When Jersey Boys won four Tony Awards in 2006, it changed the shape of commercial musical theatre worldwide. Between it and the runaway success of 1999’s Mamma Mia, the jukebox musical – a narrative piece of theatre woven together with an artist or band’s discography – had critical acclaim and a new degree of artistic legitimacy to go along with hordes of nostalgia-happy fans. The bio-jukebox musical – a show that uses an artist’s music to tell its life story; a Behind the Music with jazz hands – wasn’t a new form on Broadway, but it became the hot new property after the 2006 Tony Awards, and Jersey Boys’ flashback-framed, milestone-hitting framework became the gold standard approach. We already loved these show here in Australia (home-grown hits like Shout! and The Boy From Oz pre-date Jersey Boys), but you can see Boys’ narrative, structural legacy in plenty of shows that have toured Australia since Jersey Boys first landed here for a staggering four-year run in 2009. To name a few: Georgy Girl: the Seekers Musical; Beautiful: the Carole King Musical; Dream Lover: the Bobby Darin Musical. Now Jersey Boys is back in Sydney. It’s a victory lap of sorts for the show that changed the musicals we, half a world away from Broadway, get to see. Does it still hold up? For the most part, yes. The success of Jersey Boys has always been down to its structure: it’s a well-oiled machine of storytelling. Book writers Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman allow each member of the Four Seas
The cliché that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter only really makes sense in a world of moral equivalence; we all know that a man like Nelson Mandela could only be a terrorist in the eyes of a villain. And of course, Dutch-governed South Africa, with its 44-year apartheid separating blacks and whites, was nothing if not villainous. “There were good people on both sides” is a sentence no current nor future leader of that country would dare to utter. A musical of Mandela’s story is one of those ideas that sounds almost feasible on paper – an ordinary man facing the cruelty of a poisonous regime rising “from prison resident to president” – but it proves glib and simplistic in practice. The great bulk of the blame lies in the score and the lyrics; Jean-Pierre Hadida and Alicia Sebrien are credited with the latter and Hadida alone seems responsible for the score (what drove two French people to think they were qualified to tell this story is anyone’s guess). Oh, and the choreographer is Johan Nus, whose career highlights include Magical Dream at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas. The bio-musical is a pretty grim subcategory of the traditional musical, and it shares the same irritating qualities of the bio-pic: it tends to leap from incident to incident, hitting beat after predictable beat; it tends to flatten and simplify any nuances of personality in the pursuit of an easily digestible character arc; it tends to settle for the blandest and most shallow of readings abou
Read about The Book of Mormon's $40 ticket lottery. In 2011, when The Book of Mormon first opened in New York City, it was a risky bet. It’s notoriously difficult for original shows to survive on Broadway – roughly four out of five shows fail to turn a profit – and a parody of religious fervour, packed with anarchic, puerile humour, written by ‘the South Park guys’, Trey Parker and Matt Stone? Not a sure thing. Their co-writer, Robert Lopez, had won a Tony and a Grammy Award for his subversive puppet musical Avenue Q, but repeat success wasn’t guaranteed. But as we now know, it was an immediate hit. Not even celebrities were guaranteed tickets, and prices skyrocketed to meet demand. Its cast recording was the highest-charting musical album in over forty years, until Hamilton smashed all records. Its two lead actors – Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad – booked sitcoms and Disney movies. In the seven years since, Robert Lopez has not only won the EGOT (the full complement of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards) in the shortest amount of time for any recipient, he’s the only person in the world to EGOT twice. The show has toured all over the US, has a long-running production in the West End, and recently opened in Sweden. So is it worth all of the fuss? Does it still hold up in 2018? The answer is yes. We follow two young Mormon missionaries, Type-A Narcissist Elder Price (Ryan Bondy) and Elder Cunningham (AJ Holmes), a mess with a geeky streak, as they’re paired up for their tw
Siblings Michael, Rosemarie and Constantine Costi clearly don’t spend their time together bickering over the TV remote. The trio, all successful creatives in their own right (Michael is a writer, Rosemarie a composer and Costantine a director), have banded together to create a new musical based on a 1842 short story by Russian novelist and playwright Nikolai Gogol. The darkly funny story of Nikolai, a lonely St Petersburg office worker who decides to sell everything he owns in order to buy a new overcoat and change his life forever, features a Russian jazz trio live on stage and stars Laura Bunting, Kate Cheel and Aaron Tsindos, with Charles Wu (also performing upstairs with An Enemy of the People) as the tragic Nikolai.
Just three years after he opened his globe-conquering megahit, The Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber premiered a musical that defied his audience's expectations. Aspects of Love is an intimate piece focusing on the relationship between an actress called Rose and a young student Alex, who becomes obsessed with her while travelling through France. It's based on a David Garnett novella of the same name and takes place across 17 years. It also features one of ALW's most best-known songs: 'Love Changes Everything'. The original West End production, directed by Trevor Nunn, wasn't exactly what you'd call a flop (it ran for three years, starting in 1989) but it didn't quite reach the same heights as other Lloyd Webber shows. But in the years since it's been given more intimate treatments, which is what inspired director Andrew Bevis to reimagine the work for the Hayes Theatre. "Aspects came right after Miss Saigon and Les Mis – there were barricades on stage and big helicopters – and it wasn’t overlooked but a little pushed aside because it wasn’t in the world of those mega-musicals," says Bevis. "It can now be looked at for what it was." Bevis and co-producer Nathan M. Wright are bringing an orchestra of 12 to the intimate Hayes Theatre and have now announced their full cast. Lloyd Webber's production company, Really Useful Group, has been intimately involved in the casting process and is overseeing the production from London. Playing Alex, the young student role origin
From January 2019 Sydney 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 opening at the Capitol Theatre early in the new year. 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 review here. The Broadway production was directed by triple Tony Award winner Jack O'Brien, who will helm
It's not every musical that manages to sell out its entire run before opening night. Then again, not every musical is written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the hottest musical theatre star on the planet, and not every musical is staged at the Hayes Theatre, Sydney's intimate home of musical theatre, responsible for many of the most magical productions to play Sydney in recent years. If you missed out on tickets to the initial Hayes season of this musical, here's some news that'll have you dancing all the way to Washington Heights: it's moving from the 110-seat Potts Point venue to the 2,600-seat Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. It's set to play a limited return season reuniting much of the original Sydney cast, including Olivia Vasquez, Luisa Scrofani, Margi de Ferranti, Marty Alix, Ana Maria Belo, Monique Montez and Libby Asciak. Stephen Lopez will be joining the company as Usnavi, taking over from Ryan Gonzalez, who is currently wowing audiences in Jersey Boys, and Joe Kalou will play Benny. Read our four-star review of the Hayes Theatre season of In The Heights: While American composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda is a legitimate superstar thanks to his blockbuster rap musical Hamilton, he wrote an absolute gem for his 2008 Broadway debut. There’s a contained energy and slickness to In the Heights that cuts directly to the heart – to describe it as an auspicious debut is a huge understatement. Miranda, with book writer Quiara Algeria Hudes, has crafted an intricate and in
Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour has been going strong for seven years now, bringing a touch of spectacle – and a boatload of fireworks – to Sydney each autumn. But things will be a little different in 2019 as the company steps away from the operatic repertoire with its first outdoor musical, West Side Story. Leonard Bernstein's score is about as operatic and sophisticated as musical theatre gets, meaning the show has long been performed by opera companies. Opera Australia artistic director Lyndon Terracini said: “I’ve always loved West Side Story, it’s one of the greatest pieces ever written, and I’ve been wanting to include it in the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour repertoire since we started the program seven years ago. “The setting is perfect, with the city skyline in the background, you won’t get a better stage backdrop in the world, and I’ve said from the start, if a piece is right, then we’ll do it, we don’t want to be bound by preconceptions.” For this new production, Opera Australia is reuniting two members of the dream team behind La Traviata, the first ever Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour in 2012: American director Francesca Zambello and veteran Australian set designer Brian Thomson (who's designed everything from the stage version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to the first ever production of The Rocky Horror Show). Tony will be played by Alexander Lewis, who recently won rave reviews in the company's The Merry Widow, and Maria will be Julie Lea Goodwin, who previo
The 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever is known for a few things: extraordinary disco dancing, some of the greatest songs ever written for the dancefloor, and John Travolta. Travolta mightn't be in this stage musical based on the movie, but two out of three ain't bad. The film was first turned into a musical in 1998 for the London's West End, where it ran for two years, before heading to Broadway. This new version premiered in Paris last year and features Bee Gees hits 'Stayin' Alive', 'How Deep Is Your Love', 'Night Fever', 'Tragedy' and 'More Than A Woman'. In this version, most of those songs are performed by three sings who'll perform alongside a cast of dancers (including those who'll play the leading roles of Tony and Stephanie, to be announced at a later date). The singers are Paulini (The Bodyguard), Natalie Conway (The X Factor) and Nana Matapule (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical).
Sydney, Muriel has arrived. With an updated book by original screenwriter PJ Hogan and music by pop intelligentsia Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall, Muriel’s Wedding the Musical will leave you smiling for days. Directed by our finest big-picture showman Simon Phillips, this is the film-to-stage adaptation critics, audiences and creatives dream of: an updated and evolved version of the original story that stands proudly as its own creation. Muriel (Maggie McKenna, in an astonishing debut) is the outcast in the fictional, Tweed Heads-inspired coastal town of Porpoise Spit. The locals worship beach bodies and traditional gender stereotypes (the women, the ensemble chirp, don’t have any pubic hair). Muriel, who still listens to ABBA in 2017, and isn’t stick-thin or blessed with social graces, is an outsider. She’s bullied by family and friends. She hates herself, and the reality of that loathing is never downplayed, her anguish sensitively explored in numbers ‘Lucky Last’ and ‘Why Can’t That Be Me?’ Her only allies are ABBA (Jaime Hadwen, Sheridan Harbridge, Mark Hill and Aaron Tsindos) – who appear in Muriel’s times of need as her friends, confidantes, and conscience. Their magical appearances satisfyingly solve the dilemma of adapting this film into a musical: how to marry its memorable use of ABBA songs with a brand-new and contemporary score? Of course, Muriel isn’t the only person suffocating in Porpoise Spit. Her mother Betty (a heartbreaking Justine Clarke) is her
Recently announced shows
It's time for Sydney's boys to don their ballet shoes – Billy Elliot the Musical is on its way back to Australian shores for a tenth anniversary tour.
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.