Eli Orzessek is Travel's Digital Content Producer.

Sydney: Sing a song in Sydney

Stars sparkled on stage and sets, costumes and venues shone even brighter to convince Eli Orsessek that this is Broadway Downunder.
Michael James Scott's Genie is extremely camp.
Michael James Scott's Genie is extremely camp.

Fans of musical theatre are spoilt for choice, with three great shows only a short flight away.

There's nothing like a night - or three - at the theatre in Sydney, and taking in a show at the Sydney Opera House for the first time is a real event.

The mere sight of the glowing white building on the edge of the harbour with its acclaimed sails all lit up for the evening is special in itself. If you get close enough in the daylight, you'll realise it isn't painted white, but adorned with intricate tiles.

In the past, I'd only made it to the stairs and restaurants of the Opera House, but tonight I was finally going to experience my first show there: My Fair Lady directed by Dame Julie Andrews herself.

I was glad I'd dressed in something respectable as my fellow audience members began to stream through - mostly older couples, all in their Sunday best, despite it being a Tuesday matinee.

The story of Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl, and Henry Higgins, the arrogantly misogynistic English-language enthusiast, has always been a favourite of mine.

From the moment the curtain rose, everything was practically perfect in every way, to borrow a phrase from another Julie Andrews' number.

The sets, based on Oliver Smith's 1956 designs, were a highlight, with beautiful painted backdrops in intricate detail very fitting of its grand setting.

The lavish costumes are also recreations of the original Broadway production and many of the costume changes - particularly Eliza's gown for the ball - produced murmurs and gasps from the audience.

And, of course, looking up at the form of the ceiling, to realise I was finally inside one of those magnificent white waves was a real buzz.

As the opening notes of Wouldn't It Be Loverly rang out across the theatre, hundreds of hearts swelled, including my own cold, cynical one. Anna O'Byrne as Eliza sounded so uncannily like Julie Andrews that it was as though we'd time-travelled to the golden age of musicals.

Alongside O'Byrne, British actor Alex Jennings nailed the comic timing and arrogant snickering of Henry Higgins, leading the audience to groan in all the right parts - particularly during the performance of Why Can't a Woman Be More Like A Man.

I could have watched the already-long performance for another hour but Henry Higgins ordered Eliza to fetch him his slippers and it was all over.

Later that evening, with strains of I Could Have Danced All Night still in my head, I was treated to a completely different type of musical: Disney's Aladdin.

Before the show, my friend and I dined at Palsaik, a Korean barbecue joint hidden in an upstairs location on George St that offers a shared meal of pork belly marinated eight different ways, cooked at your table. We munched our way through curry, bulgogi and more, with a delicious seafood hotpot on the side and lots of rice wine.

My Fair Lady was just loverly
My Fair Lady was just loverly


With five minutes to spare, we sprinted to the Capitol Theatre and took our seats, conspicuously stinking of cooking meat.

I was expecting a professional, slick show, with plenty of magic and comedy. The Capitol is a grand old theatre, comparable to Auckland's Civic, and the twinkling stars on the ceiling suited the magic of Aladdin perfectly.

Though the cast is mostly Australian, Disney insists on having its own Genie and Princess Jasmine imported from the US.

Michael James Scott's brilliant Genie is extremely camp - at times it was almost like Aladdin meets Paris is Burning with all the sass and neck snaps and finger waves.

The other star of the show was the set - intricately designed, it smoothly transformed throughout the show, from the markets and rooftops of Agrabah to the glittering cave of treasures, where Aladdin meets the Genie. Best of all is the magic flying carpet - how it floats is a closely guarded secret, and long may it remain so.

A contrast from the grey-haired audience of My Fair Lady, this modern musical drew in hordes of my people: millennials who grew up with the film looking to recapture some of that childlike wonder while singing along to the now-classic soundtrack. Of course there were some actual children there as well, but the vast majority were adult kids.

The next day, after a rainy-day trip to Ikea my Uber driver told me he'd had Aladdin himself in his car earlier in the week.

Despite his somewhat bogan appearance and souped-up Holden, the driver told us he had a theatre background of his own - a spontaneous decision to enrol with an extras agency led him to a sought-after background role in Turandot.

That evening I was off to tick off another show and venue - a preview of Dream Lover - The Bobby Darin Musical at Sydney's Lyric Theatre in Pyrmont.

Following the classiness of the Sydney Opera House and the old-school charms of the Capitol, the sparkling curtain of the Lyric - part of The Star casino complex - was flashy Vegas at its best, an ideal space to stage the story of one of its long-time performers Bobby Darin and his movie-star wife, Sandra Dee.

Directed by Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical's Simon Phillips, this Aussie take on Americana was all glitz, glamour and showtunes, with an 18-piece big band on stage.

With all Darin's hits, from Splish Splash to Mack the Knife and, of course, Dream Lover, it was enough to have you toe-tapping in your seat. David Campbell is an excellent Bobby Darin, but it was Caroline O'Connor, who plays Darin's mother, Polly, and Sandra Dee's mother, Mary, who stole the show for me.

David Campbell had the audience toe-tapping to Bobby Darin's hits.
David Campbell had the audience toe-tapping to Bobby Darin's hits.


Though producer John Frost warned this first performance of the show was unlikely to be perfect, you certainly wouldn't have thought so from the enthusiastic standing ovation the cast received after the triumphant final number.

As I taxied back to my hotel with a medley of songs spanning decades swirling through my head, I realised Sydney could be the closest thing we have to Broadway down this way.

CHECKLIST

Getting there

Air New Zealand flies several times daily between Auckland Sydney.

Details
sydney.com

- NZ Herald

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