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A scene of the ensemble cast from 'A Christmas Carol'.
Photograph: Jeff Busby

The best of Melbourne theatre and musicals this month

From Miss Saigon to A Christmas Carol, here are all the shows happening in Melbourne this month

Leah Glynn
Written by
Leah Glynn

December 2023: Is there a more festive, feel-good production to see in December than A Christmas Carol? We think not, and this 2023 iteration of the Old Vic's beloved production is a winner, especially with Welsh actor Owen Teale in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. The award-winning musical Miss Saigon continues to thrill audiences (and even make them shed a tear), while Hour of the Wolf is a choose-you-own-adventure theatre experience that's not for the faint of heart. And still going strong is the much-loved Mamma Mia! The Musical, the rockin' Elvis: A Musical Revolution and the spectacular, spectacular production of Moulin Rouge! It's an epic theatre line-up, so run, don't walk, to get tickets.

Whether you're after a sing-along musical or an edge-of-your-seat theatrical thriller, consider this your ultimate guide to all the best theatre and musicals happening this December.

When stuck for things to do between shows, you can also always rely on our catch-all lists of Melbourne's best bars, restaurants, museums, parks and galleries, or consult our bucket list of 101 things to do in Melbourne before you die

Want something else to do this month? Check out our gig guide.

Melbourne's best shows this month

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Melbourne

One of the defining aspects of Christmas that delights and frustrates, depending on your inclination, is its inexorability; it comes around again and again, like the white horse on a carousal. Maybe this will also be the case with the Old Vic production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which proved a great success last year and is back to spread its Yuletide cheer around the Comedy Theatre once more.

The central change – in fact, the only significant change – is the casting of the villain who becomes a hero. Last year it was David Wenham playing Ebenezer Scrooge; this year it’s Welsh character actor and Game of Thrones alumnus Owen Teale.

In some ways, Teale (who only last year played Scrooge in London) slots effortlessly into the role, the cogs around him clicking pleasingly into place. He’s a natural fit, with an irascible visage and weary gait. He’s the right age and temperament. It’s almost too easy.

But Teale’s performance, as solid and affecting as it is, pales when compared with Wenham’s – who brought an unexpected emotional intensity and mercurial physicality to the role – which in turn shifts the focus of the show onto the ensemble. With Teale playing a more quintessential Scrooge, one we recognise and expect, the production as a whole better achieves its aim, which is to charm and delight. I miss Wenham’s swirling morbidity and keening tragic mien, but Teale’s moody old Grinch works perfectly well.

Adapted by Jack Thorne (who co-wrote Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and directed by Matthew Warchus (whose Groundhog Day is coming to Melbourne next year), A Christmas Carol is a sterling example of commercial English theatre, slick and seamless. That can sometimes feel a little soulless – but far from overwhelming the actors, or worse making them seem redundant, the set and costume design (Rob Howell) here gives them plenty of space for play.

On a simple wooden-slatted set, overhung with winking lanterns (Hugh Vanstone’s glorious lighting is a production highlight) that contrast beautifully with the deep blacks of the backgrounds, Ebenezer Scrooge establishes himself as a miserable, miserly blight on mid-nineteenth century London society. He’s cruel to his employee Bob Cratchit (Bernard Curry), dismissive of his nephew Fred (a bright, beaming Andrew Coshan) and hilariously ill-disposed to the carollers at the door. His philosophy is one of grim capitalist self-interest: the poor are merely a “surplus population” rather than people in need, and Christmas is a time to call in debt. He’s clearly in for a reckoning.

When his former business partner Jacob Marley (Anthony Harkin) appears from beyond the grave to warn him about the imminent visitation of three spirits, Scrooge is dismissive. What could they teach him, whose life choices have fortified him from compassion and empathy? Quite a lot, it turns out. The first ghost, that of Christmas Past (Debra Lawrance), takes him back to his childhood, which gives Thorne an excuse – and a compelling narrative opportunity – to deepen the character’s psychology and motivation.

We meet Fezziwig the funeral director (Grant Piro) and his daughter Belle (Sarah Morrison), as well as Scrooge’s own father (Harkin, again) and sister Fan (an excellent Aisha Aidara). These scenes reveal the adaptation’s moral perspective, its belief in the central character as a damaged soul rather than a rotten one. Dickens sees Scrooge as inherently mean and avaricious, but Thorne prefers to see a man whose principles blind him to what really matters. 

The rest of the story falls out as we’d expect, as Scrooge is shown the error of his ways and eventually makes amends. One of the aspects of A Christmas Carol that makes it so irresistible is the way it leans into hope, when it could so easily tilt into tragedy. Imagine a Scrooge who repents only to find people rejecting him anyway: it would be unbearable, like something out of Hardy or Wharton, perhaps. Dickens is the ultimate sentimentalist, and who doesn’t want that at Christmas time?

Essentially, Scrooge is a secular St Paul whose conversion on the road to Damascus takes place entirely in his own bedroom. Warchus and Thorne try very hard to bleach the tale of any hint of religiosity – although Christ gets a couple of mentions very late in the piece via the hymns sung by the capable cast – but it’s curious how little Teale makes of this epiphany. His Scrooge has a profound realisation, but not the transfiguration Dickens was hinting at and that Wenham nailed. There is a deeper spiritual point to be made from A Christmas Carol, even if nobody involved here wants to make it. Never mind; maybe next year.

'A Christmas Carol' is showing at the Comedy Theatre until January 7, 2024. For more information and to book your tickets, head to the website.

After more must-see shows? We’ve rounded up the best of Melbourne theatre and musicals this month.

  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Melbourne

Cameron Mackintosh’s award-winning production of Boublil and Schönberg’s Miss Saigon will hit Her Majesty's Theatre this October, in partnership with Opera Australia. 

Inspired by the 1904 opera Madama Butterfly – which Opera Australia brought back to Handa Opera on the Harbour in March to critical acclaim – Miss Saigon has become one of the most successful musicals in history since its premiere in London in 1989. The original Broadway production of Miss Saigon opened in 1991 and went on to play for nearly ten years.

While this technically spectacular production showcases a talented cast, this popular musical has a complicated legacy that can be difficult to reckon with. 

Miss Saigon tells the story of a young Vietnamese woman named Kim, who is orphaned by war and forced to work in a bar run by a notorious character known as the Engineer. There she meets and falls in love with an American G.I. named Chris, but they're torn apart by the fall of Saigon. For three years, Kim goes on an epic journey of survival to find her way back to Chris, who has no idea he's fathered a son.

The new production is a stunning spectacle, with the cast of 42 performing the soaring score, including Broadway hits like ‘The Heat is On in Saigon,’ ‘The Movie in My Mind,’ ‘Last Night of the World’ and ‘American Dream.’ 

Young Australian singer Abigail Adriano will make her mainstage lead debut in the coveted role of Kim. Of the hundreds of auditioning hopefuls, 18-year-old old Sydney-born new-comer Abigail was the clear standout. Singing from a young age, Abigail performed in Tim Minchin’s Matilda the Musical when she was 11, and then went on to perform on The Voice Kids Australia and in the Netflix/ABC television series The Unlisted.

The role of Kim has proven to be a career-defining role in musical theatre, launching many
performers to stardom and earning them critical acclaim. Lea Salonga, who originated the role of Kim at age 17, went on to be the first Asian actress to win a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

Also leading the stellar cast is Seann Miley Moore as the Engineer, Nigel Huckle as Chris, Kerrie Anne Greenland as Ellen, Nick Afoa as John, Laurence Mossman as Thuy, and Kimberley Hodgson in the role of Gigi.

The casting team spent six months engaging with performers, artists, singers, dancers and acrobats from across all corners of Asia-Pacific in an effort to find the more than 40 talented individuals, representing a diverse range of skills, backgrounds and experiences.

Tickets are on sale now, starting from $79 and you can get them on the Ticketek website here.


  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Melbourne

To coincide with some summer lovin', Melbourne is getting a brand new production of the musical hit that's got groove; it's got meaning – it’s Grease

Packed with a star-studded cast, Grease returns to Australian stages in a multi-million-dollar production featuring all those unforgettable songs from the movie: ‘Summer Nights’, ‘Sandy’, ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’, ‘You’re The One That I Want’, ‘Greased Lightnin’’ and ‘Grease is the Word’.

Presented by John Frost for Crossroads Live Australia, the tour is set to debut as Melbourne’s major summer musical at Her Majesty’s Theatre on December 31, before hopping on a flying car ride to Sydney’s Capitol Theatre from March 2024.

Stepping into the iconic roles of Sandy and Danny are Annelise Hall (The Marvellous Elephant Man, Aspects of Love) and Joseph Spanti (Friends! The Musical Parody and Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical). Joining them will also be Patti Newton as Miss Lynch, Marcia Hines as Teen Angel, Jay Laga’aia as Vince Fontaine, Mackenzie Dunn as Rizzo and Brianna Bishop in the role of Marty.

At the time that it originally closed on Broadway in 1980, Grease’s 3,388-performance run was the longest musical in Broadway history. From the hit 1978 movie starring John Travolta and Australian sweetheart Olivia Newton-John (RIP) – which went on to become the highest-grossing movie-musical of all time – to the addition of the new Pink Ladies series, Grease is officially the most expansive cinematic universe derived from a stage musical. Not too shabby for a story that encourages taking up smoking and totally changing your entire personality to get a boyfriend! 

Tickets are on sale now – to grab yours, head to the official website.

Got itchy feet for a good show? Check out the best of Melbourne theatre and musicals this month.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Southbank

“City arts people. Gullible as fuck.” It’s hard not to chuckle, as a Melbourne-based critic, when listening to this acidic aside during a drug deal chat playing out in the carpeted and wood-panelled pub of Hope Hill, the ‘haunted’ town that houses Malthouse’s latest immersive theatre offering Hour of the Wolf.

You may think that being made to do the heavy lifting – pursuing a story on foot, following loose threads that diverge – is a mug’s game. But suppose you dug the Southbank institution’s lockdown-interrupted blockbuster Because the Night, the more recent undersea antics of Love Lust Lost or were lucky enough to catch Sleep No More in NYC. In that case, you’re likely happily ‘gullible’.

Corralled in hushed anticipation wearing the headsets that relay the narration, dread-filled
score and deftly woven actor’s dialogue – expertly stitched by composition and sound designer
Jethro Woodward – the audience emerges from the darkness behind a blast door into strobing
blue light. Finding ourselves in this boozy den accompanied by a very on-the-snout rendition of Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’, murdered in slurring karaoke by Brooke Lee’s Janey,
who has just returned from Italy with some startling news. Interrupting the shameless flirting of Kevin Hofbauer’s cocky Jason, his ensuing crankiness won’t stop his determination to drive Lucy Ansell’s Vick home, despite the inconvenient fact she lives with her boyfriend.

Meanwhile, Jack Green’s Gareth has just popped a pill provided by a similarly track-suited but also Trainspotting Sick Boy-bleached Karl Richmond’s Adam, leading to a terrible trip. And it is a trip, figuring out what’s happening in writer Keziah Warner’s latest addition to the extended canon of Twin Peaks-like towns wrangling with dark secrets, with Lynch doffing his cap to Ingmar Bergman’s twisting dreamscapes.

Here, groupthink led to a terrible act of mob violence decades ago that birthed a legend gouged into the town’s psyche like a scar. As such, the wolf’s hour requires a sacrifice from the townsfolk, leaving offerings of bread (or worse) at their door by 3am on the same night annually or risk losing something valuable: inhibitions, a lover or their life.

But will you go on this trip with the sky-high lads to a house party, where you’ll meet Emily
Milledge’s distressed gym worker Mia and short-tempered director Vic (Christina
O’Neill)? The latter is shooting a metatextual movie about the town’s curse that casts a fur-
suited Eva Rees’ Alex as her ‘wolf’ and Keegan Joyce’s dithering Emmet as the reluctant priest tasked with killing her. Or will you follow Jason’s clumsy flirtation or Janey’s mixed messages

There’s a visceral thrill in making split-second decisions, but if fear of interaction chills you to
your bones, worry not. We’re forbidden to interrupt the characters, and they will not register
our presence, so boldly go unbothered, barring the occasionally irksome buzz of crackling

If Jack Green’s oddly muted walk on the wild side isn’t as nightmarish as it needs to be in a dark chamber that also requires much more from Amelia Lever-Davidson’s lighting design to match Zoë Rouse’s bat-like wolf head, and if Keegan Joyce is similarly subdued, then the whole is carried by its ensemble.

Ably directed by Malthouse artistic director Matthew Lutton, Natasha Herbert’s narration offers enticing titbits of what once was. If you’re lucky, you may get a glimpse of her secretive character. I didn’t. Katherine Tonkin excels as an unnerving potter moulding the mythmaking into its most worrying form, eliciting shivers in a scuzzy laundrette and an empty gym, both spilt with suspicious red stains. A hospital showdown between Janey, Alex and Adam is unmissable, thanks primarily to Brooke Lee’s pained performance: are the strange gaps in her story down to a car crash-provoked concussion, or is it easier to forget painful decisions?

Wherever you wander, you’ll fill in (some of) the blanks with three rounds of the ‘same’
hour, with the clock resetting every 20 minutes, roughly, in real time. It’s a bit rushed, and it’s
unlikely you’ll unpick every plot thread, but such is the way of these choose-your-own
adventures. What is a shame is that the short runtime leaves little opportunity to follow regular prompts to investigate the rooms for hidden clues.

Meticulously created by set designer Anna Cordingley and dressed by Matilda Woodroofe, there’s undoubtedly more than meets the eye, but I had no time to dig deeper. Getting the most out of the work would probably require an extra half-hour – perhaps a frozen ten minutes between resets – to fold in deeper exploration and plot-piecing together.

Not everyone can afford a return visit, after all. If once is all we gullible types can do, there’s still plenty of meat on these bones to sink your teeth into. Leaving me ravenous for more, perhaps that’s no bad ‘wolf’ thing.

'Hour of the Wolf' is playing at the Malthouse Theatre until December 17. For more information and to purchase tickets, head to the website.

Love the theatre? Check out the best theatre, shows and musicals happening in Melbourne this month.

  • Theatre
  • Musicals

Calling all dancing queens, the jukebox musical to rival all jukebox musicals is voulez vous-ing its way back to Melbourne in October and November for a strictly limited season. You’d have to have lived under a rock since the mid-2010s not to have a passing awareness of Mamma Mia! Critics may be divided, but the 65 million tickets sold worldwide are a testament to the popularity of this smash-hit phenomenon – let alone the two box office smashing movies it inspired.

A Greek island paradise, a beautiful bride, a proud mother, three possible fathers, and 22 of ABBA’s greatest hit songs – it’s a tried and true recipe that is certain to bring joy to plenty of people when it hits the Princess Theatre.

This brand new 2023 production of Mamma Mia! is a re-staging of the highly successful 2017 production, which featured the original work of a completely Australian creative team led by Helpmann Award-winning director Gary Young, choreographer Tom Hodgson, musical supervisor Stephen Amos, set designer Linda Bewick, costume designer Suzy Strout, lighting designer Gavan Swift and sound design by Michael Waters. Mamma Mia! is produced in Australia by Michael Coppel, Louise Withers and Linda Bewick.

Tickets for the nine-week run have just dropped, and you can grab yours here

Want more? Check out the best theatre and musicals to see this month in Melbourne.

  • Theatre
  • Comedy
  • Melbourne

Paging all foolish mortals, mischievous fairies, and thieves of love, the Australian Shakespeare Company's (ASC) production of the Shakespearean classic A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to mysticise the Royal Botanic Gardens this summer. 

Running between December 16 and February 16, 2024, witness the ASC's flagship production under a canopy of stars and be whisked on a riotous ride through the world of Lovers, Fairies and Fools.

One of Shakespeare's most famous works, A Midsummer Night's Dream, traces four Athenians as they escape to the forest under cover of darkness only to have Puck the fairy make both boys fall in love with the same girl. The four run through the forest, pursuing each other while Puck helps his master, Oberon, play a trick on the fairy queen Titania. It is an enduring tale of magic and mystery about love in all its shades. 

Death of a Salesman's Alison Whyte will lead the cast as Bottom, along with Nicole Nabout as Titania, Hugh Sexton as Oberon and Syd Brisbane as Puck. For the whole cast, visit the website here.

"We've reimagined A Midsummer Night's Dream in a way that makes it even more accessible and in step with today's world," said the ASC Artistic Director Glenn Elston OAM. "It is a rare opportunity to present a play that concerns itself with themes so relevant to the current state of the world and reflective of the never changing effects of the human condition."

Theatregoers are encouraged to bring along a picnic or take advantage of the on-site bar and catering, which are also available to pre-order online. High and low chairs will also be available for hire at the venue. 

A Midsummer's Night's Dream will run at the Royal Botanic Gardens from December 16 until February 16, 2024. Tickets range from $25-$99 and you can get them on the Shakespeare Australia website here.

Love to catch a film al fresco? Check out the best outdoor cinemas in Melbourne. Prefer the comfort of an air-conditioned movie theatre? These are Melbourne's best cinemas.


  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Performance art
  • Collingwood

Anticipation rises as adventurous seafarers are shuttled past cabinets and into a pressurised vault, ready to be plunged twenty thousand leagues under the sea. Down, deep down to the E.V. Nautilus, a labyrinthian submarine crammed full of strange and unusual characters clutching secrets to their chest that are darker than the murky waters pressing on its barnacled hull. 

Or rather, opening night punters stand perfectly still in one of the many subdivided spaces that haunt the old bones of the Austral Theatre. Opened in 1921, it has transformed into a cinema, a supermarket, a roller skate rink, and, oh, the ignominy, a carpet warehouse. Now shuttered, it’s soon to be partly knocked down and will become, you guessed it, apartments. Immersive theatre experience Love Lust Lost is its last creative hurrah. 

And as anyone whose childhood was scarred by monsters made of tin foil and bubble wrap on low-budget sci-fi shows like Doctor Who will know, it only takes a dash of imagination to fool the mind and transport it to another world. So, yes, It did feel like my ears popped as we waited to board.

There’s little left of the Austral’s former glory, broken up by too many partition walls and scorned by shabby stained office ceiling tiles that conceal much of what it once was, its grand old bones jut out here and there. Still, this dereliction actually works in favour of Broad Encounters (A Midnight Visit), specialising in free-flowing shows like the seminal Sleep No More or Malthouse Theatres Because the Night where you wander, following characters (or not) at will. 

So the ghostly Austral is the Nautilus, with its mess of leaky pipes, nautical paraphernalia, scattered oyster shells and seaweed tendrils snaking around every corner as the depths appear to leech through the hull. It’s a ship in disrepair, both engineering-wise and in terms of its crew, who are not only coming apart at the seams psychologically, but several of them biologically too. 

Sandro Colarelli (Bell Shakespeare’s The Alchemist) has an underwater flare/flair for the theatrical as Captain Anderson, a pirate-like character whose larrikin, showman’s charm is tempered by an undeniable menace bubbling up from under his ragged petticoat. For all the work – co-written by Broad Encounters’ creative director Kirsten Siddle and dramaturg Helen Cassidy with direction by Scott Maidment and associate Drew Fairley – clearly draws on Jules Verne via Shakespeare and the gothic poetry of Nick Cave and Kate Bush, the biggest vibe is The Rocky Horror Show. 

Seen through this lens, Anderson is our Frank ‘N’ Furter, so it’s no wonder that his tattooed sailor daughter Sandy (Bri Emrich, L’Hotel) has gone AWOL, flitting through the sub’s shadowy, claustrophobic passages in a bid for freedom from his twisted ways. There’s mutiny in the pressurised air. While Emrich is a gifted physical performer, she’s a little too softly spoken to truly hold a crowded chamber that’s often abuzz with distracted chatter despite guests being encouraged to whisper on entry. 

Chloe Towan is a stand-out as Claude, all painted freckles and a crustacean claw as a sorry character who appears to be infected by the sea itself and mid-transmogrification, as is a tentacled, semi-feral creature played by Callum Mooney. A lonely soul, Claude is nursing a broken heart and suffering for her misplaced loyalty. Our Columbia, in this story, is one to actively engage with as an unshakeable, off-the-crab-like-cuff performer. As is the brilliant Kristian Šantić, who portrays the ship’s chaotically scrappy, saucy chef Stefano. Both Meg Hickey and Jeremy Lloyd – not unlike Rocky Horror’s Magenta and Riff Raff – bring an electric burlesque trace to their leather and lace figures. 

As with any immersive show, who you follow and where you go will vary wildly from person to person and even on repeat visits, and the less you know going in, the better. Even in the foyer afterwards, it was clear as participants chattered that many of us missed entire sections of the Nautilus. Some of us got wet and found a hidden bar; others uncovered a bouncy castle beyond a cabin plastered with eye-popping innuendo. 

Exploring these spaces is almost more fun than the central story, which isn’t quite as tight as it needs to be, getting a little lost in the wash despite a dry run in Brisbane before alighting on the Austral. No matter, all is not lost. If this sort of salty sea shanty is your thing, it’s bound to thrill, with a grand table-top throwdown finale worth setting sail for. 

All performances for 'Love Lust Lost' last 75-90 minutes and tickets are on sale now. The season will run until December 16, for more info visit the website here.

Prefer to keep all water-based fun above ground? Check out the best spas and bathhouses in Melbourne. 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Melbourne

When the multiple Tony Award-winning Moulin Rouge! The Musical, adapted from the 2001 jukebox extravaganza film by Australian director Baz Luhrmann, first can-can-canned its way into Melbourne, we had barely staggered out of lockdown. 

Walking into the already-majestic Regent Theatre ablaze with the red light district glow of thousands of hand-painted bulbs, a dozen glittering chandeliers and spanned by great arched hearts felt like actual Absinthe fairy magic, drunkenly transporting us half the world away and back in time to the infamous Parisian club’s heyday. 

Returning to the Regent Theatre for this encore run, directed by Jennifer Sarah Dean locally from a book by John Logan, I wondered if the wow factor would still inspire awe. It sure does. Derek McLane’s dazzling scenic design, realised here by Isabel Hudson and illuminated by Gavin Swift following Justin Townsend’s creation, literally spills off stage and through the fourth wall, past a towering blue elephant and the club’s world-famous windmill commanding royal boxes on either side. Before the lights even go down, limbering dancers weave through the audience.

Returning stars Alinta Chidzey and Des Flanagan impress all the more now they’ve lived so long in the roles of rags to riches courtesan Satine, the fake diamond of this financially struggling club, and her penniless, naïve would-be suitor Christian. As depicted by Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor in the movie, while the former handled the movie’s big musical numbers with remarkable grace, sadly, McGregor’s wince-inducing caterwauling murdered their duets.

That’s not a problem here, with both Chidzey and Flanagan excelling vocally, illuminating the show with their kilowatt chemistry as they hold the 70-plus tunes stitched into this jam-packed jukebox musical while skipping nimbly through Sony Tayeh’s demanding choreography, nailed locally by Travis Khan, in Janet Hine’s magnificent costumes. 

Neat additions to Justin Levine’s intricately stitched orchestration, commanded by Australian musical director Matthew Carey, include the spot-on pairing of Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)’ with Lorde’s ‘Royals’, seamlessly folded into Satine’s ‘Material Girl’/‘Diamonds are Forever’ introductory number. First-act closer Elephant Love Medley was already a sparkling highlight of Luhrmann’s movie.

Deploying Elton John’s ‘Your Song’, Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, turbo-charged by Whitney Houston, and David Bowie’s anthemic ‘Heroes’ for the push-pull battle between Christian, drunk on the power of love, and the cynical Satine dunking on his “silly love songs” (care of Wings), though brought together “just for one day”. 

How do you improve on that? By subtly tweaking the balance of a show-stopping number unfairly weighted towards McGregor. Tina Turner’s seminal ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ amps up her resistance – because “Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?” When Christian borrows A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’, pleading with her to reconsider, Satine plays his own game, pushing back, “You’ll be gone in a day or two.” Adding ‘Torn’, popularised by Natalie Imbruglia, signals her internal wavering.

Later, Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ ably swings us into a second-act tragedy. Satine’s ailing health takes centre stage even as she’s compelled to secure her and the club’s future by settling for the sneering Duke (impressive cast addition James Bryers) who simply wants to own her. Chidzey captures our broken hearts as Satine desperately embarks on a hazardous yet very French affair with Christian, all the while attempting to set boundaries around his infatuation. 

A seam of darkness runs through this crowd-pleasing show designed to bring unbridled joy to the masses via maximal musical nostalgia. A returning Simon Burke is both wonderfully camp-fantastic and world-weary as struggling club impresario Harold Zidler, confirmed as a gay man who can be blackmailed as such. Christopher J Scalzo’s gender non-conforming Babydoll – one of Satine’s ‘Lady Marmalade’ performing soul sisters rounded out by the stellar Samantha Dodemaide, Kahlia Davis and Chaska Halliday – similarly panics at the harsh reality facing queer people if the shelter offered by the Moulin Rouge shuttered.

There isn’t a weak link in the ensemble, with new cast member Bert LaBonté captivating as the Dukes-sparring Toulouse-Lautrec, bohemian champion of “truth, beauty, freedom, love.” Ryan Gonzalez brings sassy comic relief as gigolo Santiago, even if his ‘Bad Romance’ with Dodemaide’s Nini is undercooked. It’s a shame, but even over two hours, there’s only so much you can fit in. Intriguingly, while the stage show crams in much more music than the movie, it still feels somehow less hectic, with a streamlined focus on Satine’s determination to light up for one final opening night, ‘Come What May’.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical may not re-invent the form, but to borrow a line from Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’, also added to the mix, it owns the night.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Melbourne

Who is Elvis? Obviously, we know who he was – an impossibly handsome young lad with the crooner’s voice who gyrated into rock stardom before choking on his own excess. But what does he mean to us now? Is he a figure of cultural appropriation, a white guy made good on the shoulders of black artists? A cautionary example of capitalist indulgence, the music industry’s archetypal Icarus? Or a symbol of class aspiration and the transformative power of fame, the poor man risen to the greatest pinnacle of celebrity?

Elvis: A Musical Revolution seems for a while to have a bet each way, before coming down hard on the latter reading, succumbing eventually to the starry-eyed wonder of the besotted fan, dazzled by the light of genius. This Elvis can be dismissive, rude and narcissistic but the portrait painted here is ultimately hagiographic; his journey pointedly ends not in the bloated chintz of his Vegas years, but the triumph of his ’68 Comeback special. There is not a single mention of drugs or liquor, food or death.

In the role of the King, Rob Mallett has an unenviable task: how to embody the look, moves and sound of Elvis the performer without bringing to mind whole generations of Elvis impersonators, that tacky wave of 'dodgy uncles in polyester jumpsuits' we try to avoid at weddings. While he doesn’t really ever look the part – there’s a strange resemblance to Crispin Glover’s 'cool phase' George McFly in Back to the Future – he does sound like him. Elvis’s baritone was richer than Mallett’s, and his inflections more natural, but overall it’s a solid approximation.

Mallett also works hard to show Elvis’s lighter, more charming side; he often comes across as goofy and sincere, a man buffeted by the vagaries of fame and fortune, even slightly infantilised. An abrupt shift into raging megalomania is poorly handled, but this is largely the fault of Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti’s book, which has a tendency to lurch from one biographical moment to another. Like most musicals of this ilk, it’s frustratingly episodic and superficial.

The book’s other glaring problem is its fondness for glibness and cliché. Elvis’s mum Gladys (an otherwise excellent Noni McCallum) is depicted as a saintly figure, dispensing old-world wisdom and then dying from an excrescence of sentiment. Colonel Parker (Ian Stenlake) is the hard-headed and grubby promoter. Priscilla (Annie Chiswell) is criminally underwritten, required to do little more than look miserable and complain about Ann-Margaret (Kirby Burgess, threatening to walk off with the whole show). Structurally, it functions as a dream play, time periods sliding and coalescing, Elvis’s childhood returning over and over as a reminder and admonishment. If only the producers didn’t feel the need to signpost everything, projecting the dates onto the set as if we couldn’t figure it out for ourselves.

Intriguingly, Elvis works best when it abandons storytelling for music making, when it leans into its jukebox roots. The scenes depicting Presley’s movies – all those dreadful plots and cheesy settings, the greedy churn of them one after another – are a production highlight. So are the gospel-inflected numbers sung by Charlie Williams, Jo-Anne Jackson and Joti Gore. And the ’68 special, where the king finally busts out in that iconic leather jumpsuit, is terrifically entertaining, an orgiastic Elvis love-in.

The production design is sharp and effective, from Isaac Lummins' costumes and Dan Potra’s set, to the excellent lighting from Declan O’Neill, which recreates the giant red Elvis in lights from the television special. Michael Ralph’s choreography is often jaw-dropping, and the ensemble throw themselves into it with precision and gusto. Director Alister Smith keeps the whole show running smoothly and the energy levels exhaustingly high, but he could afford more introspection and nuance. The fifties dance numbers become tiresome after a while, and some of the period trappings feel dangerously close to pastiche. Sometimes, even in a musical about Elvis, less is more.

Elvis: A Musical Revolution doesn’t seem to be associated in any way with Baz Luhrmann’s recent biopic, but it does feel highly indebted to it. The downplaying of Presley’s most grotesque extravagances is more pronounced, and the character of the Colonel less of a nightmarish phantom from some fever dream, but the essential goodness of Elvis and his unassailable place in music history remains the same. Jukebox musicals like this play slavishly to an already established fan base, and this one is no different. If you’re looking for trouble, or anything that might challenge a legacy, you’ve come to the wrong place.

'Elvis: A Musical Revolution' is playing at the Athenaeum Theatre until December 24. To book tickets, head to the website.

Want more? Check out the best of Melbourne theatre and musicals this month.

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