With Autumn upon us it's the perfect excuse to be indoors – and you're truly spoilt for choice, with two major musicals in town at opposite sides of town, and a mix of American and Australian classics, new work and international experiments in between.
For a musical largely set in a Northampton shoe factory, Kinky Boots is surprisingly energetic. Directed and choreographed by Broadway favourite Jerry Mitchell, it’s buoyed by buckets of charm, a gung-ho approach to storytelling, and – in this Australian iteration – superlative performances. The show barrels along in a shower of sequins and triumphant lyrics – almost distracting its audience from significant narrative issues. The true story turned 2005 film turned Tony-winning Broadway hit follows Charlie Price (played here by Sydney’s Toby Francis, a fine actor with a winning rock tenor), who inherits a struggling shoe factory from his father. With no real passion for the business (or anything much, including his fiancée Nicola) he undertakes the near-impossible job of saving the family business and the livelihoods of its workers. How does he do it? Inspired by a chance meeting with drag performer Lola (Callum Francis, an irresistible onstage presence), Charlie decides to go into the business of ‘kinky boots’ – making shoes in typically female design, but with the ability to support the weight of drag queens. Lola comes from London to tiny Northampton to help design the new line. Every story beat from here is what you would expect: Lola and Charlie are paralleled as men with father issues; Lola and the ‘unsophisticated’ blue-collar men butt heads; Charlie discovers his true passion in life (shoes, and a new love interest); and there’s a late-stage conflict that throws the
Alex Harding’s coming of age story, first produced at Darlinghurst's Stables Theatre in 1988, pulls back the curtain on Kings Cross in the 1940s and 50s – at a time when it was both a home for the bohemian set and the epicentre of Sydney’s gay community; and over a period in which Australia transitioned from post-war euphoria to the austerity of the Menzies era. Shaun Rennie (Hayes Theatre Co’s You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown) returns to direct an excellent cast that includes Hayden Tee (Les Miserables), Tim Draxl (Foxtel’s A Place to Call Home), Blazey Best (Hayes Theatre Co’s Miracle City) and Matthew Backer (Sydney Theatre Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Only Heaven Knows was previously revived in the 1990s with David Campbell in the lead. Rennie says the musical’s message endures to this day: “At its heart Only Heaven Knows is about community and the family we choose. By looking back it reminds us of how far we’ve come, but also forces us to see how far we have yet to go.”
Partway through Act One of The Bodyguard Musical, the set transforms into a karaoke bar and a group of three drunk women stumble onstage. They screlt their way through ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’. They’re loud and they’re laughing and they’re having the time of their lives, all angst drained out of the song by their giddy, messy, play. It’s great fun. These three women are exactly the right audience for the musical itself. To enjoy it, it helps to have a few sparkling wines under your belt, and you should be prepared to laugh at the oh-so-dramatic plot twists that feel far more silly than serious. It’s more fun that way. This scene could almost be a spot-on deconstruction of the entire show, but this musical isn’t self-aware enough to pull it off. If you’ve seen the inexplicably enduring 1992 film (starring Whitney Houston with a truly great soundtrack – mostly Whitney), you’ll know exactly what you’re in for: an A-list singer-turned actor, Rachel Marron (Paulini Curuenavuli, of Australian Idol fame), starts receiving death threats. The bodyguard hired to protect her (TV constant and accomplished dancer Kip Gamblin) is stoic and handsome and on the straight-and-narrow. The annoy each other; they fall for each other. Can they ever truly be together? Will Rachel lose her life to her stalker? Is Rachel’s sister Nicki (The Voice’s Prinnie Stevens) going to win the heart of the bodyguard instead? And exactly how many Whitney numbers can you fit into a stage musical? (16, inclu
Main stage and middle range theatre
Broken things are often accompanied by beauty. Think of the gold and silver threads running through lovingly restored, once-shattered Japanese urns. Think of gorgeous love songs wrought from pain. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Is not that kind of play. It’s one of those ugly breaks. The play is a compound fracture with bone and blood exploding through skin. It’s a tree struck by lightning, burnt out and felled. It’s disarmingly elegant and frequently brutal. George (Darren Gilshenan) and Martha (Genevieve Lemon) are a longtime married couple and well-practiced in the art of insults and barbed in-jokes, sprinkled with dashes of affection and loathing. They have a rich, risky rapport that turns bitter, sour, and then rotten over the course of the play, which takes place between 2am and dawn. They’ve been at a university party – George is an associate history professor; Martha’s father is president of the school – and Martha has invited a freshly-arrived young couple home for drinks. They are good-looking Nice Guy Nick (Brandon McClelland) and his perfectly put together, seemingly demure wife Honey (Claire Lovering). It isn’t long before Nick and Honey are pawns within, and witness to, George and Martha’s remarkable destruction. Written in 1962, the play is frequently staged across the world, and assigned as a high school English text. It endures; playwright Edward Albee’s acerbic wit and relentless distaste for polite social norms has seen to that. And to play George or M
It’s impossible to imagine an audience member who is not thoroughly charmed by Belvoir’s production of Anne Washburn’s Mr Burns – so long as they were born before, say, 1970. The narrative is peppered with pop cultural Easter eggs, and while you don’t have to understand them all, you do have to be somewhat au fait with The Simpsons. The setting is a post-apocalyptic America (or: ‘post-electric’) in which a small fraction of the population has survived nuclear disaster and the ensuing anarchy. Washburn pitches camp with a small group of survivors: Matt (played here by musical theatre’s Brent Hill), Jenny (Esther Hannaford), Colleen (Jude Henshall), Maria (Jacquy Phillips) and Sam (Ezra Juanta). As the play opens, they’re passing time drinking stream-cooled beers and sodas around a bin fire, and trying to collectively reassemble and re-tell the ‘Cape Feare’ episode from Season Five of The Simpsons (itself a spoof of Martin Scorsese’s 1991 re-do of the 1962 film Cape Fear), in which Sideshow Bob is released from prison and sets out to kill his longtime nemesis Bart. It’s an entirely comforting scene – until a sound from the darkness startles the group into pulling their hitherto concealed firearms. Violence (or the threat of violence) is never far away in Washburn’s play, and becomes a frequent reminder that physical survival and the urge to tell stories are not so disparate on the ladder of human needs. The second act, in which storytelling becomes a literal act of survival
Read our interview with Nakkiah Lui about Black is the New White. You’re meeting your new fiancé’s family for the first time. What’s the worst thing that could go wrong? Having them stumble across you stark naked. In Black is the New White, the laugh-out-loud new offering by Sydney Theatre Company, Nakkiah Lui takes the ‘dysfunctional family Christmas comedy’ and gives it a further, ball-crunching twist. Charlotte Gibson is a successful Aboriginal lawyer from a wealthy family; her fiancé Francis Smith is a white musician whose experimental classical compositions don’t bring in an income. When he comes back to her family’s holiday home to meet the Gibsons – who are like royalty within their community – for Christmas, Francis is exposed in more ways than one. With the likes of the ABC’s Black Comedy and Malthouse Theatre’s Blak Cabaret and Blaque Showgirls, Gamilaroi/Torres Strait Islander Lui has built a career on offering up sometimes uncomfortable truths about race and gender relations in Australia, through humour. Her previous full-length play in Sydney, 2015’s Kill the Messenger, was a frank look at institutional racism that nevertheless included comedic elements within its arsenal. With Black is the New White, Lui is back at the firmly comic end of the spectrum. The play was conceived, in part, through Lui’s own experiences as a university-educated, inner-city dwelling law graduate. Smarting that only one depiction of Indigenous Australia ever seemed to grace the nat
Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. An Oscar-nominated movie adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: a parable has an aura of bigness about it. Big reputation. Big themes. And yet, as this Apocalypse Theatre Company production at the Old Fitzroy demonstrates, Doubt is at heart a chamber piece. Played for 50 people in a small theatre, with its characters close enough to touch, it is completely engrossing. St Nicholas Church and school, The Bronx, New York, 1964. The Catholic Church is in a period of self-examination and rapid change (crisis for some) prompted by the reforms of The Second Vatican Council. Worldwide, Catholic theologians and bishops are grappling with political, economic, and technological change and – pertinent to this play – the role of women in the Church. At first glance, Father Flynn (played here by Damian de Montemas) strikes as a Vatican II poster boy. He’s young (late thirties), progressive, approachable and eloquent when sermonising. He’s got game on the basketball court, too. The St Nicks boys like him, not least for his post-workout “bull sessions” over Kool-Aid and cookies. He’s notably kind to one boy in particular – Donald Muller, the school’s only African-American student. But Sister Aloysius (Belinda Giblin), a stern senior nun of the old-school variety (she frets over the moral implications of students being allowed to write with ballpoint pens), smells a rat. Or worse. Though she has no di
The Belvoir audience is on its last legs, says Kutisah (actor-writer Jacob Rajan) by way of introduction. He’s had a chat with artistic director Eamon Flack, who told him, in confidence probably, that the typical punter is either stressed, depressed, overweight or drunk. Kutisah is undaunted. In fact, he says, tonight’s crowd of stressed-out self-medicators should consider this evening as a form of therapy. Good for the soul. Good for the mind. Good, even, for infections of the urinary tract. I can only attest to its effectiveness in the first two areas, but after watching this remarkable exercise in storytelling unfold, nothing would surprise me. Adapting an Indian folktale known in English as Punchkin, Rajan spirits us away to Bangalore, India, for a serpentine tale of unrequited love. Kutisah is a humble chai seller working in the city’s vast Central Railway Station. One morning, seven young sisters approach him. They have been abandoned by their father. They have no money, no friends, no one to look after them. Kutisah is no guardian angel but he does give them space to do a little busking, which in no time at all, rakes in a pile of money. The singing and beauty of one sister in particular, Balna, captures the attention of a portly policeman, Punchkin. The girls’ ability to rake in the rupees also attracts thugs in the employ of a feared Bangalore crime boss known as The Fakir. Narrated by an hilariously unreliable guide and unfolding over 90 minutes, Guru of
Art history is alive and well in the Australian zeitgeist. Local author Heather Rose’s Marina Abramović-inspired novel The Museum of Modern Love just won the 2017 Stella Prize, and Hannah Gadsby structured part of her Barry-Award winning Melbourne Comedy Festival show Nanette around famous old paintings; and earlier this year the Art Gallery of NSW’s Nude exhibition turned extra arty when Sydney Dance Company danced their response to the collection. Between the Streetlight and the Moon, a new play by Australian writer Melita Rowston, slots into this larger cultural conversation reckoning with famous artists and their art, echoing questions we’ve been hearing a lot this year: who were these people behind the art? Who are these women captured in men’s painting? Who are the fully realised humans behind the enigmatic ‘muses’ – women who sat for those famous men? Is the art world sexist? Zadie (Lucy Miller) is an Australian artist turned London-based art historian who can’t seem to finish her thesis. She’s obsessed with the rumoured love affair between 19th century painters Berthe Morisot and Édouard Manet, to the point that it’s self-destructive. Her inability to solve the riddle sees her suspended and uprooted in Europe, so Zadie’s advisee and feminist-adjacent co-conspirator Dominique (Joanna Downing, who shoulders a shudderingly broad French accent) suggests they go looking for – and potentially steal – the couple’s lost love letters from museum archives. And then we meet t
Hidden Sydney brings to life legends of Kings Cross's history – from its cosmopolitan ’50s to its debauched ’60s and its seedy ’70s. Billed as "immersive cabaret", the interactive show invites audiences through a laneway entrance at the back of World Bar (re-cast as 'The Nevada', the infamous brothel that once occupied the building) and up four levels of the building, one 'scene' at a time – most of them centred around songs. A cast of minor characters (bouncers, barmen, sex workers) keep the action moving between rooms, with an ensemble of well-known Sydney performers delivering larger roles. Property developer and crime lord Abe 'Mr Sin' Saffron and Les Girls legend Carlotta are name-checked early, and a whole sequence is dedicated to the fate of alt-publisher and anti-development campaigner Juanita Neilson (who went missing, presumed murdered, in 1975). Occultist and "sex magic" enthusiast Rosaleen Norton and street poet Bea Miles are just two of the colourful characters who get their own scenes.