Season’s greetings to all

This will be my last column for 2010. I hope to be back with the column in early February after a business trip that will include quick pit stops to New York and London as part of visit to see a client play a major lead in America.

This will be my last column for 2010. I hope to be back with the column in early February after a business trip that will include quick pit stops to New York and London as part of visit to see a client play a major lead in America. 

I am not very excited about anything on Broadway since I learned this week the two shows I wanted to see Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and The Scottsboro Boys are both being pulled off in a hurry. Further proof that Broadway has become a bus tour town, anything edgy, dark and challenging needs to stay way off the great white way. Sad but true.

Scottsboro met with mixed reviews and claims of racism (within a musical about racism ) and looked like it would have a short run, but Andrew Jackson has been seen as the hot new cult favourite of the year. Why it goes and that piece of bilious rubbish known as American Idiot stays is beyond me. Both shows closing have been doing better business than Idiot! Go figure.

So I guess a look back at the arts year seems mandatory at this point.  I have seen very little this year either here or overseas to inspire me at all.

Undoubtedly the music theatre highlight of the year has been the truly wonderful Australian production of Mary Poppins. From a show that gave me little joy when I saw it in London some years back, the team for Australia has built a monolith of excellence with a wonderful cast of true stars (Phillip Quast, Judi Connelli, Marina Prior and Debre Byrne) and introduced to the world the remarkable and under rated talents of Verity Hunt Ballard as Mary. The production fairly zings with power and professional expertise. It’s being yanked out of Melbourne (despite the constant sold out houses) to fulfill obligations in Sydney. I think it will be around for a long time.

I enjoyed the staging of Hairspray immensely and despite some misgivings with a few casting choices, it’s a solid, exciting and highly recommended production. I saw it in previews and I am looking forward to seeing it again soon,  I am sure I will have even less reservations the second time. I am pleased it has stayed around, the prophets of doom were breathing loudly about it a month or so back with warnings that it wouldn’t last till Xmas as its early box office had been a little shakey.  The producers seem to have ridden that one out and I hope it stays in Melbourne for its full season and rides triumphantly into Sydney in June. Sadly it will again be up against Poppins which was one of the main reasons for its early box office troubles. Let’s hope we can prove Sydney is a big enough town for two large  scale Broadway musicals. A new marketing campaign for Sydney would be highly advisable, making more of the remarkable technology that brings the show to life.

West Side Story was a good workmanlike production. It looked at times a little too much like a touring production and fared poorly in comparison with the massive and exciting production of the same show from the mid nineties, still fresh in some people’s minds with its big budget staging. But there were good performances all round, a very hard working and talented cast . It was good to have it here and it ran rings around the truly awful Broadway revival I saw earlier this year, a rethought version of the show with some very clunky ideas. The local production proved it’s best to leave well enough alone.

Jersey Boys pleased me again with its transfer to Sydney (The Royal is such a good choice for this show). Like Poppins this is a production that epitomises professionalism in every way. It will be around for a long time I am sure.

The one night only staging of Into the Woods was a definite theatrical highlight for me. Staged by the cast of Wicked, here was one of those special events that come along so rarely.  Everyone was terrific in the cast and the level of professionalism and commitment from the cast was awe inspiring. There were a couple of real standout performances that must be mentioned; Lucy Durack, Zoe Gertz and Christina Tan were all especially memorable. It was a joyous night .

Speaking of Wicked it was good to see it finally leave Sydney in a season that was probably a bit too long box office wise. It will do well in its Australian (and later) Asian tour I am sure. The standard never dropped with this show and despite many cast changes Maggie Kirkpatrick ,Rodney Dobson  and Lucy Durack kept the show going through two and a half years and they will be back (good on them) for the tour.

The only other commercial musical of note was Fame. It introduced some truly talented performers, but proved what a lot of people said when it was first mooted – why revive a show that is not very good in the first place and is a poor second cousin to the classic original movie?

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival was an undoubted highlight this year, especially to see the wondrous Liz Callaway, the remarkable Smoke and Mirrors and see new stars rise such as Marika Aubrey and Tom Sharah. The latter two have also been bringing some new life back to cabaret in Sydney (which makes a nice change). Along with the always fabulous  annual “Cabaret showcase”  and Tim Draxl’s “Chet Baker show” have brought life back to the El Rocco Room in Kings Cross (formerly Bar Me). A special mention must be made of this cabaret venue. In an era known for cabaret rooms closing, El Rocco (through some many management changes) has perservered and now seems to be having a renaissance. It’s a great little space, the room with its candles and cramped intimacy is like so many New York cabaret rooms. Long may it survive.

Overseas I enjoyed Sean Hayes in Promises Promises, the delightful In the Heights, and especially the Sondheim revue complete with amazing technology Sondheim on Sondheim. I hope I can add a few more shows to this list next year. It’s a barren time on Broadway as I said earlier.

I look especially forward to seeing what happens with Doctor Zhivago and Love Never Dies, two shows that, if they both work, will spark a whole new interest in staging big musicals in Australia prior to Broadway.

Have a great Christmas and New year everyone, hopefully see you in 2011.

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