A six-foot-six baritone called Robert, dressed in a nun’s habit and high heels? Sounds like a Fringe show if ever we’ve seen one. Robert Hofmann bringsDesperately Young At Heartto Sydney Fringe Festival this month, and we asked him for the lowdown.
Talk us through the concept of Desperately Young At Heart.
Well the name of the cabaret, Desperately Young At Heart, was inspired by the great song ‘Young At Heart’ by Leigh and Richards – you know the one, “Fairytales can come true / It can happen to you”. The ‘desperately’ refers to those of us who are not really old enough to need the advice to be young at heart but not young enough to completely ignore it either. There is a feeling that we are desperate to make the most out of our relative youth before it’s too late. This links the four characters I play in the show.
What possessed you to dress up in such outrageous costumes and high heels?
The costumes are not that outrageous, unless you call cross dressing for cabaret outrageous. Well, given that I’m six foot six, they probably look pretty outrageous. One of my women characters is in power-dressing business attire and my costume designer/maker, Cherie Hewson, insisted on black four-inch heels so I had to buy size 17 online from the US. I was possessed by a desire to channel these four comic alter egos, three of which just had to be women as that is simply the way they occurred to me.
Is there a particular character you enjoy portraying the most?
Probably Susan Higgins, who is dressed like a folk singer from the ’70s and sings hymns accompanying herself on the guitar. Many people in Perth, where the show won the Cabaret Award at Fringe World, said they knew someone exactly like her from church or their childhood. She also has this great long red hair… I just love wigs.
Will we ever stop being young at heart?
Of course not! As the song implies, we can be young at heart by choosing to think about life in a certain way: “And life gets more exciting with each passing day / And love is either in your heart or on its way”.
You haven’t always worked in a nun’s habit – tell us about your history as a performer.
I have been singing professionally as a classical concert and operatic baritone for over 20 years. Being Perth-based I have sung many roles with the West Australian Opera and the major roles were comic ones like Koko in The Mikado and Dulcamara in The Elixir Of Love. Prior to that I sung with the Opera Australia chorus in Sydney in over ten productions after completing my Diploma of Opera at Sydney Conservatorium. I’ve always loved cabaret. A few years ago I attended the Adelaide Cabaret Festival as an audience member where I saw Queenie van de Zandt’s amazing I Get The Music In You, which inspired me to do my own cabaret.