Apparently this is the 8th year of Ali McGregor's Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night, and after attending the show, it is clear why it has become an institution of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Ali McGregor, ably supported by the ‘Smokin’ Hot Trio’, consisting of Sam Keevers on Keyboard, Christopher Hale on Bass and Hugh Harvey on Drums, presents a fantastic line up of hand-picked talent from the festival.

Any evening set in The Famous Spiegeltent is off to a good start. This beautiful venue was built in 1920 in Belgium and has hosted an amazing array of talent over the years, including Marlene Dietrich. The Spiegeltent sets a wonderful ambience – the warm wood panelling, sparkling glass and mirrors, and rich velvet and brocade creates a cosy, intimate space – perfect for a Cabaret style show.

McGregor fits right into this environment, entering from the rear of the tent in a glamorous ‘little black dress’, fabulous sparkling shoes (and matching nail polish) and a vintage Victory Roll 1940’s hairstyle, complete with floral headdress.

McGregor achieves an instant rapport with the audience which she maintains throughout the show. Her opening number reveals her significant vocal skills and her introduction sets the tone for the warmth and humour her performance will express for the rest of the evening. McGregor informs the audience that she has handpicked each performer because she loves them, and her enjoyment in each act is very visible, as she reclines on her chaise lounge on stage.

The first act she introduced was Sarah Kendall. Her laid back delivery entertained the audience with humorous tales of Melbourne sophisticated graffiti, the perils of the Scottish accent and growing up in Australia in the 70’s – a story I could specifically relate to!

McGregor revealed a penchant for ‘mashups’ throughout the night and this started with her attempt to counteract the ‘rapey vibe’ of Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ with the perky delivery of a Charleston beat. According to the response of the audience, she was successful!

The next act she introduced was Lior. He performed 2 songs – ‘Satisfied Mind’ and ‘My Grandfather’. Both songs revealed his vocal talent and skill as a guitarist, and the latter in particular evoked a strong emotional reaction in the audience. It was interesting to be able to watch McGregor’s reaction to her guest’s performances – she was noticeably impressed by Lior’s amazing falsetto and was clearly moved by his performance, as was I.

The next act to take the stage was ‘The Boy With Tape On His Face’. I had heard good things about his show already this festival and was not disappointed. His performance contains no vocal component of any kind, but does relate strongly to the music that accompanies it. The ‘Boy’ pulls a bizarre range of items from his ever present satchel and proceeds to delight the audience with his ‘rendition’ of well-known songs, with the assistance of brave souls from the audience. His performance this evening included a pair of oven mitts singing ‘My Endless Love’, a re-enactment of the pottery scene from ‘Ghost’ and a dance with ‘the Lady in Red’ – all of which had the audience in stitches. While he makes no sound, ‘The Boy With Tape On His Face’ has no trouble communicating with body language and very expressive eyes, and the audience clearly understood every ‘word’.

McGregor’s next song was a true ‘mashup’ – Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’, combined with a rap song I was unfamiliar with. While the songs made an unlikely combination, McGregor’s entertaining and vocally impressive delivery would have made most songs acceptable to the audience, I’m sure.

The next act up was a performer from Circus Oz, Lilikoi Kaos. Her burlesque style act was a departure from the overall mood of the evening. While it was certainly appropriate to the history of the Spiegeltent, it was not of the same calibre of the other acts of the evening. Lilikoi performed to the soundtrack of ‘Minnie the Moocher’. Appearing initially in a slinky black dress and long gloves, she divested herself of these while smoking a cigarette and spinning a hoop around various parts of her anatomy.  Once her be-sequinned undergarments and fishnet stockings were revealed she continued to keep an increasing number of hoops in motion while contorting herself in various ways. While it took substantial skill to complete her act in such a small space (McGregor’s jokes about facial injuries in the front row struck a little too close to home for my comfort!) I did not find Lilikoi’s circus skills of the same standard as the previous vocal or comedy performances.

After a beautiful duet with Lior, and an additional song requested by the audience, McGregor’s final guest arrived. The ‘very European’ Marcel Lucont presented a very stereotypical view of the arrogant Frenchman, but in a highly entertaining manner. He caught McGregor herself off guard a few times, firstly soundly kissing her on the lips in response to her tapped cheek, with a throwaway comment of ‘be careful what you wish for’, and later causing her to spray her wine, when she could not stop herself laughing at one of his more outrageous comments. Lucont finished his set with by singing ‘May Contain Traces of Food’, which while amusing, to me did not sit well with the style of his previous delivery.

McGregor finished the evening with a very unusual and entertaining variation of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’.
There was no doubt that the audience thoroughly enjoyed the show. Ali McGregor herself is an amazing talent, and I will certainly be seeking out her solo shows in future, but the ‘Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night ‘ should definitely be on your agenda each Comedy festival – Great venue, fantastically talented host, and a selection of some of the best acts of the festival, all in one place. What more could you ask for?