Critics' choice theatre shows in Sydney
If you've seen The Greatest Showman (and there's a good chance you have, given it's the fifth most successful movie musical ever) you probably remember the scene where a bearded lady played by Keala Settle sings 'This is Me'. It's an uplifting number where a group of misfits plucked from obscurity by circus leader PT Barnum declare their self determination. But it's also total nonsense. See, the real PT Barnum was no champion for people of colour or people with disability. In fact, he's pretty well known for exploiting them in nasty ways with his "freak shows" and displays of Indigenous people. Now a group of First Nations artists are telling the real story of Barnum's circuses and freak shows as part of a new cabaret created for the Sydney Opera House. Created by the Opera House's head of First Nations programming Rhoda Roberts, the show follows several performers who ended up in Barnum's circuses and shows like them. It's difficult territory, but given the backdrop of circuses and travelling shows, you can expect plenty of razzle dazzle in this vibrant fusion of vaudeville, burlesque, cabaret and circus performance. One of the stories in the show is of Tambo, one of 17 Aboriginal people who were taken from Hinchinbrook and Palm Islands in 1883 to be part of a Barnum show. They were considered "human oddities" and were eventually cast as "the Aboriginal Cannibal Boomerang Throwers". That's just the tip of the iceberg, and this show doesn't shy away from taking us all t
The ballet Sylvia falls very firmly into the “neglected classic” category, and has been rarely performed since it premiered more than 150 years ago. “It’s sadly neglected, and I think it has one of the great scores written for ballet,” Australian Ballet artistic director David McAllister says. And you don’t have to believe just McAllister; Tchaikovsky famously said that Léo Delibes’ score was better than anything he had written, including Swan Lake. The ballet draws its narrative from Greek mythology, following Sylvia, a chaste, ferocious huntress who swears off love but eventually falls for a human man. “The thing that’s always been difficult is that the story is fairly convoluted,” McAllister says. “Sometimes those Greek, Arcadian stories don’t really play for a modern audience. But Stanton has done a lot of work to make it a lot more resonant today, and not just looking at Sylvia and Diana, but the whole idea of Greek mythology and how it fits into our lives today.” The female dancers of the company will be getting in touch with their inner warriors (much like the male dancers did last year with Spartacus) and will learn to sword fight for the production. “The boys have been battling each other up in Spartacus, and now the girls are going to be fencing themselves into a frenzy next year.”
It's time to don your ballet shoes and practice your plié – Billy Elliot the Musical is on its way back to Australian shores for a tenth anniversary tour. The British musical blockbuster is opening at the Sydney Lyric in October, with four freakishly talented youngsters sharing the title role: Omar Abiad (12, from Brisbane), River Mardesic (10, from Melbourne), Wade Neilsen (12, from Newcastle) and Jamie Rogers (12, from Canberra). They're joined by Australian musical theatre stalwart Kelley Abbey as the tough-as-nails ballet teacher Mrs Wilkinson, and Justin Smith as Billy's father. The musical is set against the background of the 1984/85 UK coal miners' strike and tells the story of Billy, a miner's son who dreams of becoming a professional ballet dancer. Lee Hall, who wrote the popular 2000 film upon which the musical is based, adapted the story for the stage with musical superstar Elton John, who penned the score. Elton John said: "Billy Elliot for me is one of the most rewarding and creative works of my career. I have very fond memories of the Sydney production in 2007 as it was the first city outside of the UK we mounted the show and found many incredibly talented children who would go on to carry the show through its successful Australian run." After opening on London's West End in 2005 – where it scored a five-star review from Time Out London – the show had its Australian premiere in 2007, winning a record-equalling seven Helpmann Awards including Best Musical. Tw
The annual cultural celebration is the big one on Sydney’s summer must-do list, and the festival’s contemporary programming always manages to surprise. Last year’s highlights included the Helpmann Award-winning Counting and Cracking – a play that transformed Sydney Town Hall into a Sri Lankan village, and Joel Bray's very intimate solo show performed inside a hotel room, Biladurang. In 2020, Sydney Festival will run for 19 days from January 8-26. The program will no doubt include experimental art and premiere performances. Check back in on Wednesday, October 30 to read about the full program.
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
Irish writer Martin McDonagh is on a bit of a roll in the film world at the moment – his 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture – but he came to the attention of the world with his plays. The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a pitch-black comedy set in the Irish village of Leenane. The play follows Maureen, a 40-year-old woman who gets her first chance at love, but whose cruel and manipulative mother sets about destroying it. Rebel Wilson was initially set to play Maureen but pulled out of the production due to scheduling conflicts, but will be replaced by Orange is the New Black star Yael Stone. Noni Hazlehurst, Toby Schmitz and Shiv Palekar will also appear in the Paige Rattray-directed production The play will be performed in STC’s biggest venue, the 896-seat Roslyn Packer Theatre.
There’s a whole lot of joyful noise at Belvoir right now. Fangirls, a new Australian musical by Yve Blake, is an ode to the agony and ecstasy of teen longing – the feeling of loving so much you might actually, literally, die. And what better lens to view this feeling than through the love for a boy band heartthrob? Edna (played by Blake) is obsessed with Harry from True Connection (Aydan, who made waves on The Voice). He takes lead vocals on all the group’s best songs and has the best hair (though they all have great hair). Edna's friendships – both IRL and online – are constructed in large part by their big, swoony, celebrity crushes. Edna is having a bit of a tough time as the scholarship kid in a school full of rich kids and a mum that just doesn’t understand, and she feels a kinship with the unreachable Harry, who surely also feels trapped in his life. She’s sure that, if you pause concert videos at the right timestamp, you can see a real sadness in his eyes. If only they could run away together – an impossible notion, perhaps, but not in fanfiction, which Edna writes and shares online. But when True Connection announces an Australian tour, everything changes. What if Edna can make her fic come true? Fangirls is operating on two main narrative threads: the first is this story of Edna, her mother (Sharon Millerchip), and her complicated friendships with Brianna (Kimberly Hodgson) and Jules (Chika Ikogwe) – plus her world of fan community (best represented by James Ma
This is a review of the March 2019 season of The Choir of Man. The show is returning to the Opera House for an encore season in November. We all know that Sydney has lost plenty of bars, clubs and late-night venues in recent years, but we’re not totally alone in that struggle. If you look to the UK, the neighbourhood pub is under threat; across England, Scotland and Wales, pubs are folding at a rate of one every 12 hours. The number of small pubs – the ones with fewer than ten employees, and the kind that tends to prop up a community – has almost halved between 2001 and 2018. The Choir of Man, a breakthrough hit of the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe that falls somewhere between pub gig, cabaret, choral performance and scrappy musical, is an ode to pub culture and the communities that exist within them. There’s not much going on in terms of narrative, but there are nine men from England and Ireland onstage leading the audience through a night at their local. George Bray is the narrator; Sean Keany is the angel-voiced tenor known as the “Casanova”; Christopher Norton is the deceptively gentle “beast”; Richard Lock is the “pub bore”, who dresses like a character from an Agatha Christie novel. Each has their moment to shine and all are superb singers – Lock delivers an impressive rendition of ‘The Impossible Dream’ while attempting to make a house out of coasters, Keany belts the bejesus out of Adele’s ‘Hello’, and Bray performs a touching version of Luther Vandross’s ‘Dance with My Fa
It’s been 35 years since French Canadian street performers Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix joined forces to create a circus company that would go on to become the largest theatrical producer in the world. Cirque du Soleil is now a global brand so successful it’s recognised just about everywhere, and it’s a name that comes with certain expectations. Australian audiences have known what to expect since 1999, when the company first visited our shores with the brightly colourful Saltimbanco. That show was a genuine revelation at the time. There were certainly local companies making artistically adventurous circus, but nobody was making circus of the same scale and design sophistication. Since then, Cirque has been a near constant presence in Australia with regular tours. The shows follow a similar formula (and why wouldn’t they, if they’re drawing in the crowds that Cirque attracts) and despite their beauty and spectacle, not all have felt as vibrant or as immediate as live circus should. Each one has roughly the same proportion of high-flying acrobatics to smaller-scale wonders, a clown crossing language barriers through audience interaction, a cast of strange, superhuman characters, a live band performing world music-inspired pop, bright and bold costumes and make-up, and a very loose narrative that’s usually about somebody discovering something. But it can be hard to recapture the same thrill of discovery that came with those earlier Cirque shows when audience expectati