Musicals to see in Melbourne
Adapting a canonical Australian film into a stage musical? Who you gonna call? Simon Phillips! He pulled it off with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; surely the director could do the same for that daggiest of screen heroines, Muriel Heslop. Both films leant heavily on internationally famous pop songs from the ’70s, both virtually burst at the seams with the kind of kitsch that cries out for a musical number, and both have remained adored cultural touchstones, even for those who only recall them from their original cinema release, back in 1994. So the question sits large on this production’s shoulders: is it as good as the stage adaptation of Priscilla? The answer is no. No, this one is way better. Perhaps it is the source material. PJ Hogan’s film, despite the superficial similarities to Stephan Elliot’s more raucous and frankly crasser sibling, is a finely balanced dramedy, often profoundly sad and sharply satirical amongst all the comic mayhem. Hogan and Phillips are responsible for the adaptation, and they’ve very carefully modulated the tone and shifted the emphases so that Muriel’s journey from zero to hero fits more snugly into the traditional structure of a Broadway musical, without sacrificing the film’s nuance and edge. The first major change we notice is the look: where the film was drenched in the pastels of a past decade, the stage show pops with block colours, blindingly sunny and over-lit. Muriel (Natalie Abbott) sticks out immediately among the buff bods and p
Some shows are so monumentally famous, so seared in the cultural memory, they become very hard to budge. Productions of West Side Story can look like perfectly-tended museum dioramas; impeccable on the surface, they often seem a little mechanical where it counts. It will always deliver the goods for those unfamiliar with the piece, but it might leave wearied theatre goers asking just what was the point. Opera Australia’s second production of the show this year – there’s currently a completely different outdoor production playing on Sydney Harbour – is unlikely to change this dynamic, let alone anyone’s mind. One thing becomes clear very quickly: this production will be a great shrine to the god Robbins, or maybe several smaller ones set up in every corner of the Temple of Robbins. By which we mean original director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, who clashed violently with his collaborators on the show, composer Leonard Bernstein, librettist Stephen Sondheim and author of the book, Arthur Laurents. Robbins was an egomaniac among the already very self-assured, and fiendishly stamped his will on the production – and left an indelible impression on the subsequent film. As a result, the dancing is extraordinary. It has a tendency to pull on every American dance tradition going, from the quickstep to the bunny hop; it leans heavily on classical ballet but its final effect is miles away – coiled and dangerous, mirroring the patois of those New York streets. Director Joey McKnee
Long before Hugh Jackman donned a top hat and tails, the story of circus innovator and entertainment impresario PT Barnum was brought to life on stage in a musical. Barnum premiered on Broadway in 1980 (starring Jim Dale and Glenn Close) and had a string of successful productions around the world in the decades following. Now it's headed back to Melbourne in a new production that's promising to bring the spirit of the big top to the Comedy Theatre, melding circus with showstopping musical numbers, penned by Sweet Charity composer Cy Coleman. (Sorry, the show does not feature 'This is Me'.) In the title role is Todd McKenney, who's no stranger to sharing roles with Jackman – he originated the role of Peter Allen in homegrown musical The Boy from Oz before Jackman took the show to Broadway. He's joined by musical theatre star Rachael Beck, who'll play his wife, Charity. The show will be directed by Tyran Parke, who'll bring all of Barnum's most famous wonders to life – including the world's oldest woman; the magnificent elephant, Jumbo; and Swedish nightingale, Jenny Lind – with the help of the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA).
Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is widely regarded as one of the greatest musicals ever written, and its two leading roles – the titular demon barber and Mrs Lovett, a pie shop owner and Todd's unlikely ally – are both mountains that many actors dream of conquering. Now it's time for Australia's leading man of musical theatre, Anthony Warlow, and comedy star Gina Riley to take on the roles. Warlow, who's best known for his star-making turn in the original Australian production of The Phantom of the Opera, has long wanted to play Sweeney, a barber who returns to London after many years banished from his home, wife and daughter. But far from the sweet family man who once left, Sweeney is now on a mission for revenge, to take down those powerful men who destroyed his family. Although Riley has made most of her career in TV comedy and is best known for playing Kim in Kath and Kim, she's no newcomer to musical theatre, having appeared in Chicago, Into the Woods and The Rocky Horror Show. And that voice you hear at the top of every episode of Kath and Kim belting out "the joker is me"? That's Riley. She's playing Mrs Lovett, the enterprising pie chef who works in a restaurant under Sweeney's barbershop. When his customers start dropping like flies, she comes up with an ingenious – though stomach-churning – solution to her meat shortage woes. It sounds like a pretty dark show – and it definitely is – but it's also packed with comedy and some killer tunes like 'Johanna', 'A Li
Melbourne's theatre scene might look to be totally dominated by a certain boy wizard in 2019, but there's another big show headed our way from Broadway. Come from Away is set to open at the Comedy Theatre in July. The historic theatre will get major refurbishment and new seats (anybody's who's sat through long show at the theatre knows the seating is a necessity) in time for Come From Away's Australian opening. The musical has been a bit of an unexpected hit in North America, set in a small Canadian town in the days following the September 11 attacks. Written by Canadians Irene Sankoff and David Hein, it tells the true story of Gander, where 38 international flights carrying 7,000 passengers were forced to land, effectively doubling the population of the town with stranded passengers for several days. The vibrant score has Celtic flavours, and the show's cast recording was nominated for a Grammy Award. The musical started out with a 2013 Ontario production, and then went on to tour the US before landing on Broadway in early 2017. It was nominated for seven Tony Awards last year and picked up the award for Best Direction of a Musical for Broadway veteran Christopher Ashley, who'll be overseeing the local production. Read Time Out New York's four-star review here.
Bring It On: The Musical is returning to the Athenaeum Theatre in 2019 with a new, yet-to-be-announced cast. Read our review of the 2018 Melbourne season below. Did we need a musical based on Bring It On, the popular 2000 cheerleading movie that had so much to say it needed five sequels? It’s not the worst idea, but we did not need this iteration of Bring It On, which suffers from turgid dialogue, forgettable songs, a predictable and overdone plot, and at least in this production, a significant lack of pep. That Bring It On is not better is a mystery, since it was written by an A-Team of contemporary musicals, with a book by Tony Award-winner Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q) and a score by Hamilton genius Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tom Kitt (another Tony Award-winner for Next to Normal) and Tony nominee Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody). But while there are flashes of Miranda’s exquisite harmonies and clever wordplay (particularly in ‘Move’, the big number that opens the second act, and in some of the raps), the music is mostly underwhelming. Ballads build but then fade away, and none of the melodies grab a hold of you. In this high-stakes world of competitive cheerleading, the music should rev up an audience, but it’s not distinctive enough to have much impact. The mixing does not help, either; the music overpowers the voices in parts, with critical lyrics difficult to hear. The musical is not a retread of the movie; rather, it features new characters but a plot very similar to the sec
From August this year, Melbourne audiences will step into a world of pure imagination with the new musical version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The show, which just wrapped up a three-year run on the West End and a short stint on Broadway, is heading south from Sydney, where it's been selling out performances at the Capitol Theatre. It will have its Melbourne premiere at Her Majesty's Theatre. The musical is based more on Roald Dahl's 1964 book than the beloved 1971 film, but does feature a couple of the songs you know and love, including 'Pure Imagination', 'Candy Man' and 'I've Got a Golden Ticket'. The rest of the music is penned by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, who are best known for writing the score for the musical Hairspray. You already know the plot: the eccentric master chocolatier Willy Wonka opens up his mysterious factory to four young children, looking for an heir to take over the kingdom. Four of the children have been spoiled rotten and *spoiler alert* suffer horrible fates inside the factory – Augustus gets sucked up a tube after gorging himself on chocolate, Violet turns into a giant blueberry, Mike's TV addiction gets the best of him and Veruca gets her comeuppance via squirrel – but the poor, young Charlie Bucket manages to prove his integrity. The musical was an audience favourite in London, but received a cooler reception in New York, where it got mixed reviews. Time Out New York's critic wasn't the greatest fan – you can read his two-star r
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.
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.
It was the final project he worked on before his death, and now David Bowie's Lazarus musical will have its Australian premiere in Melbourne, thanks to the Production Company. The musical played New York in 2015 and London in 2016, with direction by the theatre world's leading auteur, Ivo van Hove.
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.