Sydney is a hotbed for showstoppers, with major musicals passing through our theatres every month. 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.
If you were trying to trace contemporary, Broadway-style musical theatre back to its source, a lot of roads would lead you to Gilbert and Sullivan. Their Victorian-era ‘light operas’ – comic plays with songs – are a blueprint for musical comedies made even now: social codes are mocked, a couple falls in love (a funnier secondary couple does too) and it’s all tied up in a neat little package at the end. In this particular one, HMS Pinafore, the barriers of class are gently ripped apart on the deck of the Pinafore. Josephine (Katherine Allen), the daughter of the ship’s captain (Tobias Cole), is supposed to marry Sir Joseph Porter (Rory O’Keeffe), but she’s actually in love with solid, seafaring lad Ralph Backstraw (Billie Palin). He loves her too, but their love can never be. Or can it? If you’re of a certain generation, your best reference for G&S – and Pinafore – might just be the Simpsons episode Cape Feare, the one with the rakes; Bart distracts Sideshow Bob from murdering him by suggesting he perform the show’s entire score. The more theatrically inclined might remember a not dissimilar tongue-in-cheek take on the opera, by Simon Gallaher’s Esgee productions – one of a larrkinised G&S oeuvre that, thanks to VHS and DVD, wound up in a lot of family homes. Plus, it ended with an “omegamix” of G&S numbers that you will probably never get out of your head. (You’re welcome). With a cultural memory, then, of taking Pinafore and lovingly poking at it, Kate Gaul’s production
When Lee Hall wrote Billy Elliot, the surprise hit film about a young boy in a Northern UK mining village dreaming of a career as a dancer, he was largely writing his own story. Hall grew up working class, the son of a house painter, and his family didn’t really understand why he’d want to go to university and pursue a career as a writer. That tension between a young person’s burgeoning creative spirit and the realities of their family and community’s social situation is at the heart of the film, and it is just as central to the deeply moving 2005 musical version, with a book and lyrics by Hall, and music by Elton John, another son of the working class who was lifted by his own prodigious creative talent. Making a musical that runs on class tension is not the easiest thing to do (although My Fair Lady got it right), but Hall and John, along with director Stephen Daldry, have concocted a smart, surprising and exhilarating piece of theatre. The characters from the film – Billy, his tough-as-nails ballet teacher, Mrs Wilkinson, and his miner father and brother – are all blown up to theatrical proportions in a way that feels tactful and caring. This new tour, opening 12 years after the show first popped up in Sydney and won a swag of Helpmann Awards, proves the story’s endurability and ability to capture an audience’s heart. One key element of the set, designed by Ian MacNeil, has been adjusted slightly to make the show more tourable, but it's lost very little of its visual app
This is a review of the 2018 Melbourne premiere of School of Rock. Casting is yet to be confirmed for the Sydney premiere season. The Rock Musical is a subset with a very chequered past. For every Hair there’s a Rent; for every Hedwig and the Angry Inch there’s an American Idiot. Andrew Lloyd Webber might have seemed an odd choice to adapt the 2003 Jack Black film School of Rock for the stage, but then the man was synonymous with the rock musical when Jesus Christ Superstar ruled the world back in 1970. Some people think that show had as much to do with rock as Phantom of the Opera has to do with opera, but that’s kind of beside the point. It worked as a musical, more or less, and its songs entered the musical theatre canon almost instantly. School of Rock does seem now like a fairly obvious vehicle for a fully realised musical, but that’s hindsight talking. A lot could have gone wrong on the way to actualisation: the source material has a painfully thin plot, with really only one central gag; the music needs to be a pastiche but also has to convince as a completely integrated score; and the kids really have to be as talented as the story promises they will be. Any one of those could have brought this project to its knees, and not in that rock-god, slide-across-the-stage kind of way. While that plot might be thin, thankfully it’s still pretty good. Dewey (Brent Hill) is a man baby who mooches off his friend Ned (Zachary Pidd) so shamelessly that when posh private school Ho
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 January 2020 at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. The musical premiered on Broadway in 2008, where it was nominated for eight Tony Awards and ran for more than a year, during which time it was filmed for DVD and Blu-ray release. It then opened in London in 2011, where it ran for nearly two years. It's very much the ogre-meets-princess story you know and love from the original film. We regret to inform you that the stage version doesn't open with Smash Mouth's 'All Star', but it does end with 'I'm a Believer', and features a stellar bunch of other songs by Broadway heavyweight Jeanine Tesori. Ben Mingay will be greening up for the title role and will be joined by Lucy Durack as Princess Fiona, Todd McKenney as Lord Farquaad and Marcia Hines as the dragon.
Sing along if you know this one: Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. After becoming a surprise West End hit, Six the Musical is set to have its Australian premiere season at the Sydney Opera House from January 4 2020. Much like Hamilton before it, the pop musical is making history buffs out of legions of musical theatre tragics, telling the story of the six wives of Henry VIII. The premise of the show is sort of hilarious: all six are members of a pop band and trying to decide who should be the lead singer. It's basically a pop concert in which all six wives compete to determine who had the worst time with old mate Henry, and who should therefore be the star of the sextet. Together, they're a little bit Spice Girls, a little bit Destiny's Child and a little bit Little Mix, with a set of songs inspired by the pop stars of today. The original soundtrack has become a hit, having garnered 40 million streams on Spotify since its release. The musical was penned by young Brits Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, who wrote the show while they were studying at Cambridge. It went on to tour the UK extensively and played a season on the West End where it was nominated for five Olivier Awards. It's just announced it'll open on Broadway in March 2020, which means Sydney audiences will get to see it first.
In 1990, Jimmy Chi's musical about a runaway teenage Aboriginal boy on a wild and eye-opening road trip became a surprise hit. Bran Nue Dae premiered as part of Perth Festival – which is rather appropriate given that its central character Willie is on a road trip through Western Australia – and won a bunch of prestigious awards before touring the country for three years. It was Australia's first Aboriginal musical, long before Jess Mauboy took The Sapphires to the world. Now it's returning for a 30th anniversary tour produced by a group of Australia's biggest opera companies (but don't worry, the rock and pop-inspired score isn't suddenly going to get an operatic bent). The new production will be directed by Andrew Ross, who was behind the original staging, with choreography by Bangarra dancer Tara Gower. Based loosely on Chi's own life, the musical was written his band, Kuckles. And unlike a lot of the Aboriginal stories that white audiences were demanding at the time, Bran Nue Dae is bright, uplifting and very, very funny – although it still touches on political and social issues. The musical was turned into a film in 2009 with a starry Australian cast, including Jess Mauboy, Ernie Dingo, Magda Szubanski, Dan Sultan, Deborah Mailman and Missy Higgins. The new Australian cast will be led by Marcus Corowa as Willie, with Ernie Dingo reprising his role from the movie.
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.
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.
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.
For the first time in forever, Sydney's getting something first: the Broadway musical based on Disney's hit movie Frozen will have its Australian premiere in July 2020 at the Capitol Theatre.
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.
Sydney audiences have waited a long time to see the Broadway hit based on Alison Bechdel's widely celebrated graphic novel. The Tony Award's Best Musical winner is coming to Sydney in a brand new production.