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Ali McGregor: All That Jazzamatazz

By | Published on Friday 7 August 2015

Ali McGregor

Here at TW Towers, we are very, very fond of the multifariously talented Ali McGregor, and not long ago demonstrated our love with the bestowal of one of our Editors’ Awards. And here’s the really good news, Ali is back at the Fringe this year, principally with her brilliant children’s show ‘Jazzmatazz’, though with a one-night-only show for grown ups too. We got together with Ali to some of that questioning we like to do…

CM: Tell us about ‘Jazzamatazz’ – what can audiences expect from the show?
AM: ‘Jazzamatazz’ is a show of toe-tapping sweet jazz tunes for the whole family!

CM: How do you go about creating something that both children and adults can enjoy?
AM: By not short-changing anyone on the music or the energy. There are old time jazz standards that grandparents will know well, pop re-workings that the parents will get a kick out of, and all the music is playful and great to dance to, which the kids love.

CM: Why a children’s show? Was it something that seemed more attractive once you actually had children?
AM: After performing at the Edinburgh Fringe for many years I started to go to lots of kids’ shows once my daughter needed endless entertainment! I realised that her favourite shows were the early evening cabaret and music ones where she could dance and sing and hear fantastic, quality music. So I decided to create a show at which kids could experience this fun in the middle of the day, but which parents could also enjoy, just as much as an evening gig.

CM: What made you decide to have dancers in the show?
AM: They’re not so much dancers as professional fun-enablers. Having them on the dance floor means that there is always someone for the kids to dance with and encourage them on to the dancefloor with some sweet moves – although most don’t need much encouragement!

CM: Your career has been pretty varied, really, hasn’t it? Most people wouldn’t expect a soprano working in opera to be able to so easily turn her hand to cabaret or theatre. Is there one aspect of performance you prefer to others?
AM: I have always just wanted to be on stage, singing, performing and connecting with an audience. I sort of fell into opera after being accepted onto an opera course, and I loved the idea of both singing and creating a character and a story with an ensemble. After six years as a principal soprano with Opera Australia I quite literally ran away with the circus – La Clique, now La Soiree – one night after singing in Massenet’s Manon and discovering the wonders and delights of the Famous Spiegeltent. I love all types of singing and performance, but cabaret’s intimacy and immediacy has a very special place in my heart.

CM: I get the feeling a lot of people find opera to be quite an intimidating art form to get to grips with. Do you think there is anyway to persuade those people to give it a try?
AM: The first show I did after “running away with the circus” was ‘The Opera Burlesque’ and it was designed to do just that – get people who were scared of opera to see the extraordinary power it can have over you and to show the opera buffs how exciting cabaret performance was.

CM: Did you always know you wanted to be a singer? 
AM: I always felt the need to perform, it was only in the final years of school I realised I could actually sing for a living. I just wanted to have adventures and challenges, and getting up on stage and singing in front of people seemed like the artistic equivalent of bungee-jumping off a cliff. Exciting, dangerous and ridiculous!

CM: You’ve done full runs of both ‘Jazzamatazz’ and your nighttime show at recent Festivals I think. Why are you mainly focusing on the former this year?
AM: The past two years I have indeed done both late-night and morning shows, one year while quite decently pregnant and the other with a three month old. Of course this was an idiotic idea! I am doing a one-off evening show this year to celebrate what will be my tenth year at the Fringe but yes, it is all about ‘Jazzamatazz’ this time, really. I’d quite like to leave Edinburgh in a reasonable state this year  – ha! – plus I have a new role with the Adelaide Cabaret Festival so I need to have time to go out and see more shows. So it’s still going to be a pretty busy Festival!

CM: You mentioned it’s your tenth Edinburgh, plus you’ve appeared at the major festivals in Australia. What is it about festivals, Edinburgh in particular, that keep you going back?
AM: My husband once said to me that doing Edinburgh Fringe was like investing in a post-graduate degree in performance and he is right. The amount of other acts you get inspired by and learn from, and the repetition of doing the same show two dozen times plus seemingly hundreds of spots in other shows over a one month period, is like boot camp for carnival folk. It is the best way to find yourself as a performer and the friendships and connections you make at these festivals are incredible. There is literally a rag-tag group of sweaty comedians, singers, circus, burlesque and actor types roaming the world looking for a good time and a good audience. It is family and once you are a part of it you never want to be anywhere else!

CM: What’s your favourite thing about Edinburgh? Is there a special landmark? Shop? Venue?
AM: George Square Gardens has been my home for many years now so I love being there amongst all the tents and good times. I always treat myself to a meal or two at The Outsider, the gym and spa at The Scotsman hotel is another treat and Armstrong’s vintage clothes shop always gets a visit.

CM: Tell us more about the Adelaide Cabaret Festival role.
CM: I was recently appointed co-Artistic Director –  alongside Eddie Perfect – by the outgoing AD Barry Humphries. It is my favourite festival in the world, because it is simply the best collection of cabaret performance you will find anywhere. I now get to go and see as much as I can and book the people that I have loved watching grow into incredible performers over the years. We are also going to try and bring more of a family element to the festival so my work with ‘Jazzamatazz’ is perfect to tap into the little-explored kids cabaret that I’m really passionate about.

CM: Obviously you have a talent scouting role now, but are there any people you’re really hoping to see this year who you already rate?
AM: Where to start? Michael Griffiths is doing his Annie Lennox show, plus I must see Dillie Keane, EastEnd Cabaret, Joe Stilgoe, Velvet, Lynn Ruth Miller, Puddles Pity Party, Amelia Ryan, Lady Carol, and that’s just my list of cabaret to see!

‘Ali McGregor’s Jazzamatazz!’ and ‘Ali McGregor: Decadence’ were performed at Assembly George Square at Edinburgh Festival 2015.

LINKS: alimcgregor.com