Ali McGregor’s Alchemy

Ali McGregor promised to take the Top 40 to the 1940s – and she accomplished just that.

Her new show Alchemy is an instalment of what I like to call “Re-Pop,” where pop songs from the 80s and 90s are given a distinctly un-pop layer of stylistic velour.  Think the Ukulele Orchestra’s interpretation of the Bowie classic “Life on Mars,” or the cover of Ultravox’s 80s anthem “Vienna” in the style of Gregorian Chants, or Adelaide’s very own Hans putting his accordion-spin on Brittany Spears in Rundle Mall back in the day when he could busk in hot pants without being noticed. McGregor’s sublime vocals and reverence for both jazz and pop make a healthy contribution to the tradition.

Alchemy transformed Aqua into twisted seduction and the Fine Young Cannibals into a passionate plea. When she sang KISS, I wondered if it would be possible to make the Universal Symbol of Rock out of olives and toothpicks so it could be used as a Martini garnish. I’ve never been to a show that made me consider that before…

Seeing the delight of the punters when they recognised the pop song hiding within the more refined case was one of the joys of her show. While the early evening light in the Spiegeltent was somewhat of a distraction, it was worth it to see the audience silently clicking their fingers and bopping their heads when the penny dropped.

McGregor pulled her inspiration from the trashy recesses of her teenage pash spots, covered them with glitter and lipstick, added a double bass, left the mondegreens unchecked, then delivered the package with vocal perfection.

It’s a delightful display of jazz-coated Re-Pop, which will be refined to a night of reverent irreverence as she takes it around the world.


This review first appeared in Cabaret Confessional on 25 February 2012.