Alex RathgeberAlex Rathgeber started this year in The Drowsy Chaperone with Geoffrey Rush for the Melbourne Theatre Company, has appeared in Production Company shows The Boy Friend, Camelot, Annie Get Your Gun, The Pajama Game and Kiss Me, Kate, and he also popped over to the West End for a year, staring in the 21st Anniversary Cast of The Phantom of The Opera. At the launch of the Cabaret Festival, David Campbell introduced Rathgeber as a rising star and one-to-watch of the Melbourne musical theatre scene.

Rathgeber is travelling to Adelaide to perform his own cabaret show of Cole Porter songs, Experiment, for the first time. On the phone from Melbourne, Rathgeber tells me “David and Lisa had heard I’d done cabaret and asked if I’d like to be involved in the festival using Cole Porter music. I jumped; I thought there would be a lot of interest.”

“There are so many unknowns. Experiment is sort of what I’m doing: putting it together to create something new and exciting for the audience. A celebration of Cole Porter music.”

Collaborating with writer/director Dean Bryant (who worked on last year’s festival hits Newley Discovered and ‘Tegrity) and musical director James Simpson, Rathgeber enthusiastically states he’s “having a ball. The music’s brilliant. I love singing it and I love that there are so many songs so well loved and well appreciated.”

Experiment neither tells the biographical story of Porter (“That’s been done before”), nor is it “tearing apart or reinventing”. Rathgeber says he wants to “capture the essence of a lot of the things I identify as things in his life. Themes in the music: individual themes of the music. Without reinventing, but trying to capture the flavour of incredible sensual energy they have.”

Sorting through the large collection of songs, and narrowing it down to “just a handful”, Rathgeber believes he has “chosen songs with a real currency in the 21st Century.”

Rathgeber is clearly drawn to the sensual and sexual energy in Porter’s music: the “strong romance through all of his songs,” the “very provocative themes of love, passion, and fidelity”, and songs which have a real “sexual energy.”

“I think in the era a lot of that music was written, a lot of the lyrics were cleverly disguised in some clever music. If you listen carefully you got all the music, but I’m interested in looking at the darker side. Sometime the music takes you away, when sung by innocent young characters,” yet Rathgeber enjoys looking deeper at the raw context of the music.

Rathgeber sung Porter’s work at reparatory classes at WAPPA, and his first professional Porter show was Kiss Me, Kate with The Production Company, and with “so many stand out songs,Rathgeber happily explains “I loved doing that show.”

In addition to Porter, Rathgeber has a strong affinity with other music from the golden age of Broadway: George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Kander and Ebb, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart: he describes how he loves the escapism of these composers, and “the romanticism of those eras.”

In 2008 Rathgeber made his West End debut with The Phantom of The Opera. I asked him how the Melbourne theatre scene compares to the sprawling London West End. “In some respects it is quite different, yet at the heart of it not that different. The standards are similar, if not higher, in Australia.” He explains you really need to judge each show “case by case, it’s silly to generalise.”
{xtypo_quote_right}Rathgeber is clearly drawn to the sensual and sexual energy in Porter’s music: the “strong romance through all of his songs,” the “very provocative themes of love, passion, and fidelity”, and songs which have a real “sexual energy.” {/xtypo_quote_right}
He tells me he is “so proud of our industry: so enthusiastic and passionate here. The number of shows in Australia can’t compare.” Rathgeber passionately states “I loved being over there, [it has an] infectious energy and vibe. One big city with so many shows happening at the same time. Arts and theatre there are so embraced, have such a rich tapestry in the history of culture,” where he sadly reflects in Australia “arts doesn’t get the same kudos.” … but ,“we get on with it, and love it.”

Previously at the Cabaret Festival with Andrew Lippa’s Master Class, this is the first time he is doing a show here in his own right but for Rathgeber the Cabaret Festival is more than just the chance to perform in his own show. At this year’s festival he has songs in other shows including Mark Nadler’s Broadway Hootenanny, and plans on catching Smoke and Mirrors, Liza on an E, Newley Discovered, Frisky and Mannish, and Shoshana Bean. “The beauty of cabaret for me is that it is intimate, it depends on the audience. It will be whatever it is with that particular audience.“

He hopes to “have a great time, contribute to the festival and hope the audience has a great time. If the show travels beyond Adelaide that’s a bonus.”

The 10th Adelaide Cabaret Festival opens June 11, 2010. Alex Rathgeber's Experiment plays 23 - 24 June at the Banquet Room. Further information»

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