bob Downe

“It’ll come … it’s just that you are rusty in terms of the material. The audience is what carries you through because everybody is so gagging to see shows.”

Downe has been performing as his alter-ego, Mark Trevorrow, at Claire’s Kitchen. He says for people who have been in the business for as long as he and Ashley, it’s just like riding a bike. 

“There is a feeling that no time has passed. There’s a feeling that we’ve all been in suspended animation. It’s hard to believe it’s been seven months since the lockdown … when I got back on stage as myself at Claire’s, I was astounded at how at home I immediately felt.”

A Covid-safe Bob Downe. Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

For Ashley, there was an initial sense of disorientation. 

“We just did Showqueen this last weekend,” says Ashley. “When we went on stage for the matinee I felt like I don’t know what I’m doing … I don’t know who I am. And I stood up there and sang the first song and thought: ‘I forgot to tell my face that I was doing a show!’”

After the show, though, he had people in tears come up to him and tell him how much they’ve missed live music, live performance and live theatre. 

Prior to lockdown, Ashley was already having a tough time with getting shows produced and selling tickets. The previous year had been particularly rough. He put it down to weariness and a degree of apathy among audiences, however, Covid appears to have renewed their appreciation. 

“I think what this has done is woken people up to go: ‘Hey, remember? This is what you love! This is actually what makes us human,’” he says. 

Trevor Ashley is thrilled to be back on stage. Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

Ashley is keenly aware that Showqueen will provide a rare performance opportunity for a handful of people, and has chosen the billing thoughtfully. Each show features three artists who are up-and-coming in the first half, and a headline act in the second half.

Due to restrictions there can only be a limited number of people on stage, which means artists have to perform solo with a three-piece backing band. It will add an element of challenge for new performers who aren’t used to working solo. 

“It’s an incredible opportunity for people that haven’t necessarily done a solo concert to stick their toe in the water, because they don’t have to do a full show,” says Downe. 

“It’s an amazing format that works beautifully and has done since the first time we did it.” 

Ashley will host each of the shows and will also sing a few numbers. 

“We’re so happy to be here because Paddo [RSL] is a great live music venue. It’s got a fabulous room and we can do enough people to make it viable,” Ashley says. 

Tickets are being sold in batches of two to eight people, who will be seated at their own tables. They won’t be allowed to mingle or dance, but they can cheer, laugh, and otherwise show their appreciation. 

“Honestly, everyone is just looking forward to getting back on stage and doing something – anything.”

– Trevor Ashley

Downe is headlining the October 4 show, which will have a ‘Sleaze’ theme. Guest acts include Brendan De La Hay (The Philosopher’s Strip), Seann Miley Moore (X Factor UK, Sweet Charity) and vocal powerhouse Shauna Jensen.

Topping the bill on October 11 is Marika Aubrey. Aubrey has a lengthy resume as a multiple threat, in Australia and internationally. She has starred in numerous TV shows and films, played major parts in leading musicals, performed cabaret, made an album, won a basketful of awards and has the Trevor Ashley tick of approval. 

The show on October 25 will feature British actor and singer Callum Francis, the Helpmann Award-winning star of Kinky Boots

“I thought he’d just be one of those people you would want to see do his own show. He was so extraordinary in that show,” says Ashley. 

Appearing with Francis will be Georgina Hopson (Secret Garden, Ragtime), Monique Salle (In The Heights, Hair), and Robert McDougall (Secret Garden, Les Miserables). 

All the artists are very excited about being able to perform to a real audience again. 

“Honestly, everyone is just looking forward to getting back on stage and doing something – anything,” says Ashley. 

Trevor Ashley in a rendition of Shirley Bassey’s Something at a 2017 Showqueen performance.

Both he and Downe had been doing virtual shows online during lockdown; it kept them connected with fans as well as stoking their creativity. However, both agree that nothing beats doing a live show. 

“This is what I love about live performance – it’s an experience, it always is,” says Ashley. 

“You come to the venue and you have a moment, and you remember those. You remember those forever.”

Showqueen: 7.30pm, Sunday 4, 11 and 25 October at Paddo RSL Showroom, 220 Oxford St, Paddington, $55 + BF. Bookings at www.showqueen.com.au.

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