I AM sitting in Chicago, the musical not the city, back in my hometown of Brisbane after one of my busiest years of travel yet. Accompanying me on this joyous journey is my best friend from Grade One. For more than 40 years this gorgeous girl and I have been playing dress ups and today is no different. We are revelling in the rare rain which is doing the hot shoe shuffle on the rooftop of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre outside, while inside, we are toe tapping to this marvellous musical. In my seat, I secretly applaud the happiness of having long-term friends and the bliss of being home.
And there’s no better way to celebrate this delicious destination than the razzle dazzle of Chicago, the longest-running American musical in Broadway and West End history, now perched on the banks of the Brisbane River in the Lyric Theatre. The opening act is sleek and sultry and doesn’t disappoint with its trademark All That Jazz. If you know nothing else of this sassy story, you’ll recognise this tune which transports you back to the 1920s and tells the story of some ballsy broads. You’ll adore the humour and one-liners such as “In this town murder is a form of entertainment”; admire the sheer athleticism of the cast; and marvel at the magic they perform on such a tiny sliver of stage.
There’s no fancy costume changes, everyone wears black, allowing space for the brilliant voices to really shine. Another awesome addition to this show is the stadium-style band set up, smack bang centre stage, and with which the cast, and audience, are invited to interact throughout the performance. The cast is delightful, and Australian audiences will recognise a few favourites here such as Tom Burlinson, who plays Billy Flynn the lawyer and at one stage is flanked by fabulous feathers; and Natalie Bassingthwaighte who is charming, cheeky, cute and convincing as Roxie Hart. The lesser-known Alinta Chidzey is equally brilliant as Velma Kelly. But it’s Casey Donovan as Matron “Mama” Morton who steals the show with her voluptuous voice and commanding presence. The audience went ballistic for the bold, brave and beautiful Donovan and so will you.
Delightfully, the band plays the audience out of the theatre to another rendition of All That Jazz where outside we discover a sunny Saturday afternoon. We dissect the show, and life itself, as we amble along South Bank, under the silver metal archways draped in purple bougainvillea, which reminds me of the colour palette of the new suite we are sharing at Rydges South Bank. Late afternoon and we pause at Rydges Soleil Pool Bar for a cheeky cocktail. It’s an Aperol Spritz afternoon and we lounge on couches as comfortable as our friendship.
By early evening we are perched at Rydges Bacchus bar, sipping a sparkly, and admiring the upmarket retro vibe. From our white leather bar stools overlooking several booths, it’s a little bit Get Smart replete with an impressive shelf of liquor and a bar manager who takes the time to chat. But another juicy journey awaits and we repair to the Bacchus dining room where, perched in a commanding chair redolent of Alice in Wonderland I sit while we embark on another adventure – the Spring Degustation. We start with a salacious selection of oysters before eating in earnest – there’s bread and a selection of amuse bouche; a Celeriac with sesame, lemongrass and roast potato broth; and Sashimi boasting apple, cucumber and celery, with Japanese hongarebushi. Each course is paired with wine which we discuss with gusto with the passionate and professional sommelier.
We continue with a Fish Pillow of gnocchi, cannellini, vongole and cuttlefish, before experiencing our most delicious dish of the degustation – Darling Downs Wagyu, with spinalis, smoked eggplant and camel cheese. The meal inches towards the end with a cheeky Cheese with house made chutney and raisin bread with pumpkin and five spice; a brilliant Blueberry unlike any other served with cake and zabaione; Coconut on the Beach with lime and butterscotch; and Petit Fours to finish. This degustation is like our friendship itself, long, surprising, delicious and delightful.
Sated, we repair to our room, this refurbished corner suite part of more than $30 million Rydges South Bank has invested into redesigning all of its rooms. There’s a desk and kitchenette for business travellers, plus a large l-shaped couch in the lounge room replete with huge television. The bedroom boasts a king-sized bed, another large television, and ensuite with shower and elegant egg-shaped bath. Rydges South Bank is the most perfect perch anywhere in Brisbane should you wish to catch a show. Its understated elegance works well for the laidback Queensland capital and for which this heavenly hotel has recently earned its position in the latest Queensland Hotels Association Awards Hall of Fame for Best Superior Accommodation. Rydges South Bank also received the Workplace Health & Safety Award and Guest Experience Supervisor Kait Einam was named Guest Services Employee of the Year. Not surprisingly, Bacchus was awarded Best Prestige Restaurant for the second year in a row.
It’s late at night and I stand on the breezy balcony of my ninth floor suite, from which I can see South Bank from one side, and Mt Coot-tha on the other. The Wheel of Brisbane is lit up like the full moon and the city lights across the river blink back at me, reminding me to savour salacious days such as these. Those rare moments in time when you have time to catch a show, snatch a slow wander, dive into deep chats, feast on a luscious dinner, and indulge in the luxury of retreating to a hotel suite to sleep. And to celebrate a city and friendship, which has stood the test of time…and all that jazz.
Rydges South Bank has launched a CHICAGO package which is available for stays from today, November 5, through to December 1 this year. The package, which starts from $550 includes:
Overnight accommodation in a luxurious guest room
Two A Reserve Tickets (evening performance) on arrival night
Valet car parking for one vehicle
Buffet Breakfast for two in Bacchus Restaurant
An official CHICAGO Show program
A CHICAGO themed gift on arrival
The Global Goddess was a guest of QPAC and Rydges South Bank – www. https://www.rydges.com/accommodation/brisbane-qld/brisbane-south-bank/
Photos courtesy of Rydges South Bank and QPAC.
Keep your eye out for upcoming shows and packages including Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS which opens in Brisbnae on January 10. And if you eat nowhere else in this lifetime, dine at Bacchus. One of my most memorable meals anywhere in the world.
I REALLY should be cranky with Brisbane, yet I’m not. On the one weekend when I’m out wandering my hometown, foraging through her secret nooks and crannies in preparation for the Brisbane Festival, my sassy city decides to rain. Not just little kittens and puppies, but big cats and dogs with a bit of a windy whip in their tail, just for good measure. But being angry with Brisbane when it rains is like losing your cool at your well-behaved child when they act out of character. You know, the one who almost always is lovely, but every now and then Satan makes a surprise appearance. And so it is with Brisbane on this weekend, our thirsty city hasn’t seen a drop of rain in months, so it would be churlish of me to punish her for that.
And what that rain means is that when the Brisbane Festival bursts into bloom for three weeks from September 6, this pretty city is going to be so green, it will make every other Aussie capital emerald with envy. My wanderings begin at Fortitude Valley’s Alpha Mosaic Hotel, the latest entrant in Brisbane’s vertical community. Urban chic meets retro here with splashes of orange chairs and purple walls and, a rarity for Brisbane, a stone fireplace in the lobby. But the real treat here is on the rooftop of this hotel/apartment complex which not only has its own herb garden for residents, but 360 degree views of the city, an ideal vantage point for the culmination of the Brisbane Festival with Riverfire’s fireworks.
On towards New Farm and Jan Power’s Farmer’s Markets I tumble, where the weather may be wet, but the stallholders’ wits are dry and the produce crisp. The Powerhouse will host some of the Brisbane Festival’s key performances including The Shadow King, an Indigenous slant on Shakespeare’s King Lear, and Monkey…Journey to the West, a take on the 1970s cult classic Monkey Magic.
While surprise events and pop-up performances will be detonating all over the city, the leading lady of the Brisbane Festival will be South Bank in what is Australia’s only custom-designed cultural precinct. Among the many restaurants and bars poised to embrace the festival, Champ Kitchen & Bar will be one of the heroes, with specially-designed cocktails such as The Green Martini made from absinthe and Bacardi (a major festival sponsor) and served with green apple jam; as well as The Royal Bellini, built on strawberries, wine and Grand Marnier to tie in with the burlesque theme of the nearby Spiegeltent.
Brisbane Festival Artistic Director Noel Staunton says around 82 performances will be staged around the city during those three weeks in September, with many of them free. The cheapest ticketed performance starts at $15 with the most expensive at $180, making the festival accessible to everyone. And half of the festival tickets have already been sold.
“Once the festival starts there is the impetus to go and see shows. For me it is about creating debate. It is not about a show being good or bad. It is about seeing things that people normally wouldn’t see for the rest of the year,” Noel says.
“We employ hundreds of local artists and have a policy where we involve every arts organisation in the city. It’s about a party. It’s about having a go and having a good time. Not every show is about high-end culture.
“For me, it’s about a city having a different feel for a three-week period that is nice and easy and just fun. I very much like to see this city up late because this city goes to bed so early.”
One of the most ambitious festival highlights will be when 100 light horsemen ride across the city’s iconic Story Bridge, a cultural clip clop to the Black Diggers performance at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, which pays homage to the Indigenous Australian soldiers who fought in World War One. At the Courier-Mail Piazza at South Bank, Soap will be a contemporary circus, comedy and cabaret and will involve seven bathtubs, while at the Queensland Conservatorium, an opera will explore the city’s 2011 deluge with Floods.
It’s the last festival for Noel, who has been at the helm for the past five years, and cites a performance in 2010 in which festival-goers were invited to attend a giant sauna theatre performance – buck naked – as his most audacious event. Perhaps that’s the year that Brisbane really learnt to let its hair down, so to speak. Who knows? But on this wet weekend, when Noel sits in a noughts and crosses collared shirt and talks about the entertainment game, one thing is perfectly clear. You can’t guarantee the weather, but Brisbane is in for a blast.
STAY: Alpha Mosaic Hotel Brisbane – http://www.alphamosaichotelbrisbane.com.au
SEE: Brisbane Festival (September 6 – 27) – http://www.brisbanefestival.com.au
EAT & DRINK: Champ Kitchen & Bar – http://www.champkitchenandandbar.com.au; Newstead Brewing Co – http://www.newsteadbrewing.com.au; Green Beacon Brewing Co – http://www.greenbeacon.com.au; Tipplers Tap – http://www.tipplerstap.com.au; Gerard’s Bistro – http://www.gerardsbistro.com.au
DO: Brisbane Greeters offer free guided tours of Brisbane’s precincts – http://www.visitbrisbane.com.au/brisbane-greeters
The Global Goddess was a guest of Brisbane Marketing. For a comprehensive calendar of events and things to see and do in Brisbane go to http://www.visitbrisbane.com.au