Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Musical Theatre Wrap-Up 2015 - Melbourne

By Kate Herbert

Hoorah! In 2015, people flocked to the parade of musicals that filled our illustrious venues in this theatre-rich city and they are already are lining up for tickets for 2016, suggesting that Melbourne may be once more be the hub for musical theatre.

This year, we saw newly-minted shows, sparkling new productions of old standards, Australian productions of major international musicals, chamber pieces and hybrid shows that straddled musicals, cabaret, opera, theatre and dance.

Although nothing amongst the 20+ musicals warranted 5 stars from this crusty reviewer during 2015, there were plenty of 4&1/2 and 4 star productions.

1. The Production Company produced two 4&1/2 star shows with the first being Dean Bryant’s inventive production of Neil Simon and Cy Coleman’s classic, Sweet Charity. This provided a star vehicle for Verity Hunt-Ballard’s myriad talents and she was irrepressible, funny and vulnerable as Charity Valentine in a performance that is funny, melodramatic and, finally, tragic.

2. The second hit for Prod Co was Nice Work If You Can Get It, with its reinvention of a catalogue of George and Ira Gershwin songs in a 21st century book by Joe DiPietro. Nice Work was impudent, boisterous, beautifully sung and performed and allowed us to hear Gershwin tunes in a cunningly wrought musical.

Esther Hannaford played tomboy bootlegger and fugitive from justice, Billie Bendix, with charming naiveté and gangling awkwardness.

3. The Lion King returned to wow Melbourne again with Julie Taymor’s remarkable production design that included vivid masks, costumes and puppetry that created the illusion of an African animal kingdom.

The African-influenced opening chorus, Circle of Life, is the most rousing of Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs in this family musical based on Disney’s 1994 movie.  Buyi Zama as Rafiki, the mandrill, almost stole the show with her ebullient, cheeky characterisation, exceptional comic delivery and rich voice.

4. Another highlight in 2015 was Belinda Davids channelling Whitney Houston in The Greatest Love of All, thrilling the audience with her consummate vocal control, staggering four-octave range and exhilarating performance of Whitney’s hits.

5. Anything Goes, Cole Porter’s 1934 musical, was effervescent soda laced with bourbon and Caroline O’Connor was the big fizz in the production, bringing her formidable singin’ and dancin’ and idiosyncratic characterisation to the role of Reno Sweeney, a vivacious club singer who moonlights as a dodgy but sexy evangelist.

Other hot 4-star shows included City of Angels, Love Repeating, The Rocky Horror Show, of course, and the wild card Comedy Festival musical at the Spiegeltent, The Three Mikados.
City of Angels: Chelsea Plumley & Amanda Harrison

The year ends with another version of Cats and the new but nostalgic Georgy Girl featuring the music of The Seekers. (See reviews of these shows on this blog.)

 Now it’s time to start booking for the swathe of 2016 musicals and I’m hanging out to see Tim Minchin’s award-winning Matilda, based on Roald Dahl’s story, the Tony-Award winning Kinky Boots and let’s applaud the singing and tapping (and on-stage plumbing) in the new production of Singing In The Rain.

See a list of musical for 2016 in next post.

By Kate Herbert

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