2012: A year of theatrical excitement

 So 2012 dawns; another year, another lot of exciting theatrical possibilities.

Theatre SeatingSo 2012 dawns; another year, another lot of exciting theatrical possibilities.
To learn from the past to go forward, if there was any lesson that 2011 taught us, it is that there are no certainties. Hairspray failed in Sydney despite glowing reviews and all the earmarks for potential success, Rock of Ages ran for seven months in Melbourne but couldn’t excite the Sydney market enough to justify a transfer, despite a strong advertising campaign. It also failed to make a mark in the state everyone looks to for buzzed and enthusiastic younger audiences – Brisbane – where its short season was made even shorter by poor business. All of which points to the fact that the economy is tight and people have to be convinced that when they shell out big bucks for theatre shows that the show will deliver the entertainment they expect.
First new show off the block this year is A Chorus Line, now open in Adelaide to positive reviews with a season in Melbourne to follow. There are plans for other states and an international tour, but nothing locked in. Chorus Line is a good choice for revival in Australia in this day of reality TV talent quests, it plays into the same ‘who will win and who will lose’ mentality. Also, you have a production by world reknowned director Baayork Lee who has directed and choreographed just about every production in the last 30 years and keeps the flame of Michael Bennett’s spirit alive. It has been over ten years since a professional revival and the new cast look like winners. Also there has been renewed interest in this show since the Oscar nominated documentary Every Little Step came out a couple of years ago and was recently shown on the Nine network. Everyone wishes it well and hopes are high for an extended tour.
Keeping true to the adage that in hard times, audiences will flock to the familiar, another new version of an old favourite has also just opened in Annie. Some in the industry have viewed the revival of this show as cynical with a cast that includes local shock jock Alan Jones, but for all the star casting in the show, everyone else are tried and true professionals including the indomitable Nancye Hayes, Anthony Warlow (now the right age for Daddy Warbucks), the always glorious Chloe Dallimore and Todd Mckenny; not a bad bunch. The show doesn’t try to change or update, and much like A Chorus Line, remains in a bit of a time warp. Both are productions that remain very true to the original. To some who are always looking for re-invention this may prove a problem and with the expectations of audiences today for Nannies who fly way over our heads, Billy Elliots who can dance till the floor gives way, or Hairspray’s new age technology used to tell the story,this may seem a bit dated and old hat, but there is nothing like a good solid show with terrific dancers and a workmanlike set and Annie delivers this in spades. Well done and long may it prosper. Plans are for it to tour nationally.
On the road now are three solid hits in Jersey Boys (NZ), Wicked (Singapore, Seoul and probably other Asian ports before a mooted Oz comeback) and Mary Poppins (Brisbane, Perth and other cities and probably Asia). These shows have proved to be the backbone of the industry in recent times, sometimes they struggle, but mostly as long as they don’t stay anywhere too long, they reap rich box office rewards. All with excellent leads and solid production behind each, they all should be around for some time to come.
Love Never Dies is now open in Sydney, in a considerably shorter season that was originally planned and much shorter than the seven months of the Melbourne season. It seems like Sydney will be the finishing point for this show. I am not sure why a wider Oz tour has not been planned, particularly as a DVD of the show is about to be released which almost certainly will create new interest and Mr Andrew Lloyd Webber has been spruiking the strength of the Oz production all around the world. Extravagant in the extreme with an all new Australian design, for whatever reason this show has not caught on as much as expected, though it seems like a show Sydney could take to heart. I am hoping there is room for extension of its very short 12 week season.  ADDENDUM*  I saw the opening in Sydney of Love Never Dies and now feel the show could have a life elsewhere. The Australian company have done much since the original opening to make some of the awkward failings of the script become less obvious and Sharon Millerchip is now the undisputed pulse of the show. The opening in Sydney was so much more buoyant than Melbourne with the Sydney audience genuinely embracing the spectacle and remarkable design of the show.The Capitol theatre helps, it is a much better theatre for it. I really believe it could really take off in Sydney, even though Webber needs to still look at substantial re-writing and re-structuring before taking it to Broadway. 
So what are we to look forward to, that is new this year? The big new musical is An Officer and a Gentleman, based on the hit movie of the eighties but with a new score (with the exception of the hit song “Up Where We Belong”) one looks to this with cautious optimism. One can certainly say that the company seems to have got it right by casting Ben Mingay in the title role. Fresh from his triumph as Tommy De Vito in Jersey Boys, Mingay looks perfect for this role and any proof was needed, one need only to look at the rather thrown together presentation on New Years’ Eve of “Up Where we Belong” on Channel Nine’s fireworks show. 
Mingay and co star Amanda Harrison and some of the supporting ensemble presented “Up Where We belong” and Mingay took the moment and ran with it, giving a version that would have put a Joe Cocker or a Jimmy Barnes to shame. It was  a true star performance and this is what this show needs to succeed. A rocking central star who will shake the theatre with star power and with Mingay it looks like they’ve got it.
I just hope that unlike Doctor Zhivago, the creative team stay around and continue to work on the show after opening night. Bearing in mind that musicals need constant adjustment and re writing, the Sydney season should be a good starting point for a national tour where changes and improvements continue to be blended into the show. John Frost has now for the second time given a brand new show an incredible showcase, but it’s all useless if the show is locked down after opening night. Zhivago cried out for changes and restructuring during its short seasons, but no creatives seemed interested in staying around to do the work and the show never really soared as a result.  Please don’t let this happen again!! This new show needs to be a smash. 
Other musicals for the year, include a revival of Naked Boys Singing (whether we need it or not). The show has up to now always seemed to me to be a bit of a pathetic gimmick, with male nudity made to look remarkably sexless. But I am willing to be convinced this new version set for a short national tour will find new ways to make this show interesting and (if possible) a little bit sexy. Next to Normal is one of the most challenging little musicals I have seen on Broadway in recent years, it was given a rather mixed response during its recent Melbourne season and now a brand new production is set for the Capitol later this year. Its such an intimate show for such a big theatre, but I wish them all the best with this. An attempt to try and capture the magic of the Broadway original can only be encouraged.
Then there is Legally Blonde which seemed to start auditioning about a thousand years ago, so long has it been in pre production. The show’s postponement has made many wonder if it was ever going to happen, but it will-later this year at the Lyric in Sydney before a national tour. It’s a great fun show and with good casting and a strong lively production wrapped around it, could make a lot of audiences very happy. Everything in this show depends on the right people for the roles and a cast that never stop for a minute in their energy and attack. Fingers crossed it will work.
Finally there is Opera Australia’s version of the Lincoln Center’s revival production of “South Pacific”. I wrote an entire column on this recently, so suffice to say its Melbourne and Sydney seasons with Teddy Tahu Rhodes in the lead and some great casting choices being currently negotiated, should be very exciting. It is mooted this show will then return in 2013 for a commercial season. This is a marvellous version of one of the true great classic American musicals. 
More musicals are always mooted, I hear Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for late this year, The Addams Family and Strictly Ballroom are still on the drawing board for next year, but there is a lot to happen first. Good luck with all of them, may they draw audiences in droves and make producers once again confident in the always risky and unpredictable Australian market. 

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