Mark Trevorrow gets up close and personal with The Sentinel ahead of a run of new Bob Downe shows in Sydney. By editor-in-chief Peter Hackney.
It’s safe to say Mark Trevorrow knows a thing or two about showbiz.
His storied career spans early ’80s chart hits with the Globos, almost four decades of his beloved alter ego Bob Downe, solo albums as both Bob and Mark, countless television appearances, regular stints as an ABC Radio presenter and an evergreen relationship with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras – the telecast of which he’s hosted multiple times.
Along the way, he’s performed for Queen Elizabeth and the late Prince Philip, had a recurring role on Kath & Kim, written a book, appeared on stages the world over and had his very own television programs, including The Bob Downe Show in Australia (Foxtel) and Bob Downe All Over Britain in the UK (BBC).
It might come as a surprise, then, to learn Trevorrow can still be wracked with nerves – even “terror” –before performances, and that “getting back on the horse” post-lockdown wasn’t an easy task for Australia’s king of comedy and cabaret.
“I was terrified to get back to solo shows after such a long break and the longer you leave it, the more terrifying it is,” he tells The Sentinel.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing Orange, New South Wales (where he performed last year) or New York, New York (where he played Alan Cumming’s legendary Club Cumming a few years ago) every gig is terrifying and every gig is the one you want to make work.”
The experience is universal among performers worth their salt, he asserts.
“There’s not a decent act or comedian who’ll tell you otherwise,” he says.
“Anybody with any level of talent will tell you it’s always just as scary as it always was, no matter how long they’ve been doing it.
“And if it’s not, there’s something wrong.”
Viva, Bob Vegas!
Of course, his adoring public associates Trevorrow more closely with laughter and music than terror – and laughter and music is exactly what he’s bringing to Sydney audiences this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, when he stages Viva, Bob Vegas! at Paddo RSL – a venue he enthusiastically describes as “a favourite” and a “wonderful room”.
Billed as “a brand new, old-style nightclub show”, it’s actually the show’s second run at the Paddo; several Viva, Bob Vegas! dates were staged there last year during one of our Covid lulls.
“It’s very much a lounge show,” Trevorrow explains. “In the classic days of Vegas, the main room shows were the mid-evening shows but everybody – including the performers and all the stars who were headlining – would go to these lounges afterwards and see these wild, crazy late-night acts by people like Frances Faye and Louis Prima,” he says.
“Viva, Bob Vegas! is my tribute to those crazy, wild lounge acts. They were much naughtier, much looser and much crazier than the main shows.”
With over 20 songs squeezed into medleys and mash-ups, a red-hot live band, costumes by drag royalty Maude Boate and support from one of Australia’s top singers, Shauna Jensen, Viva, Bob Vegas! is a tight, energetic and colourful show, delivered with aplomb.
Of Jensen, he quips: “I can’t wait to sing and fool around with her again. We’re a dynamite Vegas double. Donny and Marie have got nothing on us!”
And for those who saw the show on its last Sydney run, there’ll be some differences this time around.
“This one is a Mardi Gras special, featuring my beautiful burlesque dancers Frenchie and Cello as extra eye candy,” Trevorrow reveals.
“Besides that, I can’t remember what I said last time so who knows what will spill out of my potty mouth?” he adds, slipping into ‘Bob’ mode.
A big (alter) ego
In showbiz, people talk about performers who are triple threats (‘They can sing, dance and act!). Always an overachiever in his field, the multi-talented Trevorrow has way more than three strings to his bow: singing, dancing, acting, comedy, writing, presenting and more.
But despite Trevorrow’s talents across the arts spectrum, somehow things always circle back to Bob. As Barry Humphries is to Dame Edna, Mark Trevorrow is to Bob Downe: indivisible.
And much like Humphries and his Moonee Ponds matriarch, Trevorrow’s alter ego is better known than its creator.
Some performers would resent the situation but Trevorrow is grateful.
“Bob has taken me around the globe, he’s helped forge professional and personal relationships that mean the world to me … and I always say Bob taught me how to sing,” Trevorrow tells The Sentinel.
“I’m hyper aware I work in an industry where most performers are out of work most of the time – but doing Bob has kept me in work. As a performer, I can only be grateful for Bob.”
Among Bob’s many highlights is the aforementioned royal audience, which left Queen Elizabeth and her late consort in stitches at the 1995 Royal Variety Performance in London.
Regaling The Sentinel with the story, he recounts: “I looked up at the end of my spot, because the spot started really slow, but then it warmed up and when I finished, I looked up and they were both laughing. Terrifying – but then it ended up being one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.”
Of meeting the Queen, he recalls: “You’re not allowed to speak to her first, she has talk to you. She always asks open-ended questions. She said to me, ‘Are you working here or there?’ In other words, are you working in London or Australia, and at that time, I was going backwards and forwards … It was clear both her and Philip had a huge love for Australia, our cheekiness and our directness.”
Bob has also brought Trevorrow into contact with many of Australia’s – and the world’s – best-known showbiz figures, some of whom he’s collaborated with.
Artists he’s worked with at various times, in various ways, include Julian Clary, the aforementioned Alan Cumming, Paul McDermott, Kylie Minogue, Paul O’Grady (AKA Lily Savage) and Jonathan Ross.
The Prince (of Polyester) and the showgirl
The Sentinel can’t resist asking him about Kylie – perhaps the most famous Australian entertainer – a star he’s met a number of times and who was one of his co-hosts when he helmed the 1998 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade telecast, broadcast by Channel 10.
“She’s gorgeous. Absolutely a total sweetheart,” he enthuses. “And you know the thing about Kylie, unlike so many people in her position, you get a feeling that she’s so grateful for the love and success she’s had. Great humility and sweetness.
“She’s a template for how you should run a long-term career and how you should behave in this industry. She looks you in the eye and if you’re speaking with her, you’re the only person in the room. She’s got a gift of warmth – it’s what makes her concerts.”
But it’s not superstars, it’s Trevorrow’s audience – the punters who follow him and come to his shows – who loom largest in his career; a cohort to whom he’s (like Kylie with her fans) eternally grateful.
“A performer should never forget the how and why and who behind their success – and that’s their audience,” he says.
“They’re the reason you have a career and they’re the people you focus on. You can never lose sight of that.
“If you do, your career is over – and probably should be.”
Mark Trevorrow will perform as Bob Downe in Viva, Bob Vegas! on Friday, 25 February; Saturday, 26 February; and Sunday, 27 February at Paddo RSL, 220-232 Oxford Street, Paddington.
Viva, Bob Vegas! will also be staged on the Central Coast at the Laycock Street Community Theatre, 5 Laycock Street, Wyoming, on Saturday, 2 April.
For tickets, information, merchandise and more, visit www.bobdowne.com.
Peter Hackney is the editor-in-chief of the Sydney Sentinel.