Look sharp triple threats: Melbourne is a haven for musical theatre. We're home to many of the most beautiful theatres in the country, meaning we get pretty lucky when it comes to major musicals. There are a stack of shows on right now, and just around the corner we've got Billy Elliot, Shrek and the absolutely fabulous Broadway production of Molin Rouge.
Here's our pick of the musicals Melbourne is getting excited about. If you're after something of blockbuster scale without quite so much singing and dancing, head to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Musicals to see in Melbourne
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 passengers were diverted to the remote airspace in Newfoundland, near the town of Gander. They didn’t know why, nor even where they were, but they soon learnt just how kind and welcoming the locals could be. Gander (and neighbouring towns) took them all in, almost doubling the local population in a single day; they fed them, clothed them and housed them. They broke the news of the terrorist attacks in New York, and they gave them phones to contact loved ones. And the
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. Luis Molina (Ainsley Melham) is a gay window dresser, in his third year of an eight-year sentence for having sex with an underage boy. As the show opens he gets a new cellmate, Valentin Paz (Adam-Jon Fiorentino), a Marxist political prisoner who is being tortured to give up the names of his co-conspirators. Molina, a devoted cineast, blocks out the screams of his fellow prisoners and the grim horror of their situation by reliving his favourite films, starring the diva Aurora (Caroline O’Connor). Molina loves all of her roles bar one, the Spider Woman, who brings death with her kiss. Valentin has no time for fantasies and draws a line in their cell to keep Molina and his escapism out. As their relationship begins to develop, prison authorities ask Molina to spy on his cellmate, in exchange for his own freedom. Molina is the heart and soul of the show (William Hurt won an Oscar for his performance in the 1985 movie based on the same Manuel Puig novel), and Melham’s performance is masterful, radiating love, courage, terro
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. That's the production which Melbourne audiences will see, this time with Natalie Bassingthwaighte playing Roxie (the Renée Zellweger role) opposite musical theatre star Alinta Chidzey as Velma (the Catherine Zeta-Jones role). Jason Donovan is playing the smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn, while vocal powerhouse Casey Donovan is taking on Matron Mama Morton, the prison warden who sings 'When You're Good to Mama'. The show also includes 'Razzle Dazzle', 'Cell Block Tango', 'Mr Cellophane', and, of course, 'All That Jazz'.
Here's an ogre-sized announcement: Broadway's musical version of the much-loved 2001 Dreamworks movie Shrek is coming to Melbourne's Her Majesty's Theatre from February 2020. The musical premiered on Broadway in 2008, where it was nominated for eight Tony Awards and ran for more than a year, during which time it was filmed for DVD and Blu-ray release. It then opened in London in 2011, where it ran for nearly two years. It's very much the ogre-meets-princess story you know and love from the original film. We regret to inform you that the stage version doesn't open with Smash Mouth's 'All Star', but it does end with 'I'm a Believer', and features a stellar bunch of other songs by Broadway heavyweight Jeanine Tesori. Ben Mingay will be greening up for the title role and will be joined by Lucy Durack as Princess Fiona, Todd McKenney as Lord Farquaad and Marcia Hines as the dragon.
It's time to don your ballet shoes and practice your plié – Billy Elliot the Musical is on its way back to Australian shores for a tenth anniversary tour. The British musical blockbuster is opening at the Sydney Lyric in October, with four freakishly talented youngsters sharing the title role: Omar Abiad (12, from Brisbane), River Mardesic (10, from Melbourne), Wade Neilsen (12, from Newcastle) and Jamie Rogers (12, from Canberra). They're joined by Australian musical theatre stalwart Kelley Abbey as the tough-as-nails ballet teacher Mrs Wilkinson, and Justin Smith as Billy's father. The musical is set against the background of the 1984/85 UK coal miners' strike and tells the story of Billy, a miner's son who dreams of becoming a professional ballet dancer. Lee Hall, who wrote the popular 2000 film upon which the musical is based, adapted the story for the stage with musical superstar Elton John, who penned the score. Elton John said: "Billy Elliot for me is one of the most rewarding and creative works of my career. I have very fond memories of the Sydney production in 2007 as it was the first city outside of the UK we mounted the show and found many incredibly talented children who would go on to carry the show through its successful Australian run." After opening on London's West End in 2005 – where it scored a five-star review from Time Out London – the show had its Australian premiere in 2007, winning a record-equalling seven Helpmann Awards including Best Musical.
Ever since Graham Chapman galloped across the silver screen as King Arthur (with the help of one trusty sidekick and an even trustier coconut) the world has loved Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In 2004 original Python Eric Idle turned the show into a glittering stage musical called Spamalot and the rest, as they say, is history. This production of that show originated at Sydney's home of musical theatre, the Hayes, where Richard Carroll (Calamity Jane) directed a cast of misfit knights on their quest for the holy grail. Now it's returning for a national tour in 2020 with a cast including Marty Alix, Blake Appelqvist, Cramer Cain, Rob Johnson, Josie Lane, Abe Mitchell and Jane Watt Expect plenty of sight gags, big Broadway numbers and a bunch of (non-threatening) audience participation.
Legendary songwriter Jim Steinman is best known for writing Meat Loaf's biggest hits, including every track on his best-selling album Bat Out of Hell, but for his entire life Steinman has been working on various iterations of a musical based around his own songs. Bat Out of Hell is the most recent and most successful of his stage endeavours and features songs from all three Bat Out of Hell albums, including 'You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth', 'Bat Out of Hell', 'I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)', 'Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad', and 'It's All Coming Back to Me Now'. After successful seasons in London and New York, the musical will have its Australian premiere as a large-scale arena rock musical. You can expect plenty of spectacle, with a dazzling light show, special effects and plenty of fire. The post-apocalyptic musical is a loose retelling of Peter Pan, set in a futuristic city which used to be known as Manhattan. The forever young Strat, the leader of 'The Lost', falls in love with Raven, the daughter of a tyrannical leader. Bat Out of Hell will have its Australian premiere in Sydney before coming to Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena on June 11. Tickets go on sale December 6 at noon.
In 1990, Jimmy Chi's musical about a runaway teenage Aboriginal boy on a wild and eye-opening road trip became a surprise hit. Bran Nue Dae premiered as part of Perth Festival – which is rather appropriate given that its central character Willie is on a road trip through Western Australia – and won a bunch of prestigious awards before touring the country for three years. It was Australia's first Aboriginal musical, long before Jess Mauboy took The Sapphires to the world. Now it's returning for a 30th anniversary tour produced by a group of Australia's biggest opera companies (but don't worry, the rock and pop-inspired score isn't suddenly going to get an operatic bent). The new production will be directed by Andrew Ross, who was behind the original staging, with choreography by Bangarra dancer Tara Gower. Based loosely on Chi's own life, the musical was written his band, Kuckles. And unlike a lot of the Aboriginal stories that white audiences were demanding at the time, Bran Nue Dae is bright, uplifting and very, very funny – although it still touches on political and social issues. The musical was turned into a film in 2009 with a starry Australian cast, including Jess Mauboy, Ernie Dingo, Magda Szubanski, Dan Sultan, Deborah Mailman and Missy Higgins. The new Australian cast will be led by Marcus Corowa as Willie, with Ernie Dingo reprising his role from the movie.
Melbourne: Do you believe in freedom, beauty, truth and love? Yes? Good. A spectacular stage version of Moulin Rouge! opened on Broadway this week and now we have official confirmation that it's on its way to Melbourne.
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.
Opera Australia has a long history of bringing classic musicals to local audiences, but generally they've been faithful and traditional productions. But the company is doing something a little different as part of its 2020 Melbourne season: Fiddler on the Roof performed entirely in Yiddish.