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Jul 7, 2010

Melbourne comes alive to the sound of musicals

Melbourne is alive to the sound of musicals. Over the next few months the city will host two of the greatest shows ever made, and two of the blockbusting newer works, in a feast for musical theatre lovers.

Melbourne is alive to the sound of musicals. Over the next few months the city will host two of the greatest shows ever made, and two of the blockbusting newer works, in a veritable feast for musical theatre lovers.

Next week, local not-for-profit The Production Company revives the Rogers and Hammerstein classic The King and I at the Arts Centre’s State Theatre. The short-run season — the first of a trio of shows including Todd McKenney’s maraca-shaking The Boy from Oz and the cross-dressing Sugar — stars Chelsea Gibb as Anna and Juan Jackson as the melting-hearted King. Tickets are sparse.

Later this month, Mary Poppins lands at Her Majesty’s Theatre. And she probably won’t leave for at least 12 months. This has hit written all over it: a beloved Disney tale, a familiar soundtrack and the sort of truly spectacular staging that even non-theatre-goers will part with well over $100 to see. The Australian tells the fascinating story of how Disney and mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh brought this to the stage; millions have now seen it in New York and London.

I was one of them in New York late last year, and was actually left a little unimpressed. Mary is mean — more in fitting with Australian-born P.L. Travers’ book, perhaps; relatively unknown WAAPA graduate Verity Hunt-Ballard has a daunting job as Mary — and there was something strangely soulless about the extended story and new songs compared to the film. It won’t matter — the sets are jaw-dropping, the visual effects a revelation for live theatre and it will draw tourists to town in their thousands.

Next month? West Side Story salsas into the Regent Theatre, the sweeping all-singing, all-dancing saga with timeless appeal. They’re such great songs, from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim — Maria, Tonight, America, Somewhere — and the new Australian cast has been well-reviewed after its Sydney opening. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote this week:

“From an acting standpoint, the entire cast acquit themselves extremely well, animating this Romeo and Juliet story with plenty of sass and enthusiasm.”

And while the show doesn’t open until October, the publicity machine is in overdrive (is there a tram not adorned with its banners?) for Hairspray. I caught this one in London a couple of years ago — it’s damn good fun, as anyone who saw the movie remake would know, with an infectious score and a meaty story about American race relations in the 1960s.

The cast was announced last week — unknowns, surprisingly, but the show sells itself. With theatre veteran David Atkins directing, and TV dancing man Jason Coleman as choreographer, it will be interesting to see the Australian stamp on a well-worn global production. It will lock up the Princess Theatre for many, many months.

Melbourne beat out Sydney to host the Australian debut. Sin City smarted, but the southern capital has worked hard to earn its title as the Broadway of the southern hemisphere. The state government gets behind big shows — realising and reaping the economic benefit of theatre-based tourism — and the city has enough houses to accommodate multiple long-running productions.

Sydney doesn’t. With Wicked currently holed up at the Capitol Theatre (is there anyone yet to see it?), another Melbourne-made hit in Jersey Boys moving into the smaller Theatre Royal in September, and the pokies-subsidied Lyric Theatre at Star City only hosting shorter-run productions, the big shows inevitably land in Melbourne. Love Never Dies — the sequel to uber-hit The Phantom of the Opera — and the Tony-nominated jukebox tuner Rock of Ages are already locked in for 2011.

It’s not quite West End or Broadway, but when Melbourne’s magnificently restored houses — the Regent, Princess and Her Maj’s, even apart from the Arts Centre — are all rocking with sold-out shows the theatrical buzz in town of a night is palpable.

And to the theatre snobs that look down their frost-bitten noses at such ubiquitous musical fare, it’s worth remembering just how many people will experience a night at the theatre, thanks to these shows, who would otherwise not. The sense of wonderment certainly got me hooked.

But then, unashamedly, I’m a sucker for a good musical. And, right now, what better place to live than Melbourne?

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2 thoughts on “Melbourne comes alive to the sound of musicals

  1. Love Should Die

    The monstrosity known as ‘Love Never Dies’ has been a major flop in London’s West End. Theatre critics and fans of the original production around the world disliked the show immensely. Phantom Needs NO Sequel. LOVE SHOULD DIE!

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