Melbourne Cabaret Festival


The Melbourne Cabaret Festival is one of Melbourne’s major winter arts events. The Festival is funded through fundraising campaigns, its 'Friends of the Festival' program, donations, strategic sponsorships and ticket sales.

It is run by ‘Melbourne Cabaret Limited’, a not-for-profit entity which exists to promote the performance art of cabaret and engage and grow a broad audience base for cabaret.


Mike McLeish 580x700.jpg

Artistic Director

Mike McLeish

Mike is best known to Australian audiences for his portrayal of Paul Keating in Casey Bennetto's hugely successful production of Keating! The Musical. Since Keating, Mike has appeared in Eddie Perfect's Shane Warne The Musical and Chunky Move's Two Faced Bastard, as well as performing with renowned musical improvisation troupe Spontaneous Broadway, subversive cabaret trio The Beautiful Losers, and forming a musical comedy partnership with Rusty Berther (ex Scared Weird Little Guys).

Mike's first self-penned solo cabaret show, The World is Winning, played to sold-out audiences at The Butterfly Club and the Famous Spiegeltent in Melbourne, as well as the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Next he co-wrote and performed in the comedic play, Plus One, with his wife and collaborator, Fiona Harris, at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. His latest cabaret, Message To My Girls, premiered at the Melbourne Cabaret Festival in June 2014. 

Off the stage, Mike has appeared in television guest roles on Utopia, Offspring, The Librarians, Bed of Roses, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries and Lowdown, and was employed as a songwriter, music adviser and actor in both series' of the ABC drama, The Time of Our Lives.


Ron Dobell

Melbourne Cabaret Limited is Chaired by Ron Dobell, who has vast experience in risk management and corporate governance. He has served as a Director and Chair of several organisations including his own philanthropic arts foundation, the Ron & Margaret Dobell Foundation. Ron has served on the Melbourne Cabaret Festival’s inaugural Advisory Panel from 2009.

Executive Producers

Neville Sice (left) and David Read

Described by The Age as the 'Bart Cummings and Gai Waterhouse of cabaret' (they dispute which is which), their instinct and understanding of the art form has resulted in the discovery of new performers who are now household names and the presentation of hundreds of new works that have thrilled audiences and kept them coming back for more. They have also toured selected cabaret performances around Australia and overseas.

They have thrilled well over 100,000 paying audience members via their activities at The Butterfly Club, tours and now the Melbourne Cabaret Festival. They sold The Butterfly Club in January 2011 in order to focus on delivering the Melbourne Cabaret Festival.

Neville and David are in constant demand from venues and festivals around Australia for advice and assistance in curating cabaret seasons and workshops. They can be contacted here.


Cabaret by its very nature is a small enterprise. That makes it difficult for performers and shows to leap from performing in small cabaret venues to larger opportunities and to make a living from it.

Over many years Neville Sice and David Read saw multiple high calibre acts in their 50-seat venue, but became frustrated when those acts found it difficult to progress further. Determined that the audience and talent existed, they sought out to fill the gap that existed in Melbourne’s infrastructure, experience and scale by initiating a cabaret festival.

2016 Festival

A new Artistic Director and a major partnership with the City of Stonnington delivered a massive line-up for the 2016 Festival.

Artistic Director Mike McLeish selected over 40 shows from around the country and overseas - over 100 performers - to perform from Tuesday 14 until Sunday 26 June in a newly centralised festival hub in Prahran incorporating Chapel Off Chapel, The Space Arts and Dance Centre and Love Machine nightclub.

Other new initiatives included Kids Cabaret, Matinee and Cabaret Fringe.

Festival attendance grew 15% to 5,779.

2015 Festival

The 2015 Festival was held from Thursday 18 to Sunday 28 June.

The festival 'kept it fresh' by:

  • presenting 30 shows never before seen in Melbourne
  • presenting 'fresh faces' - we wooed the best and brightest talent across the country who had never appeared in prior festivals
  • expanding to two new, exciting venues - the Alex Theatre in St Kilda and the Melba Spiegeltent in Collingwood
  • re-imagining two spaces as cosy cabaret salons - the main theatre at Chapel Off Chapel and the Studio at Alex Theatre

To match the 'keeping it fresh' theme, the festival refreshed its branding and website.


The 2014 festival was held from Thursday 19 June through to Sunday 6 July, across a diverse range of cabaret venues. It had a particular focus on celebrating the home grown talent of Melbourne's vibrant local cabaret scene.

2014 also saw the start of our regional touring activity with a Roadshow Gala taking place immediately after the conclusion of the festival.



A celebration of Melbourne, the Festival involved 150 performers in 63 different shows in 16 venues, and dozens of staff and volunteers.

A festival delivers greater economic impact than any other type of art event. The Festival:

  • Generated employment for hundreds of performers, front-of-house staff, tech team and so forth and provided experience for volunteers.
  • Welcomed hundreds of tourists who contributed to the bed nights of multiple accommodation providers and spent money shopping, eating, travelling and entertaining in Melbourne.
  • Built new audiences for cabaret which are then passed onto our venue partners operating year round.
  • Introduced eight overseas shows never before seen in Melbourne.
  • Educated up to 300 local performers through our professional development program.
  • Witnessed the formation of many new collaborations between artists over the festival.

In 2013 the Festival built on the successful ‘partnership model’ it introduced in 2012, whereby it programmed several venues itself (Palais Theatre, Chapel Off Chapel, Village Melbourne, Kew Court House and St Kilda Memo) and partnered with several other venues across Melbourne to deliver the Festival and, at the same time, broaden geographically & artistically and improve audience access.

The partner venues were Fortyfive Downstairs, Bohemia Cabaret Club, Comedy Theatre, Dracula's, Globe Café, Melbourne Recital Centre, Old Treasury Building, Paris Cat Jazz Club, The 86, The Butterfly Club and Thornbury Theatre

The Opening Gala at the Palais Theatre was attended by over 1,200 and set the scene for the Festival. Other big sellers included Motown Royalty Mary Wilson, Fem Belling’s Dear Blossom, Oprahfication, Yana Alana’s Between The Cracks, Little Orphan trAshley and Spiderlash.

A documentary crew recorded extensive footage over the Festival and Channel 31 broadcast this as a one-hour documentary in August 2013.



The 2012 Festival involved 100 performers in 36 shows in 9 venues, and dozens of staff and volunteers.

Early in 2012, faced with a $15,000 shortfall in its budget to stage the Festival, a crowdfunding campaign was launched. Supported by Geoffrey Rush, Amanda Palmer, Paul Capsis, Sammy J & Randy and hundreds of other supporters, the campaign surpassed its target by raising over $18,000.

The campaign represented the first time that Melbourne’s broad, often disorganised cabaret community – performers, venues and audiences – had united behind a common cause.

It also marked the first time in Australia that a Festival had received ‘core funding’ via crowdfunding and is the strongest indication possible of audience and community support.

Emboldened by this community support, the 2012 Festival significantly expanded in two ways. First, it expanded to 10 nights, from Thursday 12 to Saturday 21 July. Second, it expanded to several venues across Melbourne whilst retaining its historic ties with the suburb that bore it.

2012 featured a Festival-programmed south hub at Chapel Off Chapel in Prahran and a Festival-programmed north hub at Kew Court House in Kew.

The Festival partnered with several other cabaret venues across Melbourne to broaden geographically and artistically and, also, to improve audience access.

Partner venues were responsible for presenting quality acts suited to their own venue and audiences. They included the Melbourne Recital Centre, Red Bennies, the Crimson Goat Cabaret Club at Ormond Hall and – in South Melbourne – The Butterfly Club and the new Bohemia Cabaret Club which was also serving as a late night magnet for Festival audiences. The South Melbourne Community Chest also continued as the official charity of the Festival.



In 2011, the Festival introduced London’s Le Gateau Chocolat to Melbourne audiences, who whole-heartedly embraced him. Another highlight was the world premiere of ‘The Last Train’, where for the first time the words and music of iconic singer / songwriter Paul Kelly were deliberately woven into a single story.

More than 100 performers participated in the Festival in 36 cabaret shows including 11 world premieres and five Melbourne premieres.

Audiences enjoyed the free Moritz light & sound spectacle designed by Kim Edwards from the JMC Academy. The projection was a nightly joy for many spectators and showcased the amazing potential of modern day animation technology, utilising the imposing South Melbourne Town Hall as a canvas.

The Festival helped dozens of performers and shows thrive and succeed through strategic presenting partnerships and a program of masterclasses and workshops thanks to the Ron & Margaret Dobell Foundation.

Enormous publicity was achieved, including six national live crosses on Channel 9’s Today Show and six front cover magazine profiles.

Aside from the suburb’s profile being extensively raised, the Festival gave back to its local community in several ways. Post-Festival audience surveys and its own direct spending revealed that local traders received $9.50 for every $1 their business association provided in sponsorship. Restaurateurs in particular benefited through a ‘dine locally’ campaign in partnership with Yarra Trams. 96% of Festival attendees came from outside South Melbourne, and 78% had never or rarely been to the Emerald Hill arts and cultural precinct. The Festival also coordinated donations for the South Melbourne Community Chest.



Together with support from the City of Port Phillip, South Melbourne traders, the Australian National Academy of Music and the Ron & Margaret Dobell Foundation, David Read and Neville Sice produced a 6-night festival which captivated Melbourne and finally provided the cabaret experience that audiences and performers had been craving for years.

The Festival activated South Melbourne’s historic ‘Emerald Hill arts and cultural precinct’ for the first time in many decades, an impact which continues today in many guises. Prior to the Festival, the precinct had been Melbourne’s most under-valued and under-utilised arts and cultural precincts.

One of the highlights in 2010 was a collaboration with the Australian National Academy of Music which saw the world-famous Brodsky Quartet from the UK come to Melbourne to partner with writer & performer Eddie Perfect and arranger Iain Grandage. The world premiere performance, Songs From The Middle, was broadcast nationally by the ABC, nominated for a Helpmann Award, and toured to the Powerhouse in Brisbane and the Sydney Opera House.

That year the Festival also welcomed Steve Ross from New York, Toni Lamond AM and Yana Alana – the latter show scooping the pool at the following Green Room Awards, winning most cabaret awards on offer.