She was the wild girl with the massive vocal in Machine Gun Fellatio; she’s the chanteuse crooning jazz with her dad; and she’s a sassy cabaret diva presenting Beer Drinking Woman. How can one woman have so many incarnations! Will the real Christa Hughes stand up!
A renaissance woman of smut and sensuality, a delicious combination of raunch with ranch dressing – Christa Hughes ain’t burlesque, she’s Cabaret!
What was the inspiration for Beer Drinking Woman?
Well I’d just got back home to Sydney after a stint in New York where I’d just performed and won an award, no not a TONY – yet, for the best comedy/drama of the Fringe Festival.
While I was in New York I checked out a lot of cabaret shows and as soon as I got to Sydney I set out to write my own. I wanted it to be a simple yet classic setup, me and a pianist and a smoke machine, always a smoke machine!
I was definitely not interested in doing love songs or ‘he really loves me and says he’ll leave her soon’ nonsense. So I did what all writers say you should do and that is write about what you know. I had been researching booze and dive bars for years!
I was ready to take on the role of the dive bar diva. I already had songs within my repertoire, including some of my own compositions, that fitted in perfectly with the theme. The rest just came naturally.
Has the show ever attracted the ire of the Responsible Service of Alcohol devotees?
Probably. Luckily they are never interested in me or my shows so I haven’t had to deal with them as yet.
The show has definitely attracted the enthusiasm of the Irresponsible Service of Alcohol devotees.
How much is music entwined with alcohol?
Well, my first love is jazz and blues and my dad, jazz pianist Dick Hughes, who I last performed with at Norpa, has an extraordinary record collection.
There are a lot of jazz and blues songs about booze. One of my favourites would have to be Bessie Smith’s Gime A Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer and of course the show’s namesake, Memphis Slim’s Beer Drinking Woman, which I perform with utter dedication.
I’m generally not a big fan of drunks as they are loud and repetitive and can become really annoying.
Having said that Dean ‘Dino’ Martin played a great drunk, but that was all an act.
Tallulah Bankhead sounded like the kinda broad I’d happily hit the turps with.
Among many of her great quotes is ‘Daddy warned me about men and liquor, but said nothing of women and cocaine’.
Tell me your most embarrassing drinking story!
About 12 years ago I was escorted home from the Bluesfest VIP lounge by security – the word had gone out that it was terrible to see someone that drunk, and pregnant. As it turns out I was just a bit fat. I had also ruined my favourite shoes…
Well, it certainly ain’t my proudest moment but years ago in Sydney when I was first performing the show I was driving home and I was stopped by the police. The car had my frocks, guitar and props, which included a small bar and a hundred empty beer bottles.
After some discussion I was asked to step out of the car when several bottles fell out of the car with me. The cops then realised that I had a bar in the car. This was not helping my situation.
Cops: ‘So what’s all this?’
Cops: ‘Props for what?’
Me: ‘An intoxicating cabaret show’.
Cops: ‘What’s it called?’
Me: ‘Beer Drinking Woman’.
Yup. I was up shit creek without a paddle. I was taken straight to the station.
The other would have to be turning up to check-in only dressed in a towel. Hey, I was touring with Machine Gun Fellatio and losing my clothes was part of the act, but clearly I had gone too far.
Do you tackle the ‘drinker’s shame’?
I have had a few nasty hangovers complete with the accompanying shameover. Did I really say that? Did I really do that? CRINGE.
It is not a good feeling at all. In fact you start making ridiculous promises to yourself that you’ll never touch another drop of alcohol again until you realise that the only remedy for the pain is the hair of the dog and a few sheepish apologies.
Why do we drink do you think?
Because it’s fun. It does loosen us up socially. However, it can get dangerous.
I remember Barry Humphries saying he knew he had a problem when he realised every one else was going to the party to get drunk but he was getting drunk to go to the party.
Does getting drunk really help heal a broken heart?
If you’re feeling down alcohol is going to drag you lower. Especially these days when it’s easy to have a few and start sending very passionate yet thoroughly regrettable text messages.
In fact phones should have breathalysers on them and if they detect alcohol the send button is locked! More ‘drinker’s shame’.
What is the essence of great cabaret?
Liza Minnelli! I love the film Cabaret and I took Mum to see Liza at the Opera House a few years ago.
I was worried it could be a train crash as she is well past her prime and has been known to do some pretty out there interviews, but once she shimmied across the stage it was clear that I had nothing to worry about.
She was brilliant. Having said that I love the darker side too. The Tigerlillies, who are definitely more Brechtian in approach, sing about hookers, drugs, freaks and sodomy.
What should we expect for your Lismore performance?
You’re in the hands of a lush who, luckily, likes to indulge the audience far more than indulge herself.
I’ll be belting out – and I am a belter – some great songs ranging from the thigh-slapping and side-splitting through to the heart-breaking and tear-jerking. A kazoo will make an appearance. It will, as always, be irreverent yet sincere, even when I don’t mean it.
There won’t be a dry seat in the house. I will definitely not be driving home with a bar in my car. I just may turn up to check in dressed in a towel.
Christa performs Beer Drinking Woman at Lismore City Hall 8 and 9 May and is joined by support Bethan Ellsmore.
Recommended for ages 18+ – coarse language, adult themes, outrageous behaviour.
Best fancy-dressed competition in the bar following the performance on Friday 8 May.
Adult $41 / Senior $37 / Concession $35 / U/18 $22 / Groups of four or more $35 per ticket.
Bookings: www.norpa.org.au, 1300 066 772 (weekdays 9am–2pm).
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