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On Sunday night, the Hayes Theatre Co revealed its 2018 season, announcing a full year’s programme for the first time. Launched in 2014 as a venue dedicated to musical theatre and cabaret, the little theatre was packed to the rafters for the event, hosted by David Campbell, one of the producers behind the venture. And there is plenty for musical theatre fans to get excited about in a diverse programme including Gypsy starring Blazey Best in the iconic role of Mama Rose, a revival of the Australian musical Darlinghurst Nights, the Sydney premiere of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, and a new version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s intimate chamber musical Aspects of Love.
Laura Bunting and Blazey Best will star in Gypsy. Photograph @ Phil Erbacher
The centrepiece – and the revelation held until last – would have to be Gypsy, one of the greatest musicals of all time with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. Luckiest Productions and One Eyed Man Productions in association with the Hayes present the show in May. It will be the first full production staged in Sydney since 1975. (A 1992 production, to be produced by Greg Jones and star Geraldine Turner, was famously cancelled after a week of rehearsals due to financial problems.)
In a thrilling piece of casting, Blazey Best (whose Hayes credits include Miracle City and Only Heaven Knows) plays Mama Rose, the stage mother from hell, with Laura Bunting as Louise. Gypsy is directed by Richard Carroll, who recently helmed a brilliant production of Calamity Jane at the Hayes (which returns as part of Belvoir’s 2018 season and tours). Joe Accaria is Musical Director, Cameron Mitchell will choreograph, and Alicia Clements, who did the stunning design for the Hayes' current production of Assassins, is also on board.
The year begins in January with a 30th anniversary revival of the Australian musical Darlinghurst Nights with book by Katherine Thomson (whose 1991 play Diving for Pearls has just had a superb revival at Griffin Theatre Company) and Max Lambert (Miracle City).
Produced by Richard Carroll for the Hayes itself and directed by Griffin Artistic Director Lee Lewis, Darlinghurst Nights is based on the book by Sydney poet Kenneth Slessor and takes places on the streets of Kings Cross, around the Hayes, during the 1920s and 30s when the Cross was the only place in Sydney where a bohemian lifestyle was accepted.
The show was well received when Sydney Theatre Company premiered it in 1988 as part of Sydney Festival. It was subsequently revived at the Sydney Opera House in 2000 for the Olympic Arts Festival. Speaking at last night’s launch, Thomson recalled how she wrote it in the tourist office next to the El Alamein Fountain in the Cross and had to put paper over the windows because she kept getting mooned. Describing the show as “a love letter to Sydney”, Lewis said that “it belongs here, it is actually coming home”, adding that it still has a lot to say to us now: “sometimes you’ve got to look backwards to look forwards”. Genevieve Lemon sang a number from it about a character called Cora – “who I keep calling a hooker, and Lee keeps saying, it’s called a sex worker now, mate,” quipped Lambert.
In February, Shaun Rennie directs the Australian premiere of Max Vernon’s The View UpStairs for Invisible Wall Productions and Sugary Rum Productions. Described by The New York Times as a “choppy but likeable new musical” and by RuPaul as “FABULOUS! It was fantastic”, it premiered off-Broadway in March this year.
It is set in a gay bar in New Orleans in 1973 and features a disco/glam rock score. The UpStairs Lounge was a real New Orleans bar that was destroyed later that year in a horrific act of arson killing 32 people. The show centres on the arrival of a young fashion designer Wes who buys the venue in 2017 and then time travells to the bar just before it is burned down, where he learns about queer history, along with the importance of love, defiance and resilience. The cast will include Stephen Madsen (who sang a number from the show) and Ryan Gonzalez.
In March, Blue Saint Productions, who staged Violet at the Hayes in 2015, present the Sydney premiere of In the Heights with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), which premiered off-Broadway in 2007 then transferred to Broadway where it won four Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score. Set in New York’s Washing Heights, it tells the story of a vibrant, largely Hispanic community through a series of vignettes about chasing your dreams, finding love and your true, and maybe even winning the lottery.
Earlier this month, a production planned for Brisbane caused controversy because its lack of ethnic diversity, with accusations that rather than casting Latinx actors, the show had been “whitewashed”. The story was picked up by The New York Times and the production was eventually cancelled. A Melbourne production with a more diverse cast was well received in 2015. Josh Robson, one of the producers, said at the launch that Miranda’s people had been in touch about what had happened in Brisbane but that he assured them, they would be casting appropriately. Luke Joslin directs, with Lucy Bermingham as Musical Director and Amy Campbell choreographing.
In July, Alexander Berlage directs American Psycho with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) and book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. It is based on Bret Easton Ellis’s notorious, gory, best-selling 1991 novel, which inspired the film of the same name about Patrick Bateman, a young, handsome, wealthy investment banker living in Manhattan, with a very dark side. Campbell quipped that the tiny venue would be turned into “one big kill room”, while Berlage recommended “BYO poncho”.
In October, the Hayes and New Musicals Australia (NMA) present a new Australian musical developed through the NMA programme called Evie May, A Tivoli Story with music and lyrics by Naomi Livingston and book by Hugo Chiarella. Set in 1966, on the night of the last ever Tivoli performance in Sydney, (fictional) veteran variety star Evie May recalls the events that led her from obscurity in regional Western Australia to the bright lights of the Australian variety circuit. Damien Ryan makes his musical theatre debut as director with Michael Tyack as Musical Supervisor.
In November, Andrew Bevis produces and directs a new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s chamber musical Aspects of Love, with lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart. Based on David Garnett’s novella, it tells a story of love and loss set against the backdrop of post-war France and Italy from the 1940s to the 1960s, with actress Rose Vibert, student Alex Dillingham, and Alex’s distinguished uncle the main protagonists. Sydney last saw a professional production in 1992 when Gale Edwards directed the musical at the Theatre Royal. Her production then toured the UK in 1993 and went into the West End. The Hayes production will use a 12-piece orchestra.
The season also includes Carmen, Live or Dead, written by Craig Harwood with original music by iOTA. Directed by Shaun Rennie and starring Natalie Gamsu, it tells the story of the fictional, intersex love child of Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky. The legendary Carlotta, who was one of the inspirations for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert will also perform in cabaret in Carlotta: Queen of the Cross, with Michael Griffiths as Musical Director, a show they have been performing together around Australia for the last 18 months with great success – but, said Griffiths, Carlotta particularly wanted to take it to the Hayes.