Hello, yesterday! If you scrolled down the musicals list for Melbourne you might be forgiven for thinking you're back in the ’90s: we've got Andrew-Lloyd Webber, Aladdin, The Bodyguard...
Even the mainstages feel a bit retro: Michael Frayn's 1982 hit Noises Off at MTC; Tom Wright and Matthew Lutton's redux of the Elephant Man story at Malthouse; and a trio of ’80s friends reminiscing in Di and Viv and Rose, also at MTC.
On the smaller stages, however, it's all about new recent or new work this month, from UK playwright Nick Payne's 2014 play Incognito and Josephine Collins new Australian work The Way Out at Redstitch, to Louris van de Geer’s new work Looking Glass at Fortyfive Downstairs, and Christos Tsiolkas' Merciless Gods at Northcote Town Hall.
Scroll on for a fuller account of what to see where this month on Melbourne's stages.
Read about The Book of Mormon $40 ticket lottery. It can be difficult for Australian audiences to receive any international musical without certain preconceptions: the rumours of greatness tend to wash onto our shores long before the tour has even been announced. When one of the biggest Broadway hits of the millennium rolls into town, the sense of expectation can be dangerously high. The Book of Mormon comes with the kind of ecstatic hype usually found accompanying a messiah. Instead, Elders Price and Cunningham turn up – which is possibly less shattering, but ultimately way more fun. The unlikely genesis of this mega-hit is well documented; suffice to say that Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the brains behind South Park and Team America, made an unholy alliance with Robert Lopez, the creator of dirty puppet porn Avenue Q, to create this monstrous satire of everything. The result is a show as perverse as it is heartfelt, as clever as it is moving. It really is as good as they say. The opening number, ‘Hello’, sets the tone as deftly and memorably as ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’defines the parameters of Oklahoma! The scene is familiar to us all: a bunch of trainee missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints are ringing on doorbells, keen to share the news “of this amazing book”. Their squeaky grins and infectious positivity are so aligned with the traditional image of the Broadway musical that the sparkly vests and tap routines that soon follow feel like a
Remember when Krispy Kreme donuts arrived on our shores? Australians were told in breathless tones that these were the “best in the world”, but when we bit into them we discovered they were strangely insubstantial and sickly sweet. Disney’s Aladdin has all the glaze and ornament of those airy donuts, and about as much nutritional value.Not that the original source was a feast for mind and soul. Aladdin was a largely forgettable 1992 Disney confection made palatable by the extraordinary improv skills of the late, great Robin Williams. It conformed precisely to a formula that is now virtually ubiquitous in animation: a plunder of traditional stories with little to no appreciation of their cultural significance; wisecracking animals who help disguise large chunks of exposition; and as many current pop culture references as possible, just so people know it’s all happening now.Much has been made of Princess Jasmine’s (Hiba Elchikhe) fierce sense of independence and the fact she isn’t white, but both of these traits come to very little in the transition to the stage. Aladdin (Ainsley Melham) is the focus, and their coupling – while not without its endearing naivety – doesn’t seem transgressive or evolutionary. The journey of self-discovery is all his, and it’s a classic Disney one: be yourself. She gets to marry her prince, but only because her father, the Sultan (George Henare) changes the law to allow it. It’s not exactly smashing the patriarchy.The characters who make the easies
Premiering on London's West End in 2012, Alexander Dinelaris's musical version of The Bodyguard is based on the 1992 film starring your ’90s boyfriend Kevin Costner as an ex-Secret Service agent hired to protect a superstar from her stalker, and Whitney Houston as the damsel-in-distress, Rachel Marron. It's coming to Australia in 2017 (thanks to producers Michael Harrison, David Ian and John Frost) with Fijian-born singer-songwriter and original Australian Idol Paulini making her theatrical debut in the role of Rachel Marron. Rachel's conniving sister Nicki will be played by The Voice's Prinnie Stevens, and stepping into the shoes of the bodyguard is Kip Gamblin (seen most recently on Neighbours). Here's what Time Out Sydney said about The Bodyguard: Partway through Act One of The Bodyguard Musical, the set transforms into a karaoke bar and a group of three drunk women stumble onstage. They screlt their way through ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’. They’re loud and they’re laughing and they’re having the time of their lives, all angst drained out of the song by their giddy, messy, play. It’s great fun. These three women are exactly the right audience for the musical itself. To enjoy it, it helps to have a few sparkling wines under your belt, and you should be prepared to laugh at the oh-so-dramatic plot twists that feel far more silly than serious. It’s more fun that way. This scene could almost be a spot-on deconstruction of the entire show, but this musical isn’t self-awar
Main stage and middle range theatre
It’s impossible to approach a new production of the story of Joseph Merrick, popularly know as the Elephant Man, without some awareness of the debate about representations of disability that has surfaced in recent years. It’s widely accepted that blackface has become unthinkable on the modern stage, but disability is something that is still regularly portrayed by able-bodied actors. Actor Mark Leonard Winter was slated to play Merrick in this production, but the producers evidently changed their minds, and replaced him with Daniel Monks. Monks has a hip dysplasia that affects the right side of his body, as did Merrick, and – even without the facial deformities that led to Merrick’s cruel moniker – brings an undeniable sense of lived experience to the role. Eschewing some of the central iconography that has built up around Merrick, playwright Tom Wright makes a concerted effort to show things from his protagonist’s point of view. Even the fact that Merrick is the protagonist, and not – as in every previous version of the story – an adjunct to the able-bodied characters, can be seen as a progression of sorts. There’s also a move away from the cliché of the outsider as seer or holy person, existing merely to provide benediction to the rest of us. This Merrick can be enraged, impolitic and insular, and is all the more interesting because of it. After a brilliant prologue that sets up the freak show atmospherics, the play opens in the fogs of London when Merrick is a young man,
In the north of England in the ’80s, three 18-year-old students move into a share house together. As individuals, the women are trepidatiously shaping themselves, finding their feet in a changing world. Together, they’re a force to be reckoned with. In her 2011 play Di and Viv and Rose, lauded British playwright Amanda Bullmore tackles female friendship: that knotty, shifting and deeply powerful bond that can last a lifetime. In the case of the three titular characters, it’s a connection that hits hard and fast, waxes and wanes, and withstands life’s storms until the very end. The play opens in the university’s residential halls where the three women first meet. Rose (Mandy McElhinney, all blue eyeshadow, big hair and ’80s-patterned T-shirts) is an extroverted art history student from the countryside with an insatiable appetite for affection, sex, and “beautiful things”. Viv (Belinda McClory, sporting short, spiked hair) is a frosty and fiercely ambitious sociologist who “dresses like it’s the war”. Di (Nadine Garner, perpetually in tracksuits and soccer jerseys) is an easy-going, sports-loving lesbian. Rose is all heart, Viv is all intellect, and Di is the level-headed presence that glues the trio together. At first glance, Di and Viv and Rose is a warm and funny work that treads a familiar, comfortable path. The entire first act takes place in the two years spent in the share house. Bullmore dwells on these formative years for a lot longer than the subsequent decades,
Independent theatre and/or less than $50
The show opens with a distinctly ecclesiastic vibe, with choral music and chapel lighting. But the only things being worshiped here are secular gods, notably fame and money. Just how much humanity is left over once we’ve pawned or sold ourselves to these lesser deities is the question at the heart of Elbow Room’s new play. Of course, with this company – known for searing, politically charged work like We Get It and Prehistoric – notions of femininity and the male gaze are bound to surface. It makes for a heady mix.In the world of the play, Niche is the name for both a branding exercise and the artist at the centre of that exercise; and there’s a delicious irony in the fact that the two are virtually interchangeable. The piece opens with pop superstar Niche (Eryn Jean Norvill) mid-performance, open-mouthed, supplicant. We then get introduced to Jodie (Emily Tomlins), an epidemiologist studying a colony of chimps who have been infected by a virus. The virus enters into the ear of one of the chimps and alters her behaviour, sends her mad. The chimp’s name is Nook.Jodie is transcribing her findings – presumably for some serious and seriously important scientific journal – when she is interrupted by an offer to join Niche’s marketing department. She declines, until the money becomes irresistible, and she capitulates. Her expertise on the ‘ear worm virus’ is the real objective of her new employers, and suddenly science is at the mercy of blatant commerce. Jodie’s inevitable meltdow
The Belvoir audience is on its last legs, says Kutisah (actor-writer Jacob Rajan) by way of introduction. He’s had a chat with artistic director Eamon Flack, who told him, in confidence probably, that the typical punter is either stressed, depressed, overweight or drunk. Kutisah is undaunted. In fact, he says, tonight’s crowd of stressed-out self-medicators should consider this evening as a form of therapy. Good for the soul. Good for the mind. Good, even, for infections of the urinary tract. I can only attest to its effectiveness in the first two areas, but after watching this remarkable exercise in storytelling unfold, nothing would surprise me. Adapting an Indian folktale known in English as Punchkin, Rajan spirits us away to Bangalore, India, for a serpentine tale of unrequited love. Kutisah is a humble chai seller working in the city’s vast Central Railway Station. One morning, seven young sisters approach him. They have been abandoned by their father. They have no money, no friends, no one to look after them. Kutisah is no guardian angel but he does give them space to do a little busking, which in no time at all, rakes in a pile of money. The singing and beauty of one sister in particular, Balna, captures the attention of a portly policeman, Punchkin. The girls’ ability to rake in the rupees also attracts thugs in the employ of a feared Bangalore crime boss known as The Fakir. Narrated by an hilariously unreliable guide and unfolding over 90 minutes, Guru of Chai
This new Australian play by Josephine Collins was developed as part of Red Stitch's INK program. Set in a dystopian future, around a small country-town pub, the play explores environmental and social issues through the prism of one town and family: Helen and her father sell moonshine from the pub; their precarious existence is thrown into danger when a government inspector and black market buyer turn up in town on the same day. Penny Harpham (Salt) directs this premiere.
Symphony in C hedges its bets: the title work, set to music by Georges Bizet (Carmen) is golden-era classical ballet, courtesy of George Balanchine. But accompanying Balanchine's work are five short works – 'divertissements' – two of them showcasing classical pas de deux, and three of them contemporary. The three contemporary divertissements come one apiece from UK wunderkind Christopher Wheeldon and Australian Ballet company members (and Bodytorque alumni) Alice Topp and Richard House. The full lineup features the following works: Symphony in C (1947) Choreographer: George Balanchine Music: Georges Bizet Symphony No. 1 in C major. After the Rain (2005) Choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon Music: Arvo Pärt Spiegel I’m Spiegel and Tabula Rasa (first movement, ‘Ludus’) Grand pas classique (1949) Choreographer: Victor Gsovsky Music: Daniel Auber from Le Dieu et La Bayadère Diana and Acteon (1935) Choreographer: Agrippina Vaganova Music: Cesare Pugni Little Atlas (2016) Choreographer: Alice Topp Music: Ludovico Einaudi. Scent of Love (2016) Choreographer: Richard House Music: Michael Nyman 'Love Doesn’t End' and 'The Scent of Love'.