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Our Favourite Australian Musicals and What We Love About Them

14 August 2020 by Michael Rowshan
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Miss seeing your fave Aussie musicals on the big stage? Yeah, us too. There has been so many amazing, trailblazing shows that have roots in Australia, so while we’re waiting for theatres to reopen let’s reminisce about some of the most iconic musicals to have been thought up in this great land down under. The land we love. The land we sing and dance on. The land we call home. 

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Long before RuPaul sashayed his way onto our screens and into our hearts, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert rode her long dusty, glamorous, queer path straight into our collective imagination. Directed by Australian theatre royalty, Simon Phillips, Priscilla debuted in 2006 at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre to sell-out crowds. An instant smash-hit, Priscilla went on to tour the globe to rave reviews (and was produced on Broadway by none other than the iconic Bette Midler). The unlikely story of three drag friends en route in a banged up old bus to perform a glamorous show in the dusty outback heart of Australia is based on the 1994 film, and this heartwarming, epic journey of friendship and acceptance went on to create a much more open, understanding and gay Australia.

Featuring a seemingly endless stream of lovable bops, such as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” and “I Will Survive,” Priscilla is an iconic Australian musical which will last through the ages, and will always be remembered for being named after arguably the most important character in the show — the bus. (Obviously not just any bus — but a broken down, gloriously extra, whimsical drag bus.) If you’re up for it (and we all know you have nothing else to do at the moment), put on your biggest heels, get that wig on, and listen to the cast recording. You will not regret it.

Muriel’s Wedding

Name a more quintessential Australian story than this tale about running away to the Big Smoke to escape your questionable family and finding love, friendship, and freedom (also an arranged marriage) all the way. Add to it ABBA (literally a manifestation of the actual band ABBA, not just a Spotify playlist) underscoring the entire thing and you have Muriel’s Wedding.

Directed by none other than Simon Phillips (of Priscilla royalty), the music for Muriel’s Wedding was written by the formidable Kate Miller-Heidke (of Eurovision fame) and her partner Keir Nuttal, as well as ABBA (of course). This fabulous musical opened in Sydney in 2017 to five-star reviews. It went on to tour Australia and capture the imagination of thousands of theatregoers.

Based on the 1994 film (geez, 1994 was a great year for Aussie film), this Helpmann Award-winning tragically beautiful musical tells the story of Muriel escaping her mundane life in the dreamt up beach town of Porpoise Spit. After stealing money from her family, she runs away to Sydney looking for love and a fresh start. Her plan falls apart but everything works out at the end, leaving you feeling inspired to make your dreams happen. Get on your best Swedish attire right now and click on this link to get the dreamy, boppy ABBA feels all up in your love centre.       

The Boy from Oz

Ohhh Hugh Jackman. The glorious man we all want to be (or be with). The Boy From Oz is arguably the most recognizable musical on this list, as our dear Hugh won a Tony Award with the show back in 2004. This jukebox musical based on the life and music of Peter Allen, debuted in Sydney in 1998 starring theatre royalty Todd McKenny as Peter where it played to over 1 million patrons. It then premiered with Hugh Jackman as the lead in a revised production (where some of the quintessential Aussie sayings were removed to be more palatable to an American audience) on Broadway in 2003 where it was met with mixed reviews, but cemented Hugh as a formidable performer.

The show tells the story of the legendary Allen, a performer grappling with his homosexuality and his rocky marriage with none other than Liza (with a Z) Minelli. The ups and downs and twists and turns make for some truly compelling and highly emotive, yet glamorous theatre. Pop on your nearest leopard print garb and click here to experience the whimsy and beauty of a truly sensational soundtrack.  

Bran Nue Dae

Bran Nue Dae is a classic Australian musical written by Jimmy Chi, a Nyulnyul composer and playwright. Premiering in 1990 in Perth, it went on to tour Australia and win the prestigious Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award. Set in 1960’s Broome, Western Australia, Bran Nue Dae is a coming of age musical exploring Indigenous themes through rock-n-roll, gospel, country, and blues.

As the first Indigenous musical, this feel-good show tells the story of Young Willie, a runaway teenager hitchhiking his way through the desert to Broome, determined to be with the girl he left behind. Bran Nue Dae was adapted into a critically acclaimed film in 2009 and featured some of the biggest names in Australian entertainment, going on to become one of them most successful Australian films of all time. This beautiful musical was revived by Opera Australia for a national tour in 2020. Find some comfortable clothes, take off your heels, and get ready to be transported through beautiful song and dance by clicking here.

Strictly Ballroom

What would a comprehensive recap of iconic Australian musicals be without Strictly Ballroom? This canonical musical adapted from the film of the same name debuted in Sydney in 2014. It received mixed reviews and by the time it landed in Melbourne in 2015, the show was reworked and ready to bring the house down. Created by the true auteur Baz Luhrmann, Strictly Ballroom tells the inspiring tale of Scott Hastings, a championship ballroom dancer risking it all to follow his dreams. He finds Fran, a beginner dancer with two left feet, and through sheer courage, defiance, and love, they prove to the world that all you need to succeed is tenacity and a willingness to bend the rules. Pop on some ballroom shoes, grab your headphones, and get ready to foxtrot, waltz, cha-cha, tango, and rumba (by clicking here).

Special mention:

Shane Warne: The Musical

A musical about cricket? Eddie Perfect playing Shane Warne? What could go wrong? Nothing. Absolutely nothing could go wrong. This wildcard musical is peak Australian culture. A musical deifying our greatest sporting hero. This unlikely hit debuted in Melbourne (the sporting capital of Australia) in 2008, and went on to tour the country. Eddie Perfect (of Beetlejuice on Broadway fame) wanted to write a full-scale musical, and decided the best topic to explore would be Shane Warne.

The story follows his infamous life with all of the ups and downs, the controversies, the relationships, the wins, the losses, all underscored by boppy tunes. This show opened up the world of musical theatre (a high-brow artform we hold oh so close to our hearts) to an entire new audience of beer guzzling unironic blokey blokes. And anyone and everyone else. Because honestly, who wouldn’t want to watch a musical about our greatest national treasure? Put on your sporting clothes (we’re not going to pretend to know anything about sport, so if sporting clothes have a specific name, put on whatever that specific piece of clothing is), grab your bats and balls, and click here to experience the wonder that is Shane Warne: The Musical