#28 Bare - well-performed but average musical. Adam di Martino brings a maturity and handsomeness to the role of Peter, and I liked Ivy's song All Grown Up.
#27.5 Saturday Church (movie) - slow burn and a beautiful story. Not much music but the one song that appears twice is really lovely.
#27 Priscilla Queen of the Desert - a major production at the Regent Theatre. I couldn't decide whether I was interested enough to go see this and then won A reserve tickets as a door prize! Unsurprisingly the music and costumes were excellent, the latter being highlighted in an especially lovely way with everyone dressed as native flora and fauna in the finale - except our three leads who dress as the opera house! The choreography is also impressive with some very quick costume and makeup changes. And the effects used on the bus itself too.
The key story holds up quite well and it's still easy to believe how hard it is for a gay man to face up to getting to know his son. Though surprising how easy his wife makes it for him. I worried the straight audience would take the show for a joke and focus on the glitter rather than the heart. And indeed there was less heart than expected but it's still there. The real heart of the show for me is Bernadette and what a joy it is to see a musical that centers a trans woman, and allows her to find love no less.
Unfortunately the racial elements of the show hold up really poorly, from the Asian mail order bride performing a pong show to the fact that the trio actually climb Uluru which is so not okay culturally. There were also white actors playing an Indigenous man and an Asian tourist. This is all not very 2018.
I did like the three divas and the way they facilitate occasional lip synching. I'm not a big fan of Euan Doidge but he certainly goes for it in this role. So lots of feelings about this show! It is always nice to see an Australian original.
#26 Calamity Jane - a touring production following a Hayes Theatre season last year and performances in other cities recently. Very enjoyable, suspension of disbelief entertainment. Updates to the show in terms of little additions in dialogue referencing modern events and sly nods to Virginia Gay's career and leaning in to the lesbian subtext make the revival even better, though the early comments about Indians really stick out. Virginia Gay is wonderful as always in the lead role as is Christina O'Neill in a number of roles including Susan and Adelaide Adams.
#25 The View Upstairs - another Hayes Theatre production which was exciting for me. This is really a minor show, but it was sad and sweet with heart.
#24.5 Follies - a National Theatre live production in cinemas. It took a while to get going and it was a long show, but the last hour was so good. Janie Dee as Phyllis was spectacular and her "Could I Leave You" is the turning point after which I really got into it.
#24 Falsettos - much better than A New Brain by the same composer William Finn. I enjoyed some of the upbeat numbers but it was very dated and overall not quite the standard I expect from a StageArt production. Sam Ward's solo "You Gotta Die Sometime" revealed a wonderful voice. I wasn't very impressed by the presence of Don Winsor as Marvin, but Nick Simpson-Deeks was very good as Mendel.
#23.7 Passing Strange - filmed version of a really enjoyable autobiographical stage show. I recognized Colman Domingo, and Daniel Breaker who I saw in Hamilton.
#23.6 Billy Elliot Live - I started the DVD of this but didn't even finish, I didn't like it at all.
#23.5 Phantom of the Opera Live at Royal Albert Hall - this was on TV for Phantom's 30th anniversary. I had never seen the stage show because I didn't like the 2004 movie, and I felt pretty similarly this time. The title song is wonderful of course, and I like The Point of No Return, but overall I found the show just okay despite my love for Webber's Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar.
#23 A New Brain - this was a mediocre musical. Some of the staging was cute like in 'Sailing', and I enjoyed the song 'Brain Dead' and the performance of John Reed as Mr Bungee. I also liked the sweet romance between the two men. I do wish I liked more of the music though.
#22.5 Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson - this was just a bootleg of a filmed production so I couldn't appreciate all of it, although some of that might be cultural/historical too. I enjoyed the punk rock score.
#22 Vivid White - at times more of a play with songs, this is a work of satire about the Melbourne housing market with a good dose of sea creature mayhem thrown in. Verity Hunt-Ballard and Brent Hill have great musical voices, but Virginia Gay is the star for me - especially her lower register in the number Soft Close Drawers.
#21 Come From Away - final Broadway show of the trip. After planning this trip for Hamilton, I listened to the soundtracks of six other shows of the season and chose this one over Dear Evan Hansen, Groundhog Day, Anastasia, The Great Comet (since closed) and Waitress (not my thing). The consistency of the beautiful score and the heart-warming story elevated this show, and it absolutely lived up to expectations. I was excited to see Jenn Colella (who I had seen several years ago in If/Then) and she was fantastic but the whole ensemble was so strong and versatile. It's easy to forget that this is a single act of 100 minutes in which most if not all of the cast is onstage the whole time, constantly moving props and changing into different characters when not singing. It struck me that there are very few opportunities in this show for the audience to applaud - even after a big number - because the show just keeps going and going. Being in the fourth row also did not hurt! I loved it.
#20 Hamilton - yes, the Hamilton! On Broadway! Planned eight months in advance as my surprise 30th birthday present! What an amazing, clever, witty show. I didn't listen to the soundtrack before seeing the show, so I was only familiar with the opening number. We were in the fourth row, technically in restricted view seats as they were very far left, but still a great view. I saw the standby Jevon McFerrin (pictured) as Hamilton - I had been looking forward to Javier Munoz but McFerrin did not disappoint at all. Mandy Gonzales was amazing as Angelica in one of my favourite numbers, "Satisfied". I loved In the Heights before this show but none of the female characters on that show got to rap so it's very special that Angelica does! Daniel Breaker has a very smooth voice as Aaron Burr and I loved "The Room Where it Happens" and "Wait for It". Also Hamilton's rapping! Ten Duel Commandments! History Has Its Eyes On You! The Cabinet Battles! King George's numbers!
I just want to see it again, but will have to settle for listening to the soundtrack, the mixtape, the parodies etc.
#19 Sweeney Todd - my first time seeing this show and my first off-Broadway experience. The Barrow Street Theatre created an immersive experience recreating Harrington's Pie Shop, which first did this in London. After a pre-show chicken pie and mash, sitting at cafeteria-style tables, the show took place at the front counter (Mrs. Lovett's pie shop), and around and even on the tables! I've never been so close to performers before.
I expected an off-Broadway cast to be more up-and-coming and not have many major credits yet so was surprised how accomplished this cast already was! I especially loved the performances of Carolee Carmello as Mrs Lovett and John-Michael Lyles as Tobias - but also enjoyed Michael James Leslie (Judge Turpin), Jake Boyd (Anthony), Eryn Lecroy (Johanna) and Hugh Panaro (Sweeney Todd). My favourite numbers were Worst Pies in London, Pirelli's Miracle Elixir and A Little Priest. I was already a little emotional before the show - and hearing about the Texas shooting during the intermission set me off to react very emotionally to the tragic finale of the show. Having already seen the film some time ago I wasn't expecting that, but it speaks to the power of these performers. Amazing show!
#18 Chess - an OSMAD amateur production. It started out mediocre, and I wasn't very impressed with the actors who played Freddie or Anatoly, but as the show moved to focus more on the female characters and the political intrigue it really grew on me. Emily McKenzie was fantastic as Florence. I knew I would know One Night in Bangkok, but was surprised to find several more familiar numbers like Nobody's Side, I Know Him So Well and Anthem. I also really enjoyed The Soviet Machine with its accordion and Russian dancing.
I've listened to the soundtracks of some of the new shows on Broadway this year.
Come From Away is my favourite, with consistently beautiful music and a book that seems moving without being overdone.
Dear Evan Hansen has some nice songs and Ben Platt's voice is really something, but it's not a show I connected with the way so many audiences have.
Groundhog Day isn't a story I would have thought needed musical treatment, but I felt the show softened some of what wouldn't work today, and the numbers Hope and If I Had My Time Again are excellent.
Waitress is not for me at all, which makes sense as I'm not into the work of Sara Bareilles.
The Great Comet is the one I was most looking forward to, and I was a little disappointed that the score was all over the place in style without many standout numbers, as well as the focus on the condescending story of Natasha's purity and Pierre's pity for her. That said, Josh Groban's voice is amazing, and the use of accordion and other Russian folk sounds are a really nice touch.
Finally, Anastasia was another one I wanted more from. All the best songs were better in the film, which this couldn't improve upon. I did really like Caroline O'Connor's numbers, I've seen her live here in Australia a few times and she manages to stand out on this Broadway soundtrack too.
#17 Merrily We Roll Along - a Watch This production given a boost by Melbourne Theatre Company. It's a moving show and I liked Nelson Gardner as Charley and Nicole Melloy as Mary. I was surprised to find no microphones were used (at least no individual ones for the actors) and while the theatre was small it sometimes required better projection.
#16 Spring Awakening - this is one of those shows I've long wanted to see, but to my surprise it wasn't so much my kind of thing. I love a good rock musical score and was interested to see what Duncan Sheik would write. The show just had such a different feel for a musical and I couldn't connect with it. That said, I'm very glad to have seen it.
#15 Next to Normal - this was a Monash Uni production. It's an interesting story, though the twist in act 1 felt like something I'd seen before. I liked the score, especially the real rock musical gems like I Am the One, and Who's Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I. It did feel a little long and repetitive, but I would be up for seeing a more professional production some time.
#14 Les Miserables - a production by CLOC has been running so I went for my birthday. It's my favourite show and I've seen it so many times but not since the major Australian production in 2014. This one was not a standout, and during the first half hour or so the conductor wasn't quite on which led to some off-tempo singing. It did improve after that, and had very good performances by Shaun Kingma as Javert, Daniel Mottau as Marius and Scott Hill and Melanie Ott as The Thenadiers.
#13 - Big Fish. This one took a little while to win me over, but it really did. The songs only served to support the story and I can't say I remember any of them very well, but the heart of the story of bravery and familial love warmed my heart and even got me a little teary. The set was small and imaginative and really added to the sense of magic, and Phillip Lowe's performance was very special.
#12 - It Shoulda Been You - my favourite so far this year. I've been looking forward to seeing a production since I read about the Broadway premiere in 2015, especially given the twist. The Chatswood Musical Centre have brought it here for the Australian premiere. It's not a professional theatre company and that did show at times with the production values and some actors, but overall it completely won me over. Most of the score isn't that memorable but I loved A Perfect Ending, which served as a centrepiece and took the show in a new direction - plus I love a bit of klezmer in a musical! Most songs by the mother of the bride (What They Never Tell You), mother of the groom (Where Did I Go Wrong) or both (That's Family) were really enjoyable too. Given the twist I somewhat knew about going into the show, I wish the bride and groom got to do more with their characters, instead it was really all about the sister of the bride, her love interest and the mothers. Still it warmed my heart and I'm so glad I got a chance to see it.
#11 The Book of Mormon - this is a good show but definitely not worth the level of hype that has surrounded it. I preferred the second act, especially the standout song I Believe. Some of the humour fell flat and seemed dated already, though that's typical for Matt and Trey's work, and there were plenty of laughs.
#10 American Idiot - I flew to Brisbane to see this show during Chris Cheney's run as St Jimmy. Chris was the highlight though I also liked Alex Jeans' Will. I wished Ben Bennett as Johnny had a lower voice more similar to Billie Joe's. The songs were good, but the story could have been more coherent and I was surprised it wasn't that political other than the very cool visuals which were modernised for the Trump era. My pet peeve was that the lighting didn't make it clear who was singing even when most of the cast was onstage - all storylines were lit up and this got confusing.
#9.5 Newsies - another filmed stage show that has come to cinemas, this time from Hollywood. A nice story and good performance from Jeremy Jordan, though none of the songs were very memorable.
#9 Wicked - there was a major production last year which my partner and I missed and when she said that was a shame I figured I could find a smaller one for us to go to this year - in fact, I've already heard word of three. I've never seen this show before and actually liked it more than I expected to. The focus on the relationship between two female characters never hurts! Morgan Heynes as Elphaba was a stand-out and Defying Gravity was really good. This won't become a favourite, but I'm glad I saw it.
#8 The Gathering - a new and tiny independent production by Vic Theatre, about a young man who returns to Melbourne after five years away and brings his friends together in an old suburban house where secrets gradually come out. After reading an effusive review by TheatrePeople I expected more from this show, but I loved the number 'I Miss Us' between Luke and Kelly.
#7.5 Hairspray Live! - watched on TV so again not exactly live for me. Very impressive production values and standouts from Kristin Chenoweth and Jennifer Hudson.
#7 Dusty the Musical - the last Production Company show of the year. This was so good! I'm a big Dusty fan and Amy Lehpalmer really nailed the depth of Dusty's voice. There were so many of her songs, which was good as the book was nothing extraordinary - but I was so glad there was focus on her relationships with women, even though her love interest in this show was fictional. Hearing "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten" and "The Look of Love" as love songs between women was great. It really made me want to read the biography this was based on, called Dancing with Demons.
#6 The Drowsy Chaperone - an amateur production by the Ballarat Light Opera Company. I had this musical on my to-watch list and it was enjoyable but nothing to write home about. Gareth Grainger was quite good as Man in Chair.
#5 The Color Purple - Stage Art have put on a lot of great American shows we can't otherwise see in Australia, like In the Heights and Dreamgirls. I love the book The Color Purple and this was such a heartwarming adaptation. The cast was great, though I think Celie and Shug could have had better chemistry. The songs weren't actually that memorable but it was still a very good show.
#4.5 - Miss Saigon 25th Anniversary performance in cinema (so not exactly live) - a great engineer in Jon Jon Briones and an amazing Gigi in Rachelle Ann Go. It was nice at the end when Lea Salonga, Jonathan Pryce and others from the original cast came out.
#4 Jesus Christ Superstar - I wasn't crazy about the staging. There was so much running around; Judas assaulting Mary Magdalene; lots of tussling. Judas sang well at times but also sometimes screamed his words. There were little kids playing young versions of the three main characters who just appeared between songs and didn't seem to add much. But, it's good music and the first time I've gotten to see this show live. Jesus' Gethsemane was very good.
#3 Curtains - another Production Company show. This was one of Kander and Ebb's last shows and it has a couple of great numbers near the beginning - The Woman's Dead and Show Business. I was already familiar with many of the cast from other shows which means I'm really getting familiar with Australian theatre regulars. The show was very funny and enjoyable. My mum especially loved it!
#2 Matilda the Musical - this is a top-notch show and our Australian production was fantastic. School Song was so well done, I would love to be a follow-spot operator in a production of this. I also loved Revolting Children. The actors who played Matilda and Miss Trunchbull were perfect, as were the other kids. Best musical show of the year so far, and I've seen ten!
#1 Funny Girl - The Production Company starring Caroline O'Connor. Great costumes and performance by O'Connor, even though she's much older than the character she plays. Good fun.