Our theatre critics spend a scary amount of time sitting in dark rooms, so they usually know what's what when it comes to Melbourne's stages. Here are all their tips for the best shows to see right now, as well as the upcoming shows that we haven't seen yet, but think are going to set your heart racing.
Critics' choice Melbourne shows
Update 16/03/20: Performances of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child have been suspended following state and federal government advice on COVID-19. All performances until Sunday, April 12 are affected, at which date the company will revisit the policy in line with current government advice. If you hold tickets for performances until April 12 you will be contacted regarding refunds. Guests are encouraged to rebook tickets for a later date, with three additional weeks of performances being announced during the spring school holidays. The first rule of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is that you don’t talk about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Safeguarding spoilers is an expected responsibility for anyone who attends the Potter-verse’s first on-stage outing. There’s even a hashtag: #KeepTheSecrets. But in truth (as far as theatre critique is concerned, at least), JK Rowling needn’t have worried. This marathon, five-hour spectacle has a plot so dense and sprawling, so wonderfully, unashamedly elaborate, it would take many thousands of words more than any theatre review to even scratch the surface. While we may have been sworn to secrecy about Cursed Child’s plot, we can reveal that the hype – and rarely has a piece of theatre ever generated such fever-pitched buzz – is entirely deserved. And not just because of the quality of the production. The masterminds behind the show – led by Rowling, playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany – have not merely set out to put on
Update 16/03/20: Due to government health advice regarding the spread of COVID-19, Billy Elliot the Musical played its final performance on Sunday, March 15. If you hold tickets for future performances you will be contacted by your place of purchase regarding refunds. This is a review of the Sydney season of Billy Elliot the Musical When Lee Hall wrote Billy Elliot, the surprise hit film about a young boy in a Northern UK mining village dreaming of a career as a dancer, he was largely writing his own story. Hall grew up working class, the son of a house painter, and his family didn’t really understand why he’d want to go to university and pursue a career as a writer. That tension between a young person’s burgeoning creative spirit and the realities of their family and community’s social situation is at the heart of the film, and it is just as central to the deeply moving 2005 musical version, with a book and lyrics by Hall, and music by Elton John, another son of the working class who was lifted by his own prodigious creative talent. Making a musical that runs on class tension is not the easiest thing to do (although My Fair Lady got it right), but Hall and John, along with director Stephen Daldry, have concocted a smart, surprising and exhilarating piece of theatre. The characters from the film – Billy, his tough-as-nails ballet teacher, Mrs Wilkinson, and his miner father and brother – are all blown up to theatrical proportions in a way that feels tactful and caring. This
Update 16/03/20: MTC has cancelled all further performances of Emerald City in light of the current government advice around COVID-19. Ticketholders can either exchange their ticket for shows later in the year, request a refund or donate the cost of their ticket to Melbourne Theatre Company. All tickets absorbed as donations will receive a tax deductible receipt. There is something deliciously apt about revisiting David Williamson’s smash hit play Emerald City three decades after it held a shiny mirror up to that great Australian pastime, the rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney. In the interim, the dynamics have shifted: while Sydney may still lay claim to being our most attractive city in the looks department, Melbourne is rapidly becoming the preferred place to live. It lends the play a wistfulness almost; there is a sense that we are looking back on our childhood.Not that Sam Strong’s co-production with MTC and Queensland Theatre is an exercise in nostalgia. This may be a period piece, but there isn’t a whiff of condescension in the depiction of the milieu. Dale Ferguson’s design – from the set, a glass box revolving against a glittering series of curtains, to the costumes that manage to both dazzle and convince – is stunningly effective, detailed and thoughtful, without any of that fetish of period of which Australian design can be guilty. It makes the late-eighties feel contemporary, and that isn’t easy to do.And the plot could almost happen now, with minor adjustments
UPDATE 14/03/2020: Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities has been postponed following pandemic COVID-19 advice from the Australian government. The company is hoping to reschedule Melbourne performances. Current ticket holders are advised to hold onto their tickets and await an official notice from their original point of purchase. This is a review of the Sydney season of Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities. It’s been 35 years since French Canadian street performers Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix joined forces to create a circus company that would go on to become the largest theatrical producer in the world. Cirque du Soleil is now a global brand so successful it’s recognised just about everywhere, and it’s a name that comes with certain expectations. Australian audiences have known what to expect since 1999, when the company first visited our shores with the brightly colourful Saltimbanco. That show was a genuine revelation at the time. There were certainly local companies making artistically adventurous circus, but nobody was making circus of the same scale and design sophistication. Since then, Cirque has been a near constant presence in Australia with regular tours. The shows follow a similar formula (and why wouldn’t they, if they’re drawing in the crowds that Cirque attracts) and despite their beauty and spectacle, not all have felt as vibrant or as immediate as live circus should. Each one has roughly the same proportion of high-flying acrobatics to smaller-scale wonders, a
Update 23/03/20: Six the Musical's Melbourne season has been postponed to help stop the spread of Covid-19. Ticketholders will be contacted. This is a review of the Sydney Opera House season of Six the Musical. The show has its Melbourne premiere in April 2020. If every girl group of the ‘90s and early 2000s were as charismatic and sang as well as the Australian cast of Six, the history of pop music would be drastically different. The six women leading this frequently funny and ferocious pop musical from UK writers Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss are magnificently talented and a step above most of the popstars they draw inspiration from. But it’s that style of pop that’s the driving force of Six, which brings all of Henry VIII’s wives to the stage in a singing competition to decide who had the worst time with the Tudor king. The pop queens intend to ask their audience to vote for their fave. First up is Catherine of Aragon (Chloe Zuel), who was almost forced into a nunnery when the king’s attentions turned to Anne Boleyn (Kala Gare). It’s a tough story, but Boleyn, who lost her head in her marriage, must’ve surely had it worse, right? Well, what about Jane Seymour (Loren Hunter) who declares herself the only queen he truly loved, but who tragically died at 28, just two weeks after the birth of her child? Then there’s Anne of Cleves (Kiana Daniele) who never quite measured up to the king’s expectations and found herself living in her own castle, Katherine Howard (Courtney Monsma),
Melbourne musical theatre fans have had to wait a long time to see the celebrated stage version of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical back in 2015, but it won’t be until this year that we’ll finally get to see why this story of a young woman’s discovery of her own sexuality, and her difficult relationship with her funeral director father, has captured so many hearts and minds. Local musical theatre dynamo Dean Bryant (behind award-winning tours of Sweet Charity and Little Shop of Horrors) will direct a new production, starring Lisa McCune and Muriel’s Wedding the Musical’s original Muriel, Maggie McKenna. It’s an autobiographical work following Alison Bechdel, played by three actors from childhood to adulthood. Jeanine Tesori’s sweeping score and Lisa Kron’s book and lyrics have been lavished with praise – when it opened on the West End in 2017, Time Out London declared it the best new musical they’d seen since Hamilton – and the pair became the first female team to win the Tony for Best Original Score.
Opera Australia has a long history of bringing classic musicals to local audiences, but generally they've been faithful and traditional productions (and in some cases literally 60-year-old productions). But Opera Australia is doing something a little different as part of its 2020 season: Fiddler on the Roof performed entirely in Yiddish. Don't worry, there'll still be English surtitles to guide you through, but this production goes for authenticity above all else. Directed by Oscar and Tony winner Joel Grey (still known best for playing the Emcee in Cabaret), it premiered in New York last year to rave reviews and is enjoyed a return season due to popular demand. Casting is still to be confirmed for the Australian production, which will play Melbourne's Comedy Theatre from November 15.
Update 19/03/20: Come From Away has ended its season as of Sunday, March 15 due to government advice around the spread of COVID-19. If you have tickets for performances dated March 16 onwards you will be contacted to exchange your tickets for the encore season, or to receive a refund. Come From Away is returning to Melbourne for an encore season in February 2021. Presales for the encore season start Thursday, March 19 and general sales start Friday, March 20. When Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins premiered in 1990, George Bush Sr was in power and the Gulf War was underway. Audiences during war time weren’t really ready for a musical about the dark heart of the American dream, and it closed early. In 2004 it was remounted on Broadway and won four Tonys. Its time had come. Come from Away feels like the reverse: a musical that suits its time, is perhaps even flattered a little by it. It’s of course impossible to predict, but it seems unlikely that this show will play quite so well in 15 years. Something about its message, its attitude and its structure relies heavily on the audience’s willingness, even hunger, to receive it. We are living in dark times, and a show like this certainly hits the sweet spot. Does that necessarily make it a great show? Certainly, it tells a warm and reassuring tale about a community who rallies for people it doesn’t know, and in that regard it is a necessary and timely one. On the morning of September 11, 2001 a total of 38 planes carrying 6,579 passenge