A LETTER FROM AUSTRALIA: Love Never Dies, Annie, Cate Blanchett, David Williamson and More

By Mark Shenton
01 Feb 2012

Ben Lewis and Anna O'Byrne in Love Never Dies.

Love Never Dies, I wrote, is now ready for Broadway. Where Australia once waited patiently for Broadway shows to come to it, it is now increasing its role as a tryout house for Broadway: Last year Des McAnuff came there to direct a new stage version of Dr. Zhivago, with music by Lucy Simon, book by Michael Weller and lyrics by Michael Korie and Amy Powers, that also starred Anthony Warlow in the title role. This coming May, Simon Phillips will direct a new stage musical version of the film "An Officer and a Gentleman" in Sydney.

But if Australia's commercial theatre scene — dominated by producer John Frost (universally known as "Frostie"), who is the Cameron Mackintosh of Sydney, responsible for Annie, Dr. Zhivago and An Officer and a Gentleman — is showing some resilience, there are also problems, not least the lack of venues. Sydney only has three theatres typically open (and large enough) to stage commercial musical runs, and one of them, the Theatre Royal, is currently dark after the planned transfer of Rock of Ages from Melbourne was suddenly cancelled. The venue is now reported to be under threat of redevelopment.

But elsewhere Sydney has a thriving network of resident companies. Sydney Theatre Company get the lion's share of publicity, thanks to Blanchett and Upton at the helm (though they have recently announced their intention to step down from running it next year after six years in charge), operating out of four regular theatres. Their home space is the Wharf Theatres, comprising two studio theatres on a wharf in the bay around the corner from the Harbour Bridge; they also operate the Sydney Theatre across the street, which they also make available to external hires. They are also the resident company at Sydney Opera House's Drama Theatre.

Sydney Opera House is, of course, one of the great artistic buildings in the world, like the entire South Bank complex in London put under one roof, which is itself an architectural sculpture of world renown. As well as the Drama Theatre, there's also a flexible studio space; and it's rather wonderful that, next to the high art of Mozart and the like upstairs, the studio below it has been turned into a cabaret carnival to house a local edition of the ongoing London hit La Soiree, where Norway's Captain Frodo contorts his entire body through the heads of two tennis rackets and Croydon-born Ursula Martinez produces a red handkerchief from improbable places on her body.