Amidst the suckiness that was 2016, Australian theatre offered a plethora of options to escape the world for a few hours. I didn’t even get to see everything I wanted and I am still yet to see Kinky Boots (although I have my tickets). I’d expected Matilda to be the clear standout of the year but it was not the case. Read on for some brief thoughts (as there are a lot to get through) on musical theatre in 2016.
Ghost (Regent Theatre)
It was hard to take Rob Mills seriously in his first dramatic role, but Jemma Rix was strong in her first non-Elphaba role in what seemed like a million years. It’s a weird musical, and certainly not one of the best, but it had its moments.
Saturday Night Fever (Stage Art, Chapel off Chapel)
Cringeworthy AF because of how offensive it is to women, but it almost became a parody in that sense. Mike Snell in the John Travolta role outshone everyone – he was too good for this.
Fiddler on the Roof (Princess Theatre)
My first time seeing Fiddler and I was pleasantly surprised given I’m not a huge fan of these older musicals. The story resonated well in our current times and Anthony Warlow really can do no wrong.
In the Heights (Stage Art, National Theatre St Kilda)
The Lin-Manuel Miranda musical that isn’t Hamilton. Stephen Lopez as Usnavi was incredible and in fact the entire cast were so strong it’s crazy to think few of them have actually been in professional shows. I’m guessing it’s because they’re all quite short… Anna Francesca Armenia as Nina was a highlight. Benny being white was somewhat disappointing.
Matilda (Princess Theatre)
I expected to add this to my list of favourite musicals but ultimately I was a little disappointed. I’m putting it mostly down to Aussie kids having a hard time grasping British accents especially when the dialogue is quick and wordy. However, Tim Minchin’s music is beautiful and Roald Dahl always knows how to make a point. I also went in with extremely high expectations which doesn’t help.
tick tick… BOOM! (Pursued by Bear, Chapel off Chapel)
Jonathon Larson’s autobiographical musical. I held it together until the end when they put his photo up and played a few bars from Rent. OH GOD WHY DID HE HAVE TO DIE?! I hate the world.
Little Shop of Horrors (Comedy Theatre)
Absolutely on point. Every element was terrific. Esther Hannaford and Brent Hill were sublime, the set design, costumes, and choreography all fabulous and Dean Bryant is just a bonafide genius. SEE EVERYTHING HE DIRECTS.
Heathers (The Playhouse, Arts Centre)
Favourite show of the year. I went in knowing none of the music and this is now one of my top fifteen, if not ten, favourite musicals of all time. HOW HAS THIS NOT BEEN ON BROADWAY YET?! Murder has never been more fun.
Megan Hilty in concert (Hamer Hall)
Bow down, people. This woman is something else. Hilarious, sweet and THAT VOICE. It’s a good thing she did SMASH’s ‘They Just Keep Moving the Line’ near the start or I may have had a stroke waiting for it.
Songs for a New World (Blue Saint Productions, Chapel off Chapel)
Jason Robert Brown. Them feels. A ‘song cycle’ rather than a cohesive narrative, I didn’t always understand what was happening or who was who but there were some great songs in there and the cast – including one of my faves, John O’Hara – were all flawless.
Singin’ in the Rain (Her Majesty’s Theatre)
I cherish the memories I have of seeing this show back in 2002 when it was led by Todd McKenney. I was pretty damn excited until they shat all over my dreams with this *new* interpretation. YOU DON’T MESS WITH PERFECTION. Also, Adam Garcia was not even that good. Jack Chambers as Cosmo was lovely but bloody hell I was so disappointed in this production.
The Sound of Music (Regent Theatre)
I may not have even seen this if it weren’t for my brother wanting to go and Amy Lehpamer being cast as the lead. THANK GOD I DID. One of the best shows of the year. I cried multiple times. One because of the Nazis. One because of Do Re Mi. THE CHILDREN! Oh my, how could I forget what a classic this is? Perhaps the Carrie Underwood TV version disillusioned me.
Funny Girl (State Theatre, Arts Centre)
First time seeing Funny Girl and now I see why the Broadway revival got canned. It’s so freakin’ boring. Even queen Caroline O’Connor didn’t make this worth seeing and isn’t Fanny Brice meant to be a teenager at the start? I was glad when it ended.
Avenue Q (Comedy Theatre)
Puppet sex. There’s really no need to say more is there? Music by the guy who did Frozen but yeah, if you take your kids you were seriously uninformed going in. Ross Hannaford, Sophie Wright and Vincent Hooper all gold. It’s ridiculous but also has a pretty sweet story about trying to find your purpose in your 20s when all you have is an arts degree. I can relate.
We Will Rock You (Regent Theatre)
Jaz Flowers stole the show in a supporting role. No surprises there. Corny as hell but has a great message about keeping music real and obviously the music is awesome because it’s Queen. But don’t be one of those killjoys who complains that the singers don’t sound like Freddie Mercury. No freakin’ shit.
The Color Purple (Stage Art, Chapel off Chapel)
Probably the best production ever put on at Chapel off Chapel. Who knew we had so many talented black musical performers? Seriously, WHERE HAVE THEY BEEN? The big shows have no excuse. Stop importing all the black parts. This show is not exactly enjoyable but it is powerful as hell and OH MY GOD JAYME-LEE HANEKOM – WHO EVEN ARE YOU? Thando Sikwila was tremendous also and the difference a year makes from when she was in Dreamgirls showed in her newfound level of confidence on stage.
Dusty (The Playhouse, Arts Centre)
Amy Lehpamer is the absolute shit. Holy crap. Perfection personified. Lots of catchy songs by the great Dusty Springfield and while it is a pretty standard jukebox musical Amy and Elenoa Rokobaro made this absolutely worth seeing. Also you don’t see interracial lesbian relationships portrayed all that often so that was a plus.
And a few West End musicals that I saw in September…
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane)
Magical, fun, great kid roles, and music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Jonathan Slinger was wonderful as Willy Wonka and the kids were pretty damn excellent. No one beats Roald Dahl for revolting child characters and obvious comments on bad child-rearing. Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee – they’re just so delightfully horrid. Get that shit to Melbourne ASAP.
In the Heights (King’s Cross Theatre)
I couldn’t help it. This was the closest I could get to Hamilton. And Benny was black this time. But to be honest this wasn’t all that better than the awesome Stage Art production here in Melbourne. Nina was the highlight again and even more impressive since I found out Gabriela Garica didn’t even speak English a few years ago. I LOVE YOU LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA. Write another musical, stat!
Les Misérables (Queen’s Theatre)
I finally saw Les Mis on the turntable!!!! And even though this is probably the fifty millionth cast turnover they’ve had it was still absolutely brilliant. Peter Lockyear and Jeremy Seacombe were incredible as Valjean and Javert respectively and this really is one of the best musicals of all time. There was a slight set malfunction where Cosette ran around aimlessly on an empty stage before leaving again. Which, let’s be honest, was hilarious.
Motown the Musical (The Shaftesbury Theatre)
I jinxed it. I said to the lady next to me that hopefully the seats in front us stayed empty. It started, it was wonderful, I was so excited. Motown is awesome! Then some morons came late to the seats in front and did not even seem to realise that you’re not allowed to VERY UNSUBTLY hold up your phone and record the show. Do we actually need a test that theatre-goers need to sit prior to entry? So yeah, I think it was a pretty great show but it was soured by morons.
In summary, my top 5 for the year were:
2. Les Misérables (West End)
3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (West End)
4. Little Shop of Horrors
5. The Sound of Music
Onwards to 2017… bring on Kinky Boots, The Book of Mormon, Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Spring Awakening, Aladdin and hopefully more!