This weekend, Belvoir presents its first online concert featuring songs from various shows staged at the venue. As host Virginia Gay says, with theatres closed due to COVID-19, we need online concerts like this to remind us that even if we are in isolation we are not alone. Last week, Disney announced that it will screen its film of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical theatre juggernaut Hamilton on Disney+ from July 3, thrilling musical theatre fans around the world. In the meantime Miranda’s 14-minute musical 21 Chump Street is a great way to whet the appetite. NT at Home continues in grand fashion with the Young Vic production of A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois, while Black Swan State Theatre Company celebrates Ray Lawler’s 99th birthday on Saturday with a live stream of his iconic play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.

Belvoir in Concert
Virginia Gay and Tony Taylor in Calamity Jane. Photograph © John Mccrae

Belvoir has announced its first ever online concert, which will stream over the coming weekend. Devised and curated by Belvoir Artistic Director Eamon Flack and Dom Mercer, the concert will be hosted by the irrepressible, irresistible Virginia Gay (who is currently in Los Angeles), and will include some of the best songs performed over the years at Belvoir in a series of specially recorded performances by the original cast members.

“It turns out we have presented a lot of great music and new Australian musicals over the years. We don’t want to ruin the surprise but there’s a light on the hill in the black hills of Dakota where the camp dogs roam and have the time of their lives…” said the Belvoir announcement.

The shows featured will, of course, include Calamity Jane, which started life in 2016 as a Neglected Musical at the Hayes Theatre Co. Directed by Richard Carroll with Virginia Gay in the title role, it got a hugely enthusiastic response. Carroll’s own company One Eyed Man Productions staged the show at the Hayes in 2017. The hilarious, rough-and-ready, rambunctious, meta-theatrical, award-winning production then had a season at Belvoir in 2018 and at other touring venues.

Other shows include Fangirls, Barbara and the Camp Dogs, Mr Burns, a Post-Electric Play, and Keating! The Musical. The cast – who will perform from their various homes – includes Paula Arundell, Laura Bunting, Elaine Crombie, Esther Hannaford, Sheridan Harbridge, Brent Hill, Chika Ikogwe, James Majoos, Mike McLeish, Zahra Newman, Yael Stone and Ursula Yovich among others.

Asked how important concerts like these are, during the COVID-19 theatre closures, Gay tells Limelight: “So, so important. Our one job on this planet as performers is to make you not feel so alone, to offer you solace and distraction, and ways to make sense of the world. That is the literal job of art. And right now, more than ever, people need exactly these qualities. They need community, they need beauty and optimism, and wonderful memories and silliness and transcendent breathtaking reminders that we are alive, and we’re all in this together.”

The concert is available via Belvoir’s website, Facebook page and YouTube from 7.30pm on Friday May 22 until 11.59pm on Sunday May 24 AEST. It is free to watch but if you make a donation, an anonymous donor will match it dollar for dollar. By the way, Belvoir has offered this little hint: “make sure you watch right to the very end…”

21 Chump Street – The Musical (YouTube)
21 Chump Street, performed at BAM in 2014

In February, Disney announced that it would be releasing a filmed version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster musical Hamilton in cinemas in October 2021. But with cinemas now closed due to COVID-19, Disney announced on May 12 that Hamilton would instead be available to view on the Disney+ channel from July 3, this year – 15 months earlier than planned.

The filmed performance features the original Broadway cast including Miranda himself – who wrote music, lyrics and book – in the title role of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. It was shot at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway in June 2016 over two performances with 16 cameras, followed by another two days of recording to get close-up shots with handheld cameras.

Directed by Thomas Kail, Hamilton is one of biggest musical theatre juggernauts of our time. Staged by the same creative team that collaborated on Miranda’s 2008 Tony Award-winning Best Musical In the Heights, Hamilton premiered on Broadway on August 2015 and went on to take home 11 Tony Awards including Best Musical, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album. An Australian production, produced by Michael Cassel, is scheduled to open at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre in March 2021.

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton and the original Broadway cast of Hamilton. Photograph © Joan Marcus

Musical theatre fans around the world will be hanging out for July 3 to watch Hamilton on Disney+. In the meantime, as a delicious little appetiser, why not watch 21 Chump Street – The Musical, a 14-minute one-act musical with music, lyrics and book by Miranda. It premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2014, as part of a showcase put on by the NPR radio show This American Life, and is available on YouTube.

21 Chump Street is based on the real-life story of ‘Operation D Minus’ (reported on by This American Life), in which police officers went undercover at a high school in Palm Beach County, Florida to investigate underage drug running. In the musical, a student called Justin (based on real-life student Justin Laboy), who has never taken drugs, is arrested after becoming smitten with an undercover police officer and selling drugs to her in order to try and impress her.

Over 70 percent of the musical is based on verbatim quotes from taped interviews, while the show’s satirical title is a reference to the 1987 TV show 21 Jump Street.

In a mere 14 minutes, Miranda immerses you in the story, bringing wit, humour and pathos to the storytelling, along with his distinctive musical theatre voice, which blends rap and a range of musical styles. He also performs with the young cast. 21 Chump Street is an impressive miniature musical, that showcases Miranda’s considerable prowess as a musical theatre writer.

NT at Home: A Streetcar Named Desire
Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois in the Young Vic production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Photograph © Johan Persson

The National Theatre continues to share excellent productions through its free NT at Home digital program. Its next offering is the Young Vic/Joshua Andrews co-production of A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Australian Benedict Andrews with Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois.

Filmed live on stage at the Young Vic in 2014 by NT Live, Andrews’ radical production of Tennessee Williams’ classic 1947 drama is staged on a sparse, revolving set. Designed by Magda Willi, the wall-less design features the frame of the small New Orleans apartment where Blanche’s sister Stella lives with her brutal husband Stanley Kowalski. As the stage turns we watch the action from every angle. Occasionally it becomes distracting but it remains a fascinating way to see into the world of the play and the characters, as they conceal things from each other, or are unknowingly overheard. Between scenes, contemporary rock music blasts out.

Anderson, who is best known for her work in television programs such as The X-Files and The Falls, gives a stellar performance that captures Blanche’s pretensions, sensuality, calculation and mental fragility, as well as her desperate loneliness. She is well matched by Ben Foster as Stanley and Vanessa Kirby as Stella.

Reviewing the production for The New York Times, Ben Brantley said: “The New Orleans neighbourhood where Blanche DuBois comes calling so disastrously in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire has never seemed quite so atavistic as it does in Benedict Andrews’ compellingly harsh revival… The production pits a fully adrenalized Gillian Anderson, as Blanche, against Ben Foster, as her adversarial brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski, in a riveting study of the survival of the fittest.”

A Streetcar Named Desire is available for free from 4am on Friday May 22 AEST (7pm May 21 BST) for a week on the National Theatre’s YouTube channel.

Black Swan State Theatre Company: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
Kelton Pell, Mackenzie Dunn and Jacob Allan in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Photograph © Philip Gostelow

On Saturday May 23, Australian playwright Ray Lawler turns 99. To celebrate his birthday, Black Swan State Theatre Company in Perth is streaming its production of his iconic, much-loved 1955 play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.

Set in 1950’s working class Melbourne, the Doll centres on two cane-cutters – Roo and Barney – who spend each “layoff” season in Melbourne with their girlfriends. However, this year things have changed and the summer holiday gradually unravels in devastating fashion.

Black Swan presented the play in 2018 at the Heath Ledger Theatre with a cast including Kelton Pell, Jacob Allan, Mackenzie Dunn, Amy Mathews and Alison Van Reeken. Pell, who was the first Indigenous actor to play the role of Roo, won Best Actor in a Mainstage Production at the 2018 Performing Arts WA Awards for his portrayal, and was also nominated for a 2019 Helpmann Award.

The Limelight review said that the production, directed by Adam Mitchell, “brings out the more fantastic elements of the piece” with the design creating a “dreamy feel”.

The free full-length live stream will begin at 7.30pm WST (9.30pm AEST) on Saturday May 23, and will only be available to watch via a private link sent to registered attendees. To register and for more information, visit the Black Swan website.