Routine is good, they say. But for Carla Lippis it’s getting exhausting. “All weekend I’m out performing and Mondays and Tuesdays are when I fall in a heap,” she tells Broadsheet over the phone from London on a Tuesday morning.
She’s just come from Mighty Hoopla festival where she was invited by comic and drag queen Jonny Woo to help recreate the classic Liza With a Z concert. “It was so funny, it was like 30 people in matching Liza [Minnelli] wigs, ether lip syncing or singing the songs, doing group choreography ... It was quite intense for two o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday, actually.”
Intense is a word often used to describe Lippis when she’s onstage; her powerful voice, commanding presence and dry wit have resulted in some of the most memorable performances at previous iterations of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
Lippis’s approach to genre is perhaps best described as restless. After lending her vocals to a number of punk and rock bands, a dalliance with alt-country took her to Tamworth Country Music Festival before she left Australia altogether. In Italy, she recorded several albums, including one inspired by Italian and French pop of the ’60s.
“I get bored really easily, so my attention span’s not very big,” she says. “I just want to try different things and that’s what the cabaret genre does for you – it lets you keep trying things out.”
Lippis’s outsized stage presence makes her a natural for the world of cabaret, but she credits an unusual source with some of her success: North Adelaide dessert spot Elephant Walk cafe, which Lippis owned and managed in her mid-twenties.
She jokes that one of her chief duties at the beloved late-night date spot was “trying to keep hands on tables”, but she was also responsible for setting the mood from the moment patrons walked in and creating a welcoming atmosphere with a little mystique.
These days she’s fronting a smaller team than the 12 staff she employed at the cafe, but her band has coalesced into a tight unit. At its core is Lippis’s husband and longtime musical collaborator Geoff Crowther on guitar, and multi-instrumentalist Victoria Falconer-Pritchard, who’s also a member of Adelaide Fringe favourites EastEnd Cabaret and Fringe Wives Club.
From her current base in London, Lippis still flies back to Adelaide regularly to visit and brought the band over to Adelaide for this year’s Fringe, where she helmed three different shows.
One of those was Midnight Marauders, a raucous late-night variety show in which she was both performer and host. It had a debauched, slightly unhinged feel; one Lippis says is far removed from Cast a Dark Shadow, the show she’s bringing to the upcoming Cabaret Festival.
“This is much more of a serious music show,” she says. She also promises a vastly different sound palette – a mix of covers and originals – though there’s one song that made the cut for both performances. She’ll reprise her show-stopping version of the Rollins Band’s Liar, “just because we love it so much we play it every time we can.”
Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs from June 8 to 23. Carla Lippis: Cast a Dark Shadow is on June 15 and 16 at the Festival Theatre. Tickets are available online.