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Melbourne theatre and musicals in December

From major musicals to indie hits – here's what will get you on your feet and cheering

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Chicago the Musical
Photograph: Supplied/Jeff Busby

Come one babe, why don't we paint the town? Chicago is about to make its triumphant return to Melbourne lead by Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Alinta Chidzey and Casey Donovan. As the year starts to wind down, there's still plenty of fab shows all around the city, from an alfresco Hamlet to stand-up shows from some of Australia's favourite comedians.

Scroll on for a full account of what to see where this month on Melbourne's stages.

Recommended: How to get cheap theatre tickets in Melbourne.

Musicals

Chicago musical Capitol Theatre 2019 supplied
Photograph: Peter Brew-Bevan
Theatre, Musicals

Chicago

Arts Centre Melbourne, Southbank

Long before it was an Academy Award-winning film, Chicago was a hit Broadway musical. Penned by musical theatre's dynamic duo John Kander and Fred Ebb, the musical was only a minor splash when it premiered in 1975. But when it was given a stripped back and sexed up new production in 1996, it became an immediate sensation and eventually the longest running Broadway revival of all time. 

Theatre, Musicals

Kiss of the Spider Woman

Southbank Theatre (Melbourne Theatre Company), Southbank
4 out of 5 stars

John Kander and Fred Ebb know a thing or two about prison musicals, having written Chicago in the mid-1970s. A sexed-up, pared-back revival in 1996 was a smash hit, with the razzle-dazzle of showbiz turning the Cook County Jail into a vaudeville stage. In the late 1980s, Kander and Ebb created another musical set inside a prison, but the wicked sense of fun that permeates Chicago is nowhere to be seen in the grim Argentinian prison we find ourselves in here.

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Come from Away 2019 Comedy Theatre
Photograph: Jeff Busby
Theatre, Musicals

Come from Away

The Comedy Theatre, Melbourne
3 out of 5 stars

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. 

Songs for Nobodies Arts Centre Melboune 2019 supplied
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre

Songs for Nobodies

Arts Centre Melbourne, Southbank

Looking at Bernadette Robinson, it’s difficult to believe that one diminutive woman could hold so many voices inside of her. But there are few singers who are able to so accurately mimic the divas of years gone by. This show was crafted for her unique talents by Joanna Murray-Smith and involves her channelling Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Maria Callas, and telling the stories of five ordinary women who connected with them.

Plays

Theatre

Photograph 51

Arts Centre Melbourne, Southbank
4 out of 5 stars

There has always been a stalking, uneasy relationship between science and art; mutual distrust and suspicion keep both camps in perpetual intractability. But they aren’t as ideologically opposed as they seem. Both disciplines are preoccupied with a search for truths, for insights that can make our journey across this planet smoother, and both are crippled by what the late Harold Bloom termed the anxiety of influence. 

Oil Red Stitch 2019 supplied
Photograph: John Lloyd Fillingham
Theatre

Oil

Cromwell Road Theatre, South Yarra
4 out of 5 stars

It’s 1889 in Cornwall. It’s a freezing winter night. A suited stranger interrupts a family dinner and introduces them to a strange, black substance pooled within a lantern. This is oil, and it shocks everyone into excitement or doubt – it ignites into a warm, thick tongue of flame, but gives off a peculiar smell. 

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Theatre, Drama

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Princess Theatre, Melbourne
4 out of 5 stars

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. 

Hamlet Australian Shakespeare Company 2019 supplied
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre, Drama

Hamlet

Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne

The Australian Shakespeare Company has been bringing us Shakespeare Under the Stars for more than 30 years, so it’s safe to say they know their way around the Bard. This year, they’re tackling Hamlet, with the criminally underrated Andre de Vanny (Swansong) in the title role. 

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Punk Rock fortyfivedownstairs 2019 supplied
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre

Punk Rock

fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

British playwright Simon Stephens’ portrait of teenage angst and violence in schools was almost universally adored when it debuted at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre in 2009. Compared to the likes of The History Boys and Lord of the Flies, the play went on to London and Broadway, and almost as quickly ended up on school required reading lists everywhere.

Comedy and cabaret

Hannah Gadsby Douglas 2019 supplied image
Photograph: Supplied
Comedy, Stand Up

Hannah Gadsby: Douglas

Palais Theatre, St Kilda
5 out of 5 stars

It’s two years since our Hannah Gadsby thought she was leaving comedy with her show Nanette. That didn’t work. She’s now living in LA, has a stylist, and has been seen by millions on Netflix. She’s come home to Melbourne to premiere her new show, Douglas. It’s sold out.

The War on 2019 - The Chaser supplied 2019
Photograph: Supplied
Comedy

The War on 2019

Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne

Look. It's been a year. From shock election results to climate catastrophe, things have been pretty terrifying. Is there anything we can do but laugh? Probably, but if all you can muster is a chuckle, the Chaser is back and ready to help, with a little help from your favourite satirical news site, The Shovel.

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Theatre

The Choir of Man

Arts Centre Melbourne, Southbank

This feel-good pub night-meets-performance was a sellout hit at the 2017 and 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and comes to Arts Centre Melbourne after two successful seasons in the Sydney Opera House. Set in a beautifully recreated pub (complete with working beer tap and free pints for those who arrive early enough), nine bearded and occasionally man-bunned blokes belt out harmonies from the likes of Guns n’ Roses, Adele, the Proclaimers, Sia and even the odd Broadway classic.

Urzila Carlson Loser 2019
Photograph: Supplied
Comedy, Stand Up

Urzila Carlson: Loser

Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne

Stand-up star Urzila Carlson is sort of a huge deal in NZ and has won basically every award available to a Kiwi. She's now conquering Australia, thanks in part to her regular appearances on Have You Been Paying Attention? She consistently sells out shows around the country, packing in audiences with her straight-shooting style, and had to keep adding dates to last year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival to keep up with demand. 

Opera

Faust Opera Australia 2019
Photograph: Jeff Busby
Theatre

Faust

Arts Centre Melbourne, Southbank
4 out of 5 stars

Grand Opera is a classification that denotes opera from the first half of the 19th century, mainly from France, that had big casts, big orchestras and, perhaps most importantly, big sets. It’s the perfect canvas for the modern blockbuster director – the last time we saw a major one in this country was in 2015, when Elijah Moshinsky returned to direct Don Carlos – and they don’t get much more blockbuster than Scotland’s David McVicar. 

Turandot Opera Australia 2019
Photograph: Georges Antoni, Simon Rae
Theatre

Turandot

This Graeme Murphy production of Turandot is one of Opera Australia's great evergreens, having debuted in 1990. It still looks fabulous, driven by dance and and an otherworldly design. Lise Lindstrom will sing the title role opposite Walter Fraccaro as Calaf – who sings Pavarotti’s greatest hit, ‘Nessun Dorma’. 

After something a little less dramatic?

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