Look sharp, triple threats! Sydney is a hotbed for showstoppers, with major musicals passing through our theatres every month, including both homegrown gems and large-scale spectacle from Broadway and the West End. These are all the biggest shows that are either currently playing or coming our way in the next year or so – from Disney's latest blockbuster to the long-awaited Australian premiere of Hamilton.
There’s no resisting the score of Bran Nue Dae. Created by Jimmy Chi and his band Kuckles, the music is a generous meld of country and early rock and roll. It’s an ebullient, clever, moving body of work that threads together optimism (the title track ‘Bran Nue Dae’), rebellion (‘Nothing I Would Rather Be’), cheek (‘Seeds You Might Sow’) and poignance (‘Listen To The News’). It’s an unforgettable lifeblood of song and an influential part of Australian musical theatre history. The plot, characters and book that hang around and between the score? Well, they’re more shaky. But it’s an open-hearted story of family, home and love; an examination of both the promise of reconciliation and its present failures; and it ends with a reunion of Shakespearean proportions. Even when the plot feels its thinnest, keep an ear out for the lyrics – they’re sharp, laced with celebration of pleasure and scathing critique of white supremacy in Australia. And at least, in the book’s weaker moments, it provides a vehicle for the kind of music that can spin you around, shake your core and lift you up. Bran Nue Dae, the first Australian Aboriginal musical, premiered in 1990 and it was reworked and expanded in the charming as all get out 2009 film directed by Rachel Perkins (who wrote the script along with Reg Cribb). The story: Willie (Marcus Corowa) is kicked out of his Catholic boarding mission school in Perth, but that’s fine – he doesn’t want to be a priest. He wants to get back to Broome with
Has there ever been a better time to be a prodigiously talented child performer in Sydney? Billy Elliot the Musical has just opened with its fleet of all-singing, all-dancing miniature triple threats, and there are some adorable roles for youngsters in Shrek the Musical, Fun Home and Frozen just around the corner. But the kids of School of Rock the Musical are something truly special – together, they don’t just form the ensemble for a musical, but a kick-ass rock group ready to rival plenty of grown-up bands. Their presence is absolutely essential for this stage version of the Jack Black-led 2003 film about a charming slacker who teaches a group of private school kids how to rock. In fact, they’re the musical’s driving force and bring more rockstar cred to the stage than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s songs and Julian Fellowes’ book. Things stick pretty closely to the film: Dewey Finn (Brent Hill) is a wannabe rockstar who assumes the identity of his roommate, a substitute teacher, to earn a little extra cash. He ends up at Horace Green, an ultra-competitive private elementary school, where the kids’ only creative outlet is classical music. They’re extraordinarily talented, but Dewey is keen to release their inner rockstars so he can win the Battle of the Bands. But there are significant obstacles in his way, not least of which is principal Rosalie Mullins (Amy Lehpamer), whose primary role is to ensure the kids achieve their parents’ dreams of getting into a top-tier university.
You’ve got to feel for the actor tasked with bringing the world’s most famous ogre to life on stage. Not only does it take around two hours to get into the elaborate prosthetics required to transform into the character (and we can only imagine what it must feel like to sweat into a facefull of silicone for the two-hour show that follows) but animating that enormous green face has got to be an enormous challenge. It’s just one of the many difficulties inherent in adapting a much-loved animated film for the stage, and admittedly one of the more successful elements of this musical version of the 2001 film Shrek. Ben Mingay contorts the facial greenery into all sorts of convincing expressions, and although he could push his physicality a little bit further, he sings gorgeously and is a believable presence, centring this spoof of fairytale tropes. For those unfamiliar with the source material, it concerns the titular green ogre, whose swamp – where he lives in blissful solitude away from torch and pitchfork-wielding villagers – is suddenly invaded by a mixed bag of fairytale characters, evicted from their homes by the villainous Lord Farquaad (Todd McKenney). To get his swamp back, Shrek agrees to go on a quest to rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona (Lucy Durack), who Farquaad intends to marry. Shrek is an unlikely hero and Fiona has lived almost her entire life locked high in a tower guarded by a ferocious dragon (voiced by Marcia Hines), but the pair find an unexpected connect
If every girl group of the ‘90s and early 2000s were as charismatic and sang as well as the Australian cast of Six, the history of pop music would be drastically different. The six women leading this frequently funny and ferocious pop musical from UK writers Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss are magnificently talented and a step above most of the popstars they draw inspiration from. But it’s that style of pop that’s the driving force of Six, which brings all of Henry VIII’s wives to the stage in a singing competition to decide who had the worst time with the Tudor king. The pop queens intend to ask their audience to vote for their fave. First up is Catherine of Aragon (Chloe Zuel), who was almost forced into a nunnery when the king’s attentions turned to Anne Boleyn (Kala Gare). It’s a tough story, but Boleyn, who lost her head in her marriage, must’ve surely had it worse, right? Well, what about Jane Seymour (Loren Hunter) who declares herself the only queen he truly loved, but who tragically died at 28, just two weeks after the birth of her child? Then there’s Anne of Cleves (Kiana Daniele) who never quite measured up to the king’s expectations and found herself living in her own castle, Katherine Howard (Courtney Monsma), who had already suffered her fair share of abuse before the king even entered her life, and Catherine Parr, who was married to the king when he died. The singing competition whips by in a flurry of electro pop, concert-style lighting and choreography, and dazz
This new musical from local writers and performers Ashleigh Taylor and Ben Bennett has been floating around for a while now but is getting its first major staging at the Hayes Theatre. It tells the story of Charlie and Ellie, a young couple trying to negotiate the demands of a long-distance relationship, both helped and hindered by technology. Expect to be reaching for the tissues in this tear-jerking romance, with a lush contemporary score reminiscent of Pasek and Paul (the songwriting team behind The Greatest Showman, Dear Evan Hansen and Dogfight). The musical was workshopped in Los Angeles earlier this year under Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz and had a development showing at the Hayes Theatre. Taylor and Bennett are starring in the production, alongside Pippa Grandison and Toby Francis. They'll be directed by Neil Gooding.
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.
Tumble out of bed and stumble to the theatre: Dolly Parton's stage version of hit 1980 comedy 9 to 5 is making its Australian debut in April 2020 at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. The musical features an entire score of Dolly songs, including the landmark title track '9 to 5', and follows the plot of the film pretty closely: workmates Doralee (played by Parton in the film), Violet (originally Lily Tomlin) and Judy (Jane Fonda) have been pushed to the edge by a narcissistic boss. So they hatch an elaborate plan to extract their revenge, and hilarity ensues. The book is by Patricia Resnick, who penned the film. The show opened on Broadway in 2009 and wasn't an enormous hit. But when it was reimagined for London's West End earlier this year, it became an immediate smash, scoring rave reviews and extending its run multiple times. That's the production Sydney audiences will get to see.
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 at Sydney's Qudos Bank Arena on June 4 before touring to Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Tickets go on sale December 6 at noon.
Here's an announcement for every Elsa and Anna in Australia: the Broadway musical based on Disney's hit movie Frozen will have its Australian premiere in July 2020 at the Capitol Theatre. The musical premiered on Broadway in March 2018 and features all the characters and songs from the movie – plus a few new tunes by the songwriters behind the film (Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez). And what makes this announcement really exciting? Sydney will be the first place Frozen is seen outside of Broadway; not even the West End has it yet! The show has been selling brilliantly on Broadway, but the reviews haven't been as ecstatic as Disney might have hoped. But hell, the chance to hear somebody belt the bejesus out of 'Let it Go' while an entire icy castle materialises around them is always enough to make us part with our hard-earned cash and buy a ticket. Time Out New York wrote, in a three-star review: "This Frozen is like Elsa in protective gloves; it plays things safe, and perhaps that will be enough for fans of the movie who want to see some version of it on Broadway. But in its reluctance to embrace its own potential enchantments, the show will likely leave many people lukewarm." The Australian cast has yet to be announced, but tickets are now on sale.
Australian musical theatre fans have been waiting for several years to see Fun Home, a deeply moving Tony Award-winning musical about a young woman discovering her sexuality and grappling with a difficult relationship with her father. She’s played by three actors at different stages of her life. “It comes from the world of Alison Bechdel, who is such an extraordinary graphic novelist and a feminist pioneer in terms of thinking about how we construct narratives and character,” Sydney Theatre Company artistic director Kip Williams says. Jeanine Tesori’s sweeping score and Lisa Kron’s book and lyrics have been lavished with praise – when Fun Home opened on the West End in 2017, Time Out London declared it the best new musical they’d seen since Hamilton – and the pair became the first female team to win the Tony for Best Original Score. “One of the things that’s so exciting about this production – aside from Dean Bryant directing it, who is one of the great musical theatre directors who we’re lucky enough to have in Australia – is this cast,” Williams says. “Having Lisa McCune back on our stages, but also having Maggie McKenna, our Muriel, back on our stages too, playing the college-aged Alison.” The cast also includes Ryan Gonzalez, Lucy Maunder, Adam Murphy and Chloe Zuel.
Recently announced shows
Sydney: are you ready to be in the room where it happens? By “it”, we mean Lin-Manuel Miranda’s record-smashing hip hop musical Hamilton, which is officially heading our way.
Praise the musical theatre gods: three massive shows have just been announced for Sydney over the next two years. That means it’s time for local musical nerds to start saving up their pennies.
Is it time for Opera Australia to rebrand as "Musicals Australia"? That's the impression you might get from a quick look at its just-announced 2020 Sydney season, which features no less than four musicals over the course of the year.