Sunday, April 14, 2024

Theatre, musicals and opera to see in Melbourne during 2024

The tennis is over, Taylor’s tickets have been snapped up and you’ve already visited the Triennial, so what should you do next? Our theatre, opera and dance critics have your next events – big and small – sorted.

Ruva Ngwenya brings the house down as Tina Turner in the eponymous musical, opening in Melbourne in September.

Ruva Ngwenya brings the house down as Tina Turner in the eponymous musical, opening in Melbourne in September. Credit: James Brickwood

MUSICAL THEATRE

TINA, THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL Legends of rock’n’roll don’t get much bigger than the late Tina Turner, and Melburnians will finally get a chance to see the blockbuster musical based on her life this year. The show has racked up more than 300 performances since its premiere in Sydney, with as many standing ovations, and this final Melbourne leg of the Australian tour should be special with local star Ruva Ngwenya performing before hometown crowds. Featuring Tina’s triumph over adversity and her immortal playlist – bangers such as Proud Mary and What’s Love Got to Do with It – the show has conquered Broadway and the West End. Will Melbourne audiences be able to resist spontaneously breaking into the Nutbush in unison? I doubt it. From September, Princess Theatre.

Sheridan Harbridge stars in the musical adaptation of Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career.

Sheridan Harbridge stars in the musical adaptation of Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career.

MY BRILLIANT CAREER A new Australian musical based on Miles Franklin’s feminist Ozlit classic My Brilliant Career? An ambitious undertaking – but if anyone’s up to the challenge, it would be musical theatre duo Dean Bryant and Matthew Frank who’ve been creating original musicals and cabaret for decades (as well as directing the international tour of the Priscilla musical, among other things). Melbourne Theatre Company artistic director Anne-Louise Sarks will direct the show, starring Sheridan Harbridge, whose tour de force in Suzie Miller’s Prima Facie was a highlight of last year’s season. It’ll be fascinating to see her as Sybylla Melvyn, a 19th century heroine desperate to escape the constraints of her gender, marriage and the monotony of rural Australian life to become a writer. November 7 – December 18, Melbourne Theatre Company.

The Australian cast of Sunset Boulevard (from left)  Paul Hanlon, Robert Grubb, Tim Draxl, Ashleigh Rubenach and Jarrod Draper.

The Australian cast of Sunset Boulevard (from left) Paul Hanlon, Robert Grubb, Tim Draxl, Ashleigh Rubenach and Jarrod Draper.

SUNSET BOULEVARD “All right, Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” Billy Wilder’s black comic Hollywood noir Sunset Boulevard (1950) ends with one of the most famous film quotes of all time, manically delivered to camera by Norma Desmond, a deluded silent film goddess who – murderously – cannot accept her fame has faded. Evergreen diva Sarah Brightman will play Norma in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation, bringing a splash of international celebrity to the latest revival. Chocolate-box musical theatre from Opera Australia is usually extremely well cast with glam production values, and a host of local talent (including Tim Draxl as the unfortunate Joe) will support Brightman’s maniacal star turn. From May, Princess Theatre. By Cameron Woodhead

STAGE

37, starring Ngali Shaw, is based on ALF legend Adam Goodes’ career.

37, starring Ngali Shaw, is based on ALF legend Adam Goodes’ career.Credit: Jo Duck

37 Sporting legend Adam Goodes’ celebratory war cry in 2015 set the nation alight, thrusting questions of racism, First Nations sovereignty and celebration of culture into the footy arena. Nine years later, Noongar director Isaac Drandic and Trawlwoolway Pakana playwright Nathan Maynard – the brilliant duo behind At What Cost? – have written and directed a play set in the same era, taking its name from Goodes’ jersey number and exploring Australia’s national obsession with footy and the inextricable knot of identity and sport. Following his star turn in Declan Furber Gillick’s 2023 play Jacky, Ngali Shaw takes centre stage in 37, joining an ensemble cast of nine actors to bring the most high-stakes game of ball toss to a theatre. March 2 to April 5, Southbank Theatre.

TROPHY BOYS Theatre has long been a subversive stomping ground for gender fluidity and expression, putting paid to reductive binaries and corrosive caricatures. Exemplifying this same spirit is Emmanuelle Mattana’s (Mustangs FC) queer black comedy and drag extravaganza about power, privilege and the most high-pressure pastime of them all – high school debating. Returning to stages after sold-out seasons across indie theatres in 2022 and 2023, Trophy Boys centres on a group of elite private school boys preparing to debate “feminism has failed women”, except it’s performed by an all-female and non-binary cast in drag. A guaranteed romp, Trophy Boys promises to be an electrifying and uproarious time. July 16-21, Fairfax Studio.

Melbourne Threatre Company’s <i>English</i> is “a must-see among must-sees”.

Melbourne Threatre Company’s English is “a must-see among must-sees”.Credit: Victoria Zschommler

ENGLISH Penned by Iranian-American playwright Sanaz Toossi with no shortage of plaudits – it won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Drama – English is coming to Australia for the first time in the second half of this year. Directed by Melbourne Theatre Company’s resident director Tasnim Hossain, English is a meditation on language, loss and the shifting sands of identity. The setting is a small classroom in Iran, where adults are learning English for various reasons – opportunities that wouldn’t have been available to them otherwise, an unprecedented chance to connect with loved ones. Performed by a standout local cast, English will be an exercise in humanity, empathy and laughter. July 29 to August 24, Southbank Theatre. By Sonia Nair

Tosca will be performed at Margaret Court Arena.

Tosca will be performed at Margaret Court Arena.

OPERA

TOSCA In the industry’s latest attempt to entice a new, younger audience, Opera Australia are staging Puccini’s Tosca in Margaret Court Arena. It’s an acclaimed production from the UK – but five-star reviews flowed in response to the opera staged in a theatre. It’s the perfect introduction to opera, with its glorious music, thrilling story and two-and-a-half hour run time. Here, Korean star Karah Son shares the title role with English soprano Nadine Benjamin. But celebrated production and excellent cast aside, let’s be real – will opera really work in a stadium, or will Melbourne audiences receive Tosca as the company’s latest backhand in a series of second-rate seasons? Can’t wait to find out. May 24-30, Margaret Court Arena.

Breaking the Waves is an operatic version of Lars von Trier’s 1996 film.

Breaking the Waves is an operatic version of Lars von Trier’s 1996 film.

BREAKING THE WAVES An adventurous advance in Opera Australia’s programming, Breaking the Waves is an operatic version of Lars von Trier’s 1996 film starring Stellan Skarsgard. Set in the Scottish Highlands, devout wife Bess’s new husband Jan is paralysed in an accident, and he, unable to be with her any more, asks her to sleep with other men and tell him about it. The opera will be just as unsettling as the film, with music by Missy Mazzoli, who is hailed as “Brooklyn’s post-millennial Mozart”. July 26-28, Hamer Hall.

Murray Bail’s classic novel Eucalyptus has been adapted into an opera.

Murray Bail’s classic novel Eucalyptus has been adapted into an opera.

EUCALYPTUS Murray Bail’s 1998 novel is the source material for this new opera by Sydney-born composer Sir Jonathan Mills, most well known as a long-time director of the Edinburgh International Festival. The Rapunzel-esque plot follows an overprotective father who keeps his daughter in a “sanctuary-or-prison” forest of eucalypts, only to have everything unravel with the arrival of a stranger among the trees. Directed by prizewinning playwright and director Michael Gow, this co-commission by Victorian Opera and Opera Australia stars Simon Meadows, the stalwart baritone who only seems to be singing better with age. October 16-19, Palais Theatre. By Bridget Davies

DANCE

Principal artist Callum Linnane in The Australian Ballet’s Oscar.

Principal artist Callum Linnane in The Australian Ballet’s Oscar.Credit: Jason South

OSCAR How astonishing that David Hallberg has commissioned a new ballet on the life of Oscar Wilde, the fin de siècle dandy with a genius for comic banter and devastating one-liners. Wilde is celebrated as the author of The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray, but he was also a man of unlimited personal charisma and a flamboyant rebel who worshipped physical beauty. To transform the pathos of his rise and fall into dance, Hallberg has enlisted the services of Christopher Wheeldon, the star English choreographer. Wheeldon made his reputation with eye-popping productions for London’s Royal Ballet, but his most recent success was the new jukebox musical based on the life of Michael Jackson. Expect Oscar to be nothing if not extravagant. September 13-24, Regent Theatre.

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MOMENTA The style of Rafael Bonachela’s choreography is a bit like the style of his adopted hometown. It’s showy, confident and unapologetically beautiful. The Spanish-born artistic director of the Sydney Dance Company delights in large-canvas displays of undulant movement and intricate but always graceful partnering. This new piece promises more of the same: fluid ensemble passages with complex rhythmic patterning and elegant designs. Momenta has an original score by Nick Wales, but also features an extraordinary piece of music called Distant Light by the Latvian composer Peteris Vasks, a little known but wonderfully moody concerto for violin and string orchestra that was hailed as a masterpiece at its London premiere in 1998. October 8-12, Arts Centre Melbourne.

GURR ERA OP Ghenoa Gela shot to prominence when she won the jury prize at the Keir Choreographic Award in 2016 for a short work inspired by her experiences as a mainland-born Torres Strait Islander woman. She’s a choreographer but also a writer, director and comedian, so it makes sense she’s now teaming up with dance-theatre company Force Majeure. Gurr Era Op, which means “face of the sea”, is a cry for more action to meet the challenges posed by climate change. It blends elements of contemporary performance, movement inspired by Torres Strait Islander traditions and spoken word. It was critically lauded at the Sydney Festival in January, so look out for its Melbourne premiere during the Rising Festival. June 12-16, Arts House. By Andrew Fuhrmann

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