My Favourite Australian Musicals – a highly subjective list

One of my most feared questions is “What’s your favourite musical?”. I never have a clear answer, so I often default to answering “Can I give you my top 5?” and even then, the answer is never the same… or it ends up as a top 10.**

I’ve been writing about Australian musicals so much recently that I thought that I might share my own Top 5 Favourite Australian Musicals. This is a highly subjective list, based on my own experiences in the theatre. There are so many other Australian Musicals that I wish I’d seen and that deserve another season (mostly so I can see them!), but I’ve restricted myself to listing shows that I have actually experienced. So here goes…

#5 Ladies In Black

(Tim Finn and Carolyn Burns based on Madeline St Johns’ novel The Women In Black)
Ladies in Black - Image by Rob Maccoll
Ladies in Black – Image by Rob Maccoll 

I was lucky enough to see the stunning production directed by Simon Phillips twice – in Melbourne on its first iteration (2016) and then in Brisbane on the tour (2017). With a gorgeous star turn from Sarah Morrison and some beautiful music by Tim Finn, this coming of age story set in Goode’s department store over a summer holiday captured a real Australian-ness while also examining some more serious issues in our culture in a fairly gentle way. It is such a shame that no cast recording was made – it is so important to preserve these works to ensure their legacy!

#4 Keating!

(Casey Bennetto)
Mike McLeish as Keating. Image supplied

I never got to see Casey Bennetto’s hilarious satire about former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating performed live, but I have watched the DVD several times and am still constantly in awe of Mike McLeish’s portrayal of Keating. For me, this show is ground-breaking in the way it sits between comedy, revue, cabaret and musical theatre. Brilliant, biting lyrics with a very Australian sense of humour and parody. Is it time for a revival?

#3 The Hatpin

(James Millar and Peter Rutherford)
Hatpin Community Theatre
The Hatpin – Image Supplied

An intriguing story based on true events and a masterful score make The Hatpin a gripping piece of musical drama. It has a distinctly Australian voice and yet stands beside the masterworks of American musical theatre in terms of craftsmanship. I am thrilled that university and community theatre groups are now embracing this musical so it can be brought to a wider audience – it absolutely deserves the attention and could be a thrilling piece in a major funded Theatre Company’s subscription season or even on one of the commercial mainstages.

#2 The Boy From Oz

(Peter Allen, Nick Enright)
Todd McKenney Boy From Oz Peter Allen
Todd McKenney as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz. Picture: Supplied

I don’t believe I managed to miss the original Australian production of this show! My first experience of it was The Production Company production in 2010 with Todd McKenney in the lead and the gorgeous Fem Belling playing Liza Minelli. As a piano bar entertainer, Peter Allen’s songs are so important to me. I constantly get asked to play them all around the world and telling the story of his life is even more important – this was a man that made it just a little bit more ok to be outrageously camp in Australian society. I know I’m probably not supposed to love jukebox musicals, but this show hits so many marks for me.

#1 Prodigal / Once We Lived Here

(Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank)
The casts of Prodigal & Once We Lived Here
The casts of Prodigal & Once We Lived Here – Image created from supplied

True to my inability to commit to a top 5, I have a tie for 1st place. I have vivid memories of the Chapel off Chapel production of Prodigal in early 2000 starring Dean Bryant, Graham Pages and Amanda Levy. This was an exciting, relevant and important Australian story being told with a thrilling score. The fact that it went on to play Off-Broadway starring Christian Borle and Kerry Butler is remarkable. The original production of Once We Lived Here at fortyfivedownstairs is just as clear in my memory with memorable performances by Esther Hannaford, Sally Bourne, Christie Whelan-Browne and Sam Ludeman. Once again, the Australian-ness of this story and Mathew Frank’s unique musical voice have had a lasting impact for me. “As Far As The Eye Can See” is still one of my all-time great musical theatre songs.

Hopefully I’ll soon be able to add Muriel’s Wedding to this list (Brisbane season please!!), and if someone could please produce a revival of The Venetian Twins, Metro Street, Sideshow Alley, Eureka and Bran Nue Dae so I can add them to this list, I’d be most grateful!

What are your favourite Australian Musicals? I’d love to hear your comments!

** My Top 5 favourite musicals of all-time list usually (but not always) includes Follies, Sunday In The Park With George, Merrily We Roll Along, Ragtime, Parade, Hamilton, Jesus Christ Superstar and Rent… see how good I am at this top 5 thing????

Trevor Jones

Trevor Jones is currently a Lecturer in Musical Theatre at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. He is in demand around Australia and internationally as a musical director, conductor, arranger, educator and performer. Professional Musical Theatre credits include Avenue Q (Prince Moo Productions), 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Vic Theatre Company, 2016), Dogfight (Doorstep Arts, 2016), Next to Normal (Doorstep Arts, 2014), Titanic (Ballarat, 2012) and Dear World (Magnormos Productions, 2011). He was also the Musical Director of Twisted Broadway in 2014 and 2017 featuring many of Australia's leading musical theatre performers. He was the recipient of the 2011 Brian Stacey Award for Emerging Australian Conductors and works in a wide variety of musical styles and genres, spanning opera, musical theatre, choral music and contemporary commercial music. Trevor has regularly toured internationally, conducting large scale concert tours in major venues throughout mainland China with Broadway performers including Lisa Vroman and Brad Little as well as Australian singers and orchestral musicians. Trevor was Head of Voice and Associate Musical Director of the Victorian State Schools Spectacular from 2011 - 2014. As a performer, Trevor has hosted regular nights at The Butterfly Club and Chapel off Chapel. He has performed as a piano bar entertainer around the world and in cabaret shows in major festivals and venues around Australia. He is currently working towards a PhD focussing on Coaching Opera Singers in Musical Theatre Song.

Trevor Jones

4 thoughts on “My Favourite Australian Musicals – a highly subjective list

  • Darlinghurst Nights, Only Heaven Knows, The Sentimental Bloke and Lola Montez are four that spring to mind but I am sure that there are heaps more that are great whether or not they were successful at the box office.

    • Thanks for these Carl. I am so sad I didn’t get to see the recent revivals of Darlinghurst Nights and Only Heaven Knows but I’m glad these great Australia shows are being revived so audiences can keep enjoying them. I don’t think box office success necessarily matters in defining a “great” musical – I’m much more in favour of a fantastic score and well-crafted book!

  • Jonah Jones, The Venetian Twins, Darlinghurst Nights, Flash Jim Vaux, The Hatpin. And there’s a new production of Lola Montez on its way that I’m looking forward to!

    • What a fantastic list! I’m excited to hear what they’ve done with Lola Montez as well! Thanks so much for your contribution Tony.


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