Musicals to see in Melbourne
Over the last century only nine musicals have managed to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, arguably America’s highest prize for anything on stage. One of those was Stephen Sondheim’s 1984 musical, Sunday in the Park with George, which is widely considered to be one of the smartest musicals ever written, drawing inspiration from Georges Seraut’s painting ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’. The first act imagines Seraut’s process of creating the painting and digs deep into all his artistic crises. The second act leaps forward a century and we see yet another artist struggling to make their work. Melbourne’s Watch This theatre company has actually made Sondheim’s work their bread and butter, and have presented acclaimed productions of Assassins, Pacific Overtures, Company, Merrily We Roll Along and A Little Night Music. To tackle Sunday in the Park with George, they’ve enlisted director Dean Drieberg (who is co-directing with their artistic director Sonya Suares) and Nick Simpson-Deeks as George, Vidya Makan as his muse Dot, and Jackie Rees as George’s mother.
The last time audiences saw a big budget musical adaptation of a Roald Dahl novel was when the Royal Shakespeare Company teamed up with Tim Minchin for the incomparable wonder that was Matilda. So naturally – even though no two shows are alike and you can’t bottle lightning and yada yada – we are going to compare Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to that, and naturally it’s going to come up short. Best to get that out of the way early. But, once you’ve brushed away the fog of expectation, it’s pretty easy to enjoy yourself here; you don’t even need a particularly sweet tooth. This is largely because Dahl’s original, like all his work, is as brittle and nutty as it is sweet. The story of poor Charlie Bucket (Benjamin Belsey, Elijah Slavinskis, Edgar Stirling, Lenny Thomas, Lachlan Young), so impoverished he can only have a single bar of chocolate on his birthday, winning a golden ticket to the magical wonderland that is Willy Wonka’s (Paul Slade Smith) Chocolate Factory, is a morality tale of the most gruesome and delectable kind. Charlie’s fellow winners – Augustus Gloop (Jake Fehily), Veruca Salt (Karina Russell), Violet Beauregard (Jayme-Lee Hanekom) and Mike Teavee (Harrison Riley) – are all hideous creatures of desire and self-gratification. Only Charlie is pure of heart, and deserves the ultimate prize. This adaptation has gone through many iterations since it opened in London on Drury Lane in 2013, with massive changes in scale and content. The original sets were lavi
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
Hair is one of the musicals that forever changed the face of musical theatre. When it premiered in 1967 with its authentically rocking score, anti-war message and famously controversial nude scene, it became an immediate sensation, and ran for four years on Broadway. When it arrived in Australia in 1969 it made a star of Marica Hines. Fifty years later, it's returning with a new production which is touring the country, stopping in at the Geelong Performing Arts Centre in early September. Hugh Sheridan is flexing his musical theatre muscles as Berger while Paulini will play Dionne, who kicks off the whole show with the anthemic 'Aquarius'. We can already hear her belting out the opening strains: "When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars." The musical – which also features 'Good Morning Starshine', 'Easy to be Hard', 'Let the Sunshine In' and, of course, 'Hair' – follows a tribe of hippies as they resist authority, call for peace and celebrate free love. As for the famous nude scene that ends the first act and got the musical banned in a bunch of places? Well, there is a content warning of full frontal nudity, so let's assume it's happening. Producer David M Hawkins has pulled together a stellar creative team. Declan Greene, best known for his fiery and provocative productions of plays (including Blackie Blackie Brown) is directing his first major musical. He's joined by a team of musical theatre veterans: set designer Michael Scott-Mitchell, costu
This musical from Kander and Ebb (the songwriting team behind Cabaret and Chicago) has never before had a professional mainstage production in Australia. Melbourne Theatre Company's artistic director Brett Sheehy says he’s reversing that “unconscionable neglect” with this new production starring Australia’s own Broadway and West End star (she played the leading role in Chicago on Broadway), Caroline O’Connor. It’s based on Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel set inside a South American prison where two men are sharing a cell. One is a Marxist revolutionary, and the other is a gay window dresser who escapes into a fantasy world of movies starring the fabulous diva Aurora. That’s where O’Connor comes in. The cast also includes Adam Jon Fiorentino, Natalie Gamsu, and Bert LaBonté (The Book of Mormon). Helpmann Award-winner and musical theatre dynamo Dean Bryant directs.
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'.
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.
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.
Here's an ogre-sized announcement: Broadway's musical version of the much-loved 2001 Dreamworks movie Shrek is making its Australian professional debut in a tour early next year.
In 1990, Jimmy Chi's musical about a runaway teenage Aboriginal boy on a wild and eye-opening road trip became a surprise hit.