Last week was a momentous week in Australian Musical Theatre. Three Australian-written shows were concurrently playing to full houses in major theatres.
Muriel’s Wedding, with music by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall concluded its sold-out Sydney season on January 27, with another Sydney season announced from June 2019 at the Lyric Theatre. Priscilla Queen of the Desert was in previews at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne and Dream Lover, written by Frank Howson about the life of Bobby Darin, continues its critically acclaimed run at Arts Centre, Melbourne until March 4th. All three of these shows are directed by Simon Phillips and choreographed by Andrew Hallsworth.
Over the last six months I’ve been publishing articles and doing media interviews about Australian musicals, so I’m thrilled that AussieTheatre.com have asked me to write semi-regularly for them to highlight our own Australian-written shows. My previous articles have been primarily about what has already been performed. I now want to focus on what will be happening over the next few months so that we can encourage as many people as possible to get out there and support our home grown product.
Over the next few months, there is a wealth of locally-written shows being performed around the country. Darlinghurst Nights, is currently playing at the Hayes Theatre in Sydney. Written by Katherine Thomson and Max Lambert, the show celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2018 . Set during the 1920s and 30s, and inspired by Sydney poet Kenneth Slessor, the show explores the seductiveness of a life authentically lived, of a world where people can live without fear of intolerance amidst Sydney’s most colourful strip. Darlinghurst Nights is playing until 3rd February. Miracle City, also by Max Lambert with a book by Nick Enright was also due to open in Brisbane last week, but the tour has unfortunately been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
Australian musicals are also playing in some of the smaller theatres around the country. Three In The Bed by Jonathon Holmes played a return season at the New Theatre, Newtown. This outrageous farce explores the trials and tribulations of a three-way encounter. The soundtrack is also available on iTunes and Spotify. Moonlite is currently playing at the Grace Darling Hotel in Collingwood as a part of Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival. Written by Gabriel Bergmoser with music by Dan Nixon, the musical explores the contradictions of bushranger Captain Moonlite and his different lives as a pastor, bank robber, lecturer, soldier, bushranger, homosexual and outlaw. The show is playing on Wednesdays and Sundays until 4th February. Holt! The Musical which asks “What ever happened to Harold Holt?” is presented by the University of Sydney Union and Baby Boy Bolognese at the Seymour Centre on Feb 2 and 3. The book is by Alexander Richmond with Music and Lyrics by Jos Markerink and Jacinta Gregory.
The Fringe Festival season is also upon us, and again there are some interesting new musicals to keep an eye out for. At Perth’s Fringeworld, Amberly Cull, creator of Point of Light (which was a part of Home Grown’s Grassroots Initiative in 2017), will present her new musical co-created with Robert Woods titled The Three Deaths of Ebony Black. The show features puppets by Danny Miller and follows the life and death of a sweet little old lady with a not so extraordinary life. It runs from the 16th to the 25th of February. Three new short-form musicals will be performed as a part of Snacks – A Musical Tasting Plate on February 22-24. These shows will feature the writing of Jinhee Kim and Cal Silberstein, Rebecca Hart and Nick Stephens as well as Jacinth Greywodde and Chase O’Neill.
Adelaide Fringe continues to include some intriguing new Australian musicals. Elevate! The Musical, written by four graduates of the Victorian College of the Arts’ Musical Theatre course, looks at four very different personalities trapped in an elevator together. The Colour Orange: The Pauline Hanson Musical is a political satire presented by Flaming Howard Productions. Last year it was awarded the Sydney Fringe 2017 Critics’ Pick. Connected – The Australian Rock Musical has been commissioned by the Platform Project 2018 centered around four teenagers and their friends caught in a situation they can’t control. Another interesting piece is Manchild… The Lost Aussie Rock Musical – a live performance telling the story of the musical Manchild by composer Chris Neal, which had great success on the road and hit the Top 40 charts, but has since been lost. Adelaide Fringe also includes a great deal of original Australian cabaret material including Josh Belperio’s Scarred for Life and Claire Healy’s (Get A) Real Job.
Outside of the Fringe Festivals, other Australian musicals are appearing around the country. Found! The Musical – a parody of the TV series Lost written by Madeleine Halls is presented by Whimsical Productions at the Hellenic Art Theatre, Marrickville, Sydney from February 22-24. Brisbane composer Bradley McCaw’s musical The Oasis will be presented in a free concert presentation at the Gold Coast Arts Centre on Sunday 3rd March. It tells the story of a group of disconnected teenagers who stumble upon a hidden ‘Oasis’. This will be the first full performance of the work.
One of the organisations tirelessly dedicated to the development and presentation of new Australian work is Home Grown, run by Nick Hedger and Ben Nicolson. Their first event for the year will be in Melbourne on Monday 4th March and details will be released on their website and mailing list. New Musicals Australia also actively work with composers to develop new Australian musicals. 2018 sees the return of their First Look program which allows creative teams to present 10 minutes of a new work in any form for initial feedback from a panel of experts. While not open to the public, the program provides excellent mentoring and networking for new ideas. Submissions close on 12 February and the event takes place on Monday 26 March. More information can be found here. The best way to keep in touch with New Musicals Australia is by joining the Hayes Theatre Co. mailing list, or by directly emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
March sees the presentation of 2 pieces developed by the University of Melbourne Musical Theatre Association (UMMTA): Beau Wants to Be A Billionaire by Jackson Peele and Conor Neylon and G.P. by Lachlan Boldt. After the success of The Sitzprobe in 2017 which featured excerpts of 8 different new works, The UMMTA Workshop gives two works a full staging on March 22nd and 23rd. Ticket details are yet to be released. It is very exciting that student-driven groups are investing time, resources and energy into the development of new Australian musicals! Also in Melbourne as a part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit has a return season after a successful run as a part of the Poppy Seed Festival in 2017. Playwright Jean Tong delivers a lesbian musical retelling of Shakespeare featuring a cast comprising mostly of women of colour.
A musical adaptation of Michael Gerard Bauer’s popular young adult novel Don’t Call Me Ishamel by Christoper Thomson and Fin Taylor will have a public performance in Brisbane in April. More details will be announced soon.
The final Australian musical to receive its premiere in the first few months of 2018 is Josephine Wants To Dance by Monkey Baa Theatre Company with music by Phil Scott. This children’s musical based on the hugely popular book by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley will tour nationally to over 30 venues around the country throughout 2018 and opens in Sydney on 14th April.
While this seems like an impressive list, it is just the beginning and it is quite likely that there are even more Australian musicals being performed around the country in the first part of 2018. Please add your comments if there is something that I have omitted. I will be publishing another article in April highlighting the Australian shows that are coming up later in the year including Craig Christie’s Crusade, a concert version of Lola Montez, Shanon Whitelock’s Fearless, Anthony Crowley’s Motormouth Loves Suckface, Stalker The Musical, Evie May – A Tivoli Story and Xenides – a new musical about the longest serving gameshow hostess in the world. Most importantly, get out and support these new works. The only way we can ensure that our musical theatre industry continues to develop is to prove that there is a wide audience for our own stories.