Musicals to see in Melbourne
Mamma Mia! is the jukebox musical to end all jukebox musicals. It’s one of the most commercially successful pieces of entertainment of all time, having grossed US$2 billion since its 1999 West End premiere. To put that in perspective, only three movies have ever grossed more (sorry Harry Potter, you just haven't got the pull of Benny and Björn). It spawned the 2008 Meryl Streep-led film, which earned a sweet $600 million, and a movie sequel called Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is due to be released in July. So why does the show – with an inconsequential and frequently illogical story about a young woman on the weekend of her wedding trying to learn which of three men is her father – continue to inspire people all around the world to open their wallets and head out to the theatre? It owes its success almost entirely to the ABBA music it hangs its hackneyed but gently funny narrative off. Songs like ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Waterloo’ are among the greatest pop songs ever written, with melodies so broadly appealing they can fill dancefloors pretty much anywhere in the world. But there’s also a serious dramatic heft to some of the ballads – ‘The Winner Takes it All’, ‘SOS’, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ – that means even when Catherine Johnson’s book fails to successfully stitch together musical vignettes, most numbers land with some weight. But there’s something about this new Australian production, with design, choreography and direction by Australians, that feels a littl
The second act opens with a number that could easily stand for the whole: it’s called ‘When Everything Old is New Again’, and it involves white pants, precision dancing, and ladles of melted cheese. The Boy from Oz turns 20 this year, as does the Production Company, responsible for this staging. Both the show and the company are unapologetic champions of the daggy and the aged. It’s pretty much a match made in heaven.Peter Allen wasn’t exactly an acquired taste; he was more of a black hole of taste – only white and covered in sequins. A musical about him, constructed around his occasionally beautiful but more often ghastly songs, might sound on paper like the great Aussie slang for spew: a technicolour yawn. But in practice, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It isn’t subtle, or nuanced, or even remotely challenging, but it’s damn entertaining, and in musical theatre that counts for a lot.Of course, the shoes are hard to fill, and that’s not even talking about the man himself. Todd McKenney initiated the role to much acclaim, only to be pipped (or bludgeoned, depending on who you ask) by Hugh Jackman. It’s hard to imagine the show storming Broadway without that cast change, and it’s hard to imagine Rohan Browne supplanting anyone’s memories of either of those previous performances. But he’s by no means a disaster. He can dance better than Allen, and his singing – while occasionally off key, and generally lacking in texture – is certainly passable. His take on the man is quite compl
You know when those wedding receptions have started to sour, after you’ve eaten the chicken despite the fact you ordered the fish, when the cheap Champagne tastes cheaper by the hour, and some dodgy DJ thinks the ‘Time Warp’ is just the thing to get the intergenerational dancing going? You remember when madness, in the form of soul-crushing ennui, takes its toll? That’s pretty much the sensation one gets watching yet another revolution on the merry-go-round for this spent and cynical production of Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show. Like you’re under sedation.Rocky Horror is seminal in many ways; from those who were lucky enough to experience the original 1973 stage show in London, to those who watched the film either in interactive midnight screenings or furtively late at night on TV, the piece has always held a kind of subversive, sexy fascination. It took all the clichés of post-war science fiction film and fetishised them, upended their heteronormativity and their political conservatism, and produced something truly cult. The problem with cult is that – once it becomes mainstream and gets reiterated in increasingly anodyne ways – it loses its power to shock and surprise. In fact, it loses its raison d’être. This production is, of course, tainted by the allegations made against former star Craig McLachlan last year; despite what the producers may wish, they hang like a cloud of pollution over everything that happens on stage. Todd McKenney has been brought in to reboot or
Melbourne, school is back in session and now it’s time to learn how to rock. The musical version of Jack Black’s hit 2003 movie School of Rock will open at the Her Majesty’s Theatre in October, fresh from successful seasons on Broadway and the West End, where it’s still running. Just as in the movie, Dewey Flynn is a struggling muso who fakes his way into a prestigious private school classroom to earn a little extra cash as a substitute teacher. But he soon finds himself as an unlikely mentor for these high achieving kids who need someone to look out for them. And he also turns the group into a kick-ass rock band. It’s the prodigiously talented kids who make the show and are blowing away audiences in New York and London by playing live music night after night. The show has a score of songs from the movie and new tunes by the godfather of British musical theatre Andrew Lloyd Webber. He might be the guy who wrote Cats, but he also started his career by writing one of the best rock musicals ever, Jesus Christ Superstar, so he knows his way around an electric guitar. His other unlikely collaborators are lyricist Glenn Slater and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, who has adapted the movie script for the stage. In a four-star review, Time Out New York wrote: “This is one tight, well-built show: underscoring the emotional arcs (Dewey as both surrogate kid and parent; the students’ yearning to be heard); gently juicing the romantic subplot between Dewey and buttoned-up sch
Move over My Fair Lady: the next vintage production coming to Australia is the original Evita, with Australian pop princess Tina Arena starring as Eva Perón. Opera Australia and John Frost are collaborating to revive the 1978 West End production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s blockbuster musical, directed by Tony Award-gobbling musical theatre veteran Harold Prince. Appearing alongside Arena is a starry international cast: as Juan Peron is Brazilian operatic baritone Paulo Szot, who won a Tony Award for his performance in the 2008 Broadway revival of South Pacific. London-based Australian performer Kurt Kansley will play Che, the narrator, while Wicked star Jemma Rix will play Evita at some performances. (It's traditional that there's an 'alternate Eva' scheduled for certain performances each week given the almighty vocal challenges of the role.) Conceived as a concept album in 1976, Evita tells the story of Argentine political figure Eva Perón, who when she died at 33 from cancer had become one of the most powerful women in Latin America – and thereafter was afforded an almost saintly status. Following its 1978 premiere on the West End (with Elaine Paige in the title role), the musical went on to win the Olivier Award for best musical and transferred to Broadway (where Patti LuPone took on the role), where it was the first British musical to win the Tony Award for best musical. In 1996, Madonna starred in the film adaptation of the musical. The Australian revival
Last in Melbourne in 2009, Broadway smash Jersey Boys is back in 2018 with an Australian cast led by Bernard Angel (playing Frankie Valli), Cameron MacDonald, Thomas McGuane and Glaston Toft (reprising his role as bassist Nick Massi). In our 2010 review, we wrote: A loving recreation of the beginnings of the band, their hits, their behind-the-scenes antics and bitter rivalries, it's a riveting and tightly worked homage. More importantly, it's an engrossing story that traces the story of four boys from New Jersey through their struggle for recognition, underworld entanglements and exponential rise to stardom. It also covers the deep rifts that formed over money, women and personal differences.For long-time fans the tunes and attendant storyline will be familiar, but it also works as an introduction for yet-to-be fans – it may be a surprise to younger audience members that 'Oh, What a Night' is sung by the same band as 'Can't Take My Eyes off You' and 'Walk Like a Man'. It may also surprise that their clean-cut image masked some gritty realities – this may have been the era of Leave it to Beaver, but these boys have more in common with the Sopranos (salty language included). The story is in four parts, each narrated by one of the original band members. The usual pitfall with the jukebox musical is that the songs are but tenuously related to the storyline, and often come off as contrived (because they are). Using the songs of a band to tell its own fascinating story, as this
It's time for Melbourne's boys to don their ballet shoes – Billy Elliot the Musical is on its way back to Australian shores for a tenth anniversary tour.
Come from Away is set to open at the Comedy Theatre in July 2019, joining upcoming Melbourne premieres of School of Rock and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The historic Comedy Theatre will get major refurbishment and new seats in time for Come From Away's Australian opening.
Next year is shaping up to be Opera Australia's big year of West Side Story. Not only is the company presenting a massive outdoor production in Sydney as part of its annual Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, it's just announced a production for theatres in both Melbourne and Sydney. That's a big year for singing and dancing youth gangs. Melbourne has seen this production before: it's directed by Tony nominee Joey McKneely and played an Australian tour back in 2010. It's a fairly faithful take on the show, using all of Jerome Robbins' original Broadway choreography. For those who've somehow never seen West Side Story, it's a 1950s musical take on Romeo and Juliet with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurents. Instead of warring families, it features warring – if not too fearsome – New York City gangs. The score features songs like 'Tonight', 'Maria', 'America', 'Something's Coming' and 'Somewhere'. No casting has been announced at this point, but unlike the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour production, Opera Australia is holding auditions to find the next Tony and Maria. Opera Australia has already come under significant criticism for casting a caucasian performer as the Puerto Rican Maria in that production, and has been accused of white-washing the musical. Let's hope they cast appropriately this time. West Side Story will play the Arts Centre Melbourne from April 6 to 28. Join the waitlist for tickets. Can't wait until next year? Ch
What's on stage this week?
Wondering what to see in Melbourne this week? Check out our guide to the theatre, opera, musicals and dance shows on Melbourne's stages for the next seven days.