May in Melbourne is the month of the musical, with three major productions on stage – and Kander & Ebb's classic Cabaret at the Athenaeum providing a bit of 'Off-Broadway' comparison.
That said, the close of Melbourne International Comedy Festival means it's back to action on all Melbourne's stages – from indie to mainstage to opera. Scroll down for your options.
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
When it was announced that Julie Andrews was going to direct a production of My Fair Lady in Australia, lifelong fans started salivating immediately. When she explained that it would be an exact replica of the original 1956 Broadway production in which she starred and made her name, doubts began to creep in. Could you possibly recreate the magic and allure of what was at the time the greatest musical theatre success story ever? And even if you could, why would you? What could a hoary old production, trapped in amber, have to say to modern audiences, even those primed for nostalgia?The answers are surprisingly multi-layered, even contradictory. It is, of course, impossible to know exactly how faithful the production is moment by moment without a time machine and a photographic memory, but certainly the sets (Oliver Smith) and costumes (Cecil Beaton) are verifiably precise, and the choreography breaks its back to seem authentic. My Fair Lady had several runs, on the West End and in revivals, and this 60th anniversary production aims to collate all that the designers learnt along the way. It means we have a gorgeous period motorcar that was intended for, but never appeared in, a scene on the road to Ascot. It means we get details, in both the scenic and lighting design, that have been augmented and refined, according to the production’s evolution. If that constitutes a replica, then maybe the concept isn’t so absurd.Lerner and Loewe’s musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s
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
Main stage and middle range theatre
“You’re seeing yourself reflected in it because it’s opaque,” says a character in Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s slippery and intriguing adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984. “It’s a mirror. Every age sees itself reflected.” As the timelines layer and repeat within the production, and characters dissolve into each other, it becomes increasingly hard as an audience member to discern who said these lines or what it is, exactly, they’re speaking about. Is it someone in a book club, studying Orwell’s novel? Is it someone under the rule of the ideological Ingsoc, speaking about the rebellious book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism? Or is it someone, hinted at in Orwell’s appendix to the novel, who has survived Ingsoc and rejected Newspeak, and is studying the remnants of Winston Smith’s diary from that fabled year? We spend most of the play with Winston (Tom Conroy) as he uncomfortably navigates the regimented world of Oceania in 1984, but continually succumbs to its rules. When barked at by the voice from the telescreen, he obeys and bends over in an attempt to touch his toes. He goes to work and erases the records of people’s lives, shaping the past in the party’s favour. His rebellions are small, hidden, and largely inconsequential: in thoughtcrime, in a diary, in a secretive tryst. Weaving the appendix through the text, Icke and Macmillan make explicit a crucial part of Orwell’s intent: the knowledge that this society can fall. But even so, Winston a
The program notes of Joanna Murray-Smith’s new play cite Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as antecedents, but this is largely a case of wishful thinking. Three Little Words has more in common with Yasmina Reza’s Life x 3, a contemporary comedy that also revolved around the concept of possibilities untapped, of lives not lived. Murray-Smith is thankfully a warmer and less showy playwright than her French counterpart, but her ambitions here are similar; she wants to gently prod at the dissatisfactions and aspirations of the middle class rather than smash them to pieces.The play opens on the twentieth anniversary of Tess (Catherine McClements) and Curtis’ (Peter Houghton) marriage. They’re celebrating it with their best friends, couple Bonnie (Katherine Tonkin) and Annie (Kate Atkinson), but throw a spanner in the works when they announce they’re splitting. It initially looks like an amicable, if not entirely mutual decision, but it becomes clear pretty quickly that Tess’s “yearnings” for something else, for a more passionate engagement with the world, are going to cause some pretty major rifts.Of course, Curtis is shattered. His way of life is irrevocably altered, although he rapidly learns of the joys of spontaneity and enthusiastic sex with a twenty year-old “tall short film maker”. Tess is devastated by this development, but given that she was the one who pulled the plug, she’s got little recourse. More int
Last at Melbourne Theatre Company with Neighbourhood Watch, Lally Katz returns with a new play – that has Hollywood-ready heartwarming comedy written all over it, until you consider Katz's CV of distinctively oddball work. Minnie and Liraz are two Bridge-playing Jewish grandmothers living at Autumn Road Retirement Village. Liraz (played in this premiere production by Sue Jones) wants Minnie (Nancye Hayes AM) for her new Bridge partner; Minnie wants Liraz's single grandson for her single granddaughter. Let the games begin. Anne-Louise Sarks (Medea) will re-team with Katz (whose Stories I Want to Tell You In Person she directed for Belvoir in 2013) to helm this production, which will also star comedy favourite Virginia Gay (Winners & Losers; Eddie Perfect's The Beast).
Will Eno is certainly one of the most idiosyncratic playwrights to come out of the US in years. Flirting with a naturalism that he constantly inverts or undermines, he manages to create deeply ambivalent psychological spaces, his characters often stuck awkwardly between the smug and the earnestly sincere. Red Stitch have staged him before, in the frankly disastrous Middletown. The Realistic Joneses looks for much of its running time to be heading the same way – irritating characters who speak an otherworldly gibberish rubbing each other up the wrong way for no discernible purpose – but it almost miraculously coalesces towards the end, and resolves in a kind of twilight profundity.It opens on Jennifer (Sarah Sutherland) and Bob (Neil Pigot) Jones, sitting together on their porch, talking haltingly about the night sky. The tension in their marriage seems as much the result of Bob’s incredibly rare, increasingly debilitating neurological illness as it does the slow sloughing off of hope and novelty that comes from years of marital routine. When they are visited by their new neighbours, John (Justin Hoskin) and Pony (Ella Caldwell) Jones, they are forced into further awkward and halting exchanges that try everyone’s patience, the audience included.Some of the banter is very funny: when Pony explains that her dad made up her name, Bob drolly replies, “I’m pretty sure it was a word before that”. But for every line that works there are at least two or three that sink, due in part to
Australia’s longest-running indigenous theatre company, Ilbijerri, tell the history of a landmark fight by Aboriginal Victorians for land and self-determination, through transcripts from the 1881 Royal Commission. This remount of the 2013 Belvoir co-production stars Trevor Jamieson, Mathew Cooper, Ebony McGuire and Jesse Butler.
Having previously explored the intersection of teenage experience and ancient text (in collaboration with St Martins Youth Arts Centre) in On The Bodily Education Of Young Girls and The Bacchae, Adena Jacobs and Aaron Orzech complete the trilogy with a work inspired by the biblical Book Of Exodus. Jacobs says, “Book Of Exodus is a foundational text about power, prophecy and division. Performed through the eyes and bodies of children in 2017, these biblical metaphors become shocking and revelatory”. Book Of Exodus is presented in two parts: Part I in June, and Part II in October. Part I: Two children create a documentary of a history they cannot remember. An intimate exploration of history, memory and trauma, performed by children aged 8 and 11 years old. Part II: A mass of children wait in the desert. With no leader to guide them, and no one to answer their cries, they summon an unruly force. Performed by around 40 children, tracing a community propelled from a violent past into an uncertain future.
The greatest Polish composer of his generation, Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), avoided using the word ‘opera’ to describe his labour of six years, Król Roger. It does lack plot: its conflicts are largely political, religious and personal questions in the mind of the title character King Roger. Its appeal and emotional force come from Szymanowski’s lush, rhapsodic, highly idiosyncratic music, which fuses late 19th century styles like an early Hollywood soundtrack, but with dark orchestral colour that is laser-cut by piercing voices. It is rarely performed; the Australian premiere this month is a landmark 2015 production from the Royal Opera House by their current director Kasper Holten. Opera or not, it is a startlingly unusual artwork. The historical Norman King Roger II was crowned King of Sicily in 1130 and made Palermo an important nexus of the Christian, Hellenic and Arab worlds, but Szymanowski’s labile hero has less to do with medieval history than with the composer’s philosophical zeitgeist, such as Freud’s tensions between the greedy id and the censorious superego, or Nietzsche’s dualities of irrationality versus reason. Designer Steffen Aarfing conveys this in simple 1920s costumes and a set reminiscent of the abstract but vaguely threatening metaphysical painting of Szymanowski's contemporary Giorgio de Chirico. The plot is thin and odd: Queen meets pagan evangelist, King investigates evangelist, King transforms. Its structure is a Hegelian clash of cultures: each
When John Bell retired from the Shakespeare company that bore his name in 2015, people may have assumed he would withdraw from public life altogether, but thankfully it wasn’t to be. He has found a new career over at Opera Australia – he previously directed a magnificent Tosca that fully exploited an updated period setting, enhancing and refocusing the plot. He has attempted something similar with this new production of George Bizet’s Carmen, relocating and updating it to modern Cuba. This time, sadly, the result is almost the opposite; most of the design decisions are overstuffed and importunate, and serve only to undermine or cut against the central drama.Carmen will never go away, because it has some of the greatest and most accessible music in opera, and it tells a tale of sex and obsession that can feel ripped from yesterday’s headlines: woman with a history of tempestuous relationships is killed by her former lover because he can’t handle the idea of her being with another man. And yet, like all great art, it manages to reach beyond the tawdry and the one dimensional; Carmen herself is such a life-force, her sexuality and her desire for freedom create such a perfect storm of female power in a world of rigid masculinity, that her death comes to seem like a glorious and permanent rupture in the social fabric.Israeli mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham is magnificent in the role. She may not have a glass-shattering top range but her earthy lower register is where she locates her po