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Breaking Down Justin's Top 10 Productions of 2023: A Year in Review

Greetings, Theatre Thoughts readers! Justin here, content creator and founder of Theatre Thoughts. If you've been immersed in our world, you likely have caught wind of my latest exposé, delving into the beating heart of theatre after reaching the milestone of my 100th theatrical production for 2023. If you missed it, fear not – the full article can be found here.


For Theatre Thoughts, this year has unfurled in ways I never expected, enchanting audiences from Sydney to Melbourne and all the way to the vibrant stages of London. We've ventured yet again into the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and soared to new heights at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, basking in the brilliance of stunning performances, uproarious comedies, and mind-bending experimental theatre. Meanwhile, our podcast, now in its third season, played host to none other than the legendary Stephen Schwartz, which you can listen to here.


But amidst this theatrical tapestry, which performances sparked conversation within me? What productions still linger in my mind, demanding recognition? I undertook the difficult task of whittling 100 shows, down to just 10 - with some honourable mentions thrown in there for good measure.


Deep breath, for the countdown begins!


Honourable Mentions


Blessed Union - Belvoir St Theatre (NSW)

Directed by Hannah Goodwin. Written by Maeve Marsden. Presented during Sydney WorldPride. 


Never Closer Production Poster

Read my full thoughts on Belvoir’s production here. 


The Lucky Country - Hayes Theatre Co (NSW)

Music and Lyrics by Vidya Makan in collaboration with Sonya Suares. Directed by Sonya Suares


The Lucky Country Production Poster

Read Tessa’s full thoughts on this original new musical here


Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall - Ensemble Theatre (NSW)

Written by Mark Kilmurry and Jamie Oxenbould. Directed by Mark Kilmurry.


Midnight Murder at Hamlington Hall Production Poster

Read my full thoughts on Ensemble’s production here. 


Gabbi Bolt: Odd Socks - MICF 2023 (VIC)

Presented by The Butterfly Club and MILKE. Written and performed by Gabbi Bolt


Gabbi Bolt: Odd Socks Production Poster

Read my full thoughts on Gabbi’s Melbourne International Comedy Show here.


Justin's Top 10 of 2023


10. Jazz or a Bucket of Blood - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)

Written and performed by Ange Lavoipierre and Jane Watt


Jazz or a Bucket of Blood Production Poster

The last show that I had the pleasure of watching at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and by far one of the best. Maybe it was the Australianisms that connected me to home, or perhaps it was sharing in Ange and Jane's love for Bunnings that was infectious. Heck, it could have been the bucket of blood sitting ominously in the back corner! Whatever it was, I know that if Ange Lavoipierre and Jane Watt ever bring Jazz or a Bucket of Blood back to the Fringe circuits, I'll be there.


You can read my full Edinburgh Fringe review here.


9. Aunty Donna: The Dead Cat Tour - Enmore Theatre (NSW)

Written and performed by Aunty Donna - Mark Bonanno, Broden Kelly and Zachary Ruane.


Aunty Donna's Dead Cat Tour Production Poster

Aunty Donna are Australia's answer to Monty Python - and you can quote me on that one. After viewing their gateway drug series of Youtube shorts Glennridge Secondary College, I was well and truly on the Donna hijinx train.


The Dead Cat tour was equal parts absurd, clever and pandering in all the best ways. I laughed, I cried, I learned - bring on Pudmas.


8. Beauty and the Beast the Musical - Capitol Theatre (NSW)

Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton.


Beauty and the Beast Production Poster

With Disney's Beauty and the Beast being the earliest musical theatre memory I have, I think it was fair to say I was more than excited to see it return to Australian shores.


Alan Menken's enchanting melodies, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice's lyrical magic, and Disney's timeless tale created a captivating musical spectacle at the Capitol Theatre, led by Australia's own princess Shubshri Kandiah. It was both magical and inspiring, so nice I saw it twice!


You can read my full Theatre Thoughts review here.


7. The Visitors - Sydney Theatre Company (NSW)

Written by Jane Harrison. Directed by Wesley Enoch.


The Visitors Production Poster

Having seen the first iteration of Jane Harrison's The Visitors at the Sydney Theatre Festival in 2020, I was interested to see the trajectory it took to return on the mainstage under the eye of the Sydney Theatre Company.


With the show premiering during the Voice to Parliament referendum and the conversations that were occuring at the time, The Visitors felt like the production that every Australian had to watch. With so much discourse around First Nation voices and their place in our history, Wesley Enoch's take on Harrison's story was both alarmingly relevant and deeply moving.


You can read my full Theatre Thoughts review here.


6. & Juliet - Regent Theatre (VIC)

Music & Lyrics by Max Martin, Book by David West Read, Directed by Luke Sheppard. Presented by Michael Cassel Group in association with MTM/LeyLine


& Juliet Production Poster

It's fair to say that & Juliet was the talk of the theatre world in Melbourne in 2023. With the production boasting a stellar cast, led by the incomparable Lorinda May Merrypor as Juliet, I was glad I managed to get a ticket during a short getaway.


Max Martin's musical prowess, David West Read's clever book, and Luke Sheppard's direction at the Regent Theatre produced an electrifying, modern twist on Shakespeare, making & Juliet an exhilarating journey that Sydneysiders should get excited for in 2024.


You can read Annika's full Theatre Thoughts review here.


5. Actually, Good - MICF 2023 (VIC)

The Butterfly Club presents a Gillian Cosgriff production.


Actually, Good - Production Poster

I think anyone who has asked me what's one of the best musical comedy shows I've seen this year will know that my immediate answer is Gillian Cosgriff's Actually, Good. After having the pleasure to speak to Cosgriff on our Melbourne International Comedy Special of the Theatre Thoughts Podcast, I was eager to see what magic she had cooked up for audiences.


The result was something truly special. Cosgriff created a comedic triumph, blending wit and charm to create a standout production.


You can read my full Melbourne International Comedy review here.


4. Beautiful Evil Things - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)

Co-Created by Deborah Pugh and George Mann. Presented by Ad Infinitum Theatre.


Beautiful Evil Things - Production Poster

Oh lordy, even as I type this I wish I could see this production again! Beautiful Evil Things may have just been the best thing I saw at the 2023 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The production mesmerised with its innovative storytelling and captivating performances, standing out in the festival's rich tapestry.


This tale of Greek Mythology recounting the tale of Medusa told through a feminist lens, performed by Deborah Pugh in a solo performance, was nothing short of magical. Innovative, captivating and original, this is how you take Greek Mythology and still make it relevant.


You can read my full Edinburgh Fringe review here.


3. Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 - Darlinghurst Theatre (NSW)

Written by Dave Malloy, directed by Dean Drieberg, Musical Director Claire Healy and Choreographed by Brendan Yeates. Produced by Darlinghurst Theatre Company


Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet Production Poster

Having already featured on the Theatre Thoughts team's Best of 2023 list, I also just had to include it on mine. Dave Malloy's masterpiece, skillfully directed by Dean Drieberg, unfolded at Darlinghurst Theatre, weaving a spellbinding tale with Claire Healy's musical direction and Brendan Yeates' choreography.


What placed The Great Comet so highly on my list was the overall direction that allowed musician performers to, quite literally, leap and jump off the stage with accordians in hand and all other means of musical communication to tell the intricate story. With standout numbers by the likes of Grace Driscoll and Kala Gare, The Great Comet truly was a highlight of 2023.


Read Tessa's full Theatre Thoughts review here and you can listen to our podcast chat with Grace & Dean now.


2. Oklahoma - Wyndhams Theatre (UK)

Written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Orchestrations, arrangements and co-music supervision by Daniel Kluge.


Oklahoma - Production Poster

Okay I know what you're thinking, really? Oklahoma was your second favourite production? But hear me out, this isn't your Nan and Pop's Oklahoma. You know, the one where the protagonist Curly tries to convince the farmhand Jud to physically hurt himself so Curly can be with the farmer's daughter Laurey? Yeah it's not that!


Under the eye of Daniel Kluge (Orchestrations, arrangements and co-music supervision) Rodger's and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! has never been so relevant, steamy and uncomfortable all at the same time. With the lights of the Wyndham theatre being unconventionally lit, heating the space minute by minute, Kluge truly paved the way on how to make a problematic musical extraordinarily timely.


1. Guys & Dolls - Bridge Theatre (UK)

Based on the story and characters by Damon Runyon. Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser. Book by Jo Swerling & Abe Burrows. Directed by Nicholas Hytner.


Guys & Dolls - Production Poster

Here it is, my number one show of 2023! Guys and Dolls at the Bridge Theatre in London was something I'd truly never witnessed before. This was Guys and Dolls at its finest and fully immersive. At first I was hesitant to go as it seemed something best enjoyed in company, but after some encouragement I took the plunge and never looked back.


The best way to experience this was on the floor, set up to be the hustling, bustling streets of New York City, complete with vendors selling bagels and knick knacks. Before long the floor become the stage as the traverse elements raised and lowered at different parts of the show. Every moment clearly thought out to be large enough for ensemble numbers, or intimate duets as we were moved around by the "police" - read; stage management team.


With stunningly powerful performances that ending in a whole cast and audience dance off, this was something that I won't forget anytime soon.

 

If you enjoyed this list, you can read what the Theatre Thoughts team thought was their best of 2023 now.


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