AussieTheatre review round-up: highlights from the Helpmann nominations

The nominations for this year’s Helpmann Awards were announced earlier this week simultaneously across the states and territories awash in a sea of champagne and anticipation.

AussieTheatre, with its national reach, didn’t catch everything. But we have reviewed some of the sure locks for nominations – and some of the surprises! To learn more about some of the hottest plays, and musicals in this season’s theatre calendar, check out reviews from the AussieTheatre team below.

Secret River (11 nominations)

The Secret River Image - Heidrun Lohr
The Secret River
Image – Heidrun Lohr

This haunting play has been in development for about six years, and a project close to the heart of STC Artistic Directors in that time, Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett. A brilliant play, our Sydney review says it might be “The most important work STC produces this decade; it’s certainly the best thing they have produced in years.”



Legally Blonde (8 nominations) 

Lucy Durack as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde.
Lucy Durack as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. Image by Jeff Busby

A favourite (unexpectedly) with critics across the board, I thought it was “fun and light-hearted and completely aware of its own silliness. It winks and nudges itself with clever dialogue, hilarious songs, and a unified brightness that is relentlessly appealing and impossible to resist.”


The Addams Family (8 nominations)

 

The Addams Family, Original Australian Cast. Image by Jeff Busby
The Addams Family, Original Australian Cast. Image by Jeff Busby

Opening in Sydney to mixed reviews from critics despite a good show from its cast and creative, my opening night review allowed that “Despite issues with the book, the audience on the night of final preview more than enjoyed themselves. Sold out, the house was packed and the laughs were many and generous. It’s striking a chord somewhere, but don’t look for depth or musical and narrative achievement.”


School Dance (6 nominations)

Jonathon Oxlade, Luke Smiles and Matthew Whittet in School Dance
Jonathon Oxlade, Luke Smiles and Matthew Whittet in School Dance. Image by Lisa Tomasetti

Adelaide company Windmill Theatre made a truly inventive and joyous reality/fantasy mashup and it was such a breath of fresh our. We didn’t catch it in Adelaide, but I reviewed its Sydney Festival showing and said, “School Dance manages something that is very tricky — creates nostalgia that feels precisely like your own life experience — and handles it with equal parts humor and understanding. It’s only January, but if you see it, it will be one of the best things you see all year.”


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (4 nominations)

Mitchell Butel, Gerry Connolly, Shane Bourne and Geoffrey Rush in FORUM (c) Jeff Busby
Mitchell Butel, Gerry Connolly, Shane Bourne and Geoffrey Rush in FORUM. Image by Jeff Busby

A new staging, a new production, and refreshing creative. Anne-Marie Peard said that “It may be the best that a production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum can be.”


South Pacific (3 nominations)

South Pacific. Image by Kurt Sneddon
Eddie Perfect, John Xintavelonis and Rowan Witt. Image by Kurt Sneddon

This Lincoln Center production swept the Tony Awards when it opened. Here, it’s shattered Opera Australia’s box office records and won over audience hearts. We thought that “South Pacific is the perfect mix of gravity and lightness. It doesn’t miss a beat. It’s exquisite.”


Chess (2 nominations)

The Production Company's Chess. Martin Crewes and Simon Gleeson. Image by Jeff Busby
The Production Company’s Chess. Martin Crewes and Simon Gleeson. Image by Jeff Busby

The Production Company found a way to make this difficult musical sing. Damien Clift and Dan Wilson urged that “Chess is a production not to be missed and another reason to be proud of Australia’s musical theatre talent.” They also had high praise for nominated actress Silvie Paladino.


End of the Rainbow (2 nominations) 

End Of The Rainbow - Queensland Theatre Company
End Of The Rainbow – Queensland Theatre Company

This bio-drama musical about Judy Garland opened to a standing ovation in Brisbane. Bobbi-Lea Dionysius says that “not only was [Garland] brought to life for those who were never able to see her in person, but we were also treated to a number of Judy’s hit songs from her catalogue.” Christen O’Leary and Hayden Spencer, both nominated for their performance in the piece, also left an impression.


Hedda Gabler (2 nominations)

Kate Cheel and Alison Bell in Hedda Gabler. Photo by Shane Reid
Kate Cheel and Alison Bell in Hedda Gabler. Photo by Shane Reid

Alison Bell’s second acting nod for the night (the other is for MTC’s Constellations) and a strong re-working of Ibsen’s classic play, Stephen House said it was a revival that really works. “Shock, dark humour, deeply emotional moments and a surprising death make this show engaging, and interesting from start to finish.”


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1 nomination)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Original Australian Cast. Image by Kurt Sneddon
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Original Australian Cast. Image by Kurt Sneddon

It didn’t always capture the critics, but this one is a hit with families time and time again, plus its stage magic gets to all but the hardest of hearts. Ben Neutze said “Despite the fact that it runs a little longer than it needs to, the musical really is much more fun and substantially funnier than the film. It’s packed full of one-liners and physical comedy delivered to hilarious effect by a magnificent cast.”


Forget Me Not (1 nomination)

Mandy McElhinney, Colin Moody and Oscar Redding in Forget Me Not. Image by Lisa Tomasetti
Mandy McElhinney, Colin Moody and Oscar Redding in Forget Me Not. Image by Lisa Tomasetti

Colin Moody’s second acting nod this year (his other is for his supporting role in Secret River), this was truly a bravura performance. I wrote that “Gently written, even when Gerry is at his most destructive (and self-destructive), this play is a structural delight: soaring and sweeping to naturally occurring incident, realisation, and catharsis, slow erosion of rock over time.”

The Helpmman Awards will be held on Monday 29th July at Sydney Opera House.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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