Musical theatre, contemporary music, comedy, opera, classical music, theatre, dance and physical theatre, children’s presentations, regional touring and cabaret define the live performance industry in Australia, with more than 18 million people attending shows across the country and ticket revenues of $1.5 billion” annually.
Winners of a ‘Bobby’ came from a select group of nominees in 41 categories when the annual Helpmann Awards were announced at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney on the set of the successful musical, Singin’ in the Rain on July 25th, 2016. It was broadcast live on Foxtel Arts, enabling me to watch it in the comfort of my Melbourne living room.
Big winner of the night was the Royal Shakespeare Company masterwork Matilda the Musical, the smash hit show inspired by the great late English children’s author Roald Dahl, from a book by Dennis Kelly and original songs created by Tim Minchin.
It took out the thirteen (13) awards it had been nominated for, sweeping the pool. Its young performers proved why. They were dazzling.
The Helpmann Awards are recognised for both achievement and excellence in Australia’s live performance industry, which named for one of Australia’s foremost performers Sir Robert (Bobby) Helpmann (1909-1986).
They both celebrate and commemorate his considerable international and national achievements in the world of performance art. They also incorporate the JC Williamson and Sue Nattrass Awards for outstanding contribution to the Australian live performance industry.
Stephen Page, successful Artistic Director of Bangarra Dance Theatre became the 2016 recipient of the JC Williamson Award, bestowed on an individual who makes a truly outstanding contribution to the enrichment and future of Australia’s live performance culture.
Stephen Page was emotional. He said, “I have been fortunate to have worked with so many inspiring communities, artists and creative people during my 25-year tenure as Artistic Director of Bangarra. It is a truly unique Australian company and I am so proud of everything we have achieved. The stories we share are truly distinctive and I feel privileged to play a role in the vital care taking of these stories, through the intimate weaving of culture and contemporary dance.”
Hosts for the 16th Annual Helpmann Awards Ceremony included many luminaries, and the show itself featured some outstanding performances by the stunning casts of Matilda the Musical, The Sound of Music, the stunning Ladies in Black and the perennial favourite, Singin’ in the Rain.
Starting with the song and dance overture from Singing in the Rain, including the iconic and delightful Good Morning routine with Don (Grant Almirall), Cosmo (Jack Chambers) and Kathy (Gretel Scarlett), the evening got off to a good start under the auspices of Helen Dallimore.
Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play – Mark Leonard Winter won for King Lear and everyone loved his ‘mum’ reference, while the Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play was Sarah Pearce, The Golden Age, Sydney Theatre Company
Tim Minchin came up to happily present the Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical – Daniel Freiderikson, Matilda the Musical and Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical – Elise McCann, Matilda the Musical.
Musician and singer NZ born Tim Finn, arrived on stage to present Best International Contemporary Concert – the Prince Tour 2016 (Paul Dainty), the Best Contemporary Music Festival – WomAdelaide Festival – which is an antidote for the misunderstandings in the world today. He also accepted alongside collaborators Carolyn Byrne and Director Simon Phillips the award for best new Australian work, Ladies in Black.
The Best Australian Contemporary Concert went to outstanding performer Kate Miller-Heidke and The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, MOFO 2016.
The divine chanteuse Sarah Blasko performed next, the Australian singer songwriter musician and producer giving us a rendition of her single Luxurious from her Eternal Return album.
The comedic Umbilical Brothers were a good choice to present the technical awards and Andrew McKay presented the Sue Natress Award to straight shooter Michael Lynch CBE AM former head of the Australia Council, who has held some amazing positions in the world of arts and culture. Lynch gave a brilliant speech, clearly an admirer of the recipient he revealed his respect and admiration for this leader of so many organisations.
Michael Lynch impressed everyone with his erudition, coming home to receive it and take the opportunity to congratulate and exalt the winner of the JC Williamson Award baby boomer Steven Page personally.
His career has been built on the back of so many great people who are never heralded, but always their to support the artists because if ‘If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him’*
Guy Noble waxed lyrical about the Sydney International Piano Competition and introduced 1st prize winner Russian pianist Andrey Gugnin from Moscow, who wowed the crowd with his virtuosity and clear command of the Shigeru Kawai Grand Piano.
Thrilling to watch was the announcement for the Award for the Best Chamber and Instrumental Ensemble Concert to the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and the Circa Contemporary Circus. Their stunning program French Baroque with Circa in 2015 combined high art and pure entertainment in a tour de force of chic, classy entertainment.
Best Symphony Concert – Australian World Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and the Best Original Score went to Tim Minchin, Matilda the Musical and then the eight Matildas performed, QUIET superbly; they are certainly a very impressive group and revealed the high quality of excellence Australian performance art has attained.
Another stand out award was a Special Award honouring the Outstanding Contribution to the Development of Comedy in Australia by the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, always popular in this town.
Marina Prior and Mark Vincent performed the beautiful Time to Say Goodbye as the names of live performers lost in the past year rolled by, it was very poignant.
Truly glorious performance On the Nature of Daylight, a pas de deaux by principals from the Western Australian Ballet was beautifully rendered, a lovely example of the beauty of ballet showcasing the human body.
What a tdelight it was when the eight Matildas came onto the stage to accept their awards as Best Female Actor in a Musical x 8.
Their reactions were honest and heartfelt and indeed humbling, what wonderful ambassadors they are for the whole live performance industry in Australia today.
The talented team from the stunning musical The Ladies in Black then performed their title song. A chic presentation by Queensland Theatre Company, which I was happy to see when it was presented by the Melbourne Theatre Company earlier this year, this musical will soon enjoy a return season, touring nationally in early 2017, taking in Sydney and Canberra with encore seasons in both Brisbane and Melbourne.
Like many award shows The Helpmann’s seemed to go on for a long time, but then I supposed like all good live performance art, you just have to be there, perhaps something to look forward to next year.
In the meantime I will keep humming Do-Re-Mi from The Sound of Music, or perhaps recall the glorious Red Shoes (1948) starring Robert Helpmann with the beautiful Moira Shearer, which my mother took me to see when I was five years of age, forging my earliest memory of a love for performance arts.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
*John F. Kennedy