Melbourne’s newest cabaret venue is… in the suburbs. Downstairs at Alma’s, located deep in the bowels of the Alma Sports Club in Caulfield, opened with a bang on Monday the 26th of June amongst cabaret royalty, local royalty, and the obligatory theatre journalists.
From Left: Will Conyers, Adele Scott, and PJ Buchanan (The redhead is Alma)
Guests, including Mayor of Glen Eira Cr Margaret Esakoff, were welcomed into the function space at the Alma Sports Club – attended by a bevvy of staff offering drinks and nibbles – where they then mingled and chatted amongst what must have been hundreds of helium balloons and bowls floating scarlet gerberas. Anticipation grew as the time to unveil the new 90-seat theatre drew closer. Masterminds of Downstairs at Alma’s Will Conyers and Philip 'PJ' Buchanan knew how to work the crowd by drawing out the start time and heightening our expectancy.
Eventually we were all ushered down a set of carpeted stairs, through golden curtains and into a dark, hazy room filled with chairs and art-deco glass tables. At the head of the room was an intimate stage, a lectern, and a keyboard. The space warmed, the conversation rose, and the audience heard, for the first time, the voice of Alma herself. The figurehead and muse of Downstairs at Alma’s, with her smoky New York accent, giggles her way through announcements. To open the venue with its very first song is Chelsea Gibb, of Production Company’s The King and I fame.
In between performances by Rachel Berger, Bryan Batt, the Candy Tops, Drags Aloud and the one and only Billie Wilde (amongst others) we were treated to an official opening by Cr Esakoff complete with a ‘virtual’ ribbon cutting. When asked later about her prediction for the success of this little venue in the ‘burbs,’ her response was: “They’re gonna kill it!”
Conyers and PJ interspersed the entertainment with anecdotes and introductions of various elements of the new venue, and, after the final number (Billie Wilde singing "MacArthur Park"), PJ and Conyers floated out of the room and back to the bar on an elated high receiving congratulations with shining eyes. The two hosts of Broadway at Bedtime ([email protected]) on JoyFM, came up with the idea of turning the dingy downstairs office space at Alma Sports Club into a cabaret venue while preparing for their 200th [email protected] show. Much work and co-ordination has gone into turning a square, white room into a theatre with atmosphere.
Cr Margaret Esakoff
It was on [email protected] that they met their great friend and now Downstairs at Alma’s international patron Lorna Luft, whom they interviewed while she was in Australia doing her Songs My Mother Taught Me tour. They’re national patron Paul Baden, ex-owner of Capers Cabaret venue, tickled the crowd by going off script (a joke repeated during the evening that Conyers had written everyone’s speeches) and told us how excited he was to be involved and that he hadn’t realised just how much he missed the industry. Downstairs at Alma’s is a wonderful concept and may be just what the inner suburbs need.
The Candy Tops