Sydney Summer

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Sydney for summer holidays is not so far away, but it can transport you to a world of great entertainment.

Mamma Mia! What a show! The stage musical has returned to Sydney by popular demand, following the success of the Meryl Streep film version in spawning a whole new generation of ABBA fans. Opening night in October was a wild success, with stars strutting the red carpet, champagne flowing, and patrons from eight to 80 dancing and singing in the aisles – some of the more overly enthusiastic in the dress circle in danger, it seemed to me, of toppling over the balcony.

This 10th anniversary (of the opening of the Benny and Bjorn-backed musical’s opening in London’s West End) reprise performance is as good as the earlier Australian production that ran across four years from 2001 to 2005 … and is more vibrant, exciting – and features far superior singing – than the movie. The costumes are fantastic, the staging and dancing is colourful and amusing and the entire cast appears to be having FUN.
It’s a perfect extended-family treat and a highlight of the cavalcade of arts and entertainment that have come to typify Sydney in summer.

It’s an affordable venture, too, with accommodation packages at two central Sydney Mantra hotels offering rooms from $174pp a night including an A Reserve ticket to the show. By my calculation, that means you’re paying just $59.50 for the room, and travel by rail would be a budget transport solution that could suit many local families during the holidays. See www.mamma-mia.com.au or www.ticketmaster.com.au or call 1300 79 52 67. If you’re not buying accommodation, have a look at the Dinner on Us promotion: with the price of a ticket, dinner is free at two restaurants close to the Lyric Theatre, in the Sydney Casino complex at Darling Harbour, where Mamma Mia is playing. Parking underneath the casino is from $17 for 4-5 hours.

Across in downtown Sydney, Wicked the musical – the story of the Witches of Oz – is also playing to enthusiastic packed houses at the city’s best venue, the Capitol Theatre. The colour, song and staging of this production are outstanding: we had the best seats in the house – centre front, dress circle – and felt, several times, like the dragon’s head (a big feature of the show) was actually about to swallow us whole! It’s a “thrillifying” show that’s broken Australian box office records: “greenificate” a group of friends and see it: the sets are stunning, even the tiniest tots should be spellbound, and fans of Bert Newton will enjoy his turn as the Wizard. Accommodation packages available: see the full-on website at wickedthemusical.com.au or Ticketmaster or call 1300 72 30 38. Meanwhile, the annual Sydney Festival, offering about $10million worth of free entertainment, opens on Saturday January 9 with a free festival First Night of music. Cars, skateboards, roller blades, glass and BYO booze will be banned for a safe night out as performers right across the city’s landscape transform the streets, plazas and parks into a vibrant summer playground, starting from 2pm.

Björk concert at Sydney Harbor

Björk concert at Sydney Harbor.

Hyde Park will become a spice garden for the afternoon, where families can learn to juggle, dance or hula, watch daredevil performances at the outdoor circus or enjoy please-all music by Kasey Chambers, Poppa Bill and The Little Hillbillies. As dusk falls, a magical world will come alive in the park’s glittering avenue of trees and 43 Rajasthani musicians will take the stage. Nearby, Qantas’s Domain Concert opens with an inspirational message of hope and understanding by indigenous supergroup The Black Arm Band, then legendary soul and gospel singer Al Green takes the stage in his first Australian performance. Down in Martin Place, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy heads a swinging lineup and at Chifley Square Uber Lingua’s global urban sounds will play across a cluster of stages. To find the massive list of bands that will play at various venues throughout the festival you’ll need to check the festival website at sydneyfestival.org.au/2010, or music sites.

As has become traditional, Carols in the Domain is on Saturday, December 19; New Year is heralded in with the traditional free fireworks displays on the harbour; in January the annual free Domain concerts take place: African percussion and electric guitars (Sat Jan 16), Symphony in the Domain (Sat Jan 23), Opera in the Domain (Sat Jan 30) – and open-air cinemas around the inner-city (including Flickerfest on the sand at Bondi Beach) are a budget-priced way to enjoy a midsummer night’s picnic under the stars. Big Day Out is on Jan 22 and 23 at Sydney Olympic Park and the Australia Day holiday falls mid-week, on Tuesday Jan 26, with plenty of outdoors events. Also check out the Sydney Opera House forecourt’s pirate and sea shanty concert, Rogue’s Gallery, on Thursday, Jan 28.

ABBA tuns up again at Taronga Zoo’s popular summer event, Twilight at Taronga – a series of concerts to suit all tastes running from the end of January to the end of March. Choose unreserved picnic-style or theatre-style tiered seating with magnificent harbour views as you enjoy music styles including Lennon-McCartney, Neil Diamond, Kylie, Elton John, Billy Joel and Woodstock tributes, Bjorn Again, choir, orchestra and James Morrison swing. Call 1800 675 875 for a free series brochure or see the site, twilightattaronga.com.au. BTW, Team Edward, Team Jacob: no new moons fall during these concerts. But older revellers might like to note the heavens will turn on the romantic atmosphere of a full moon around the time of the Jan 30, Feb 28 and March 27 (finale) concerts.

Story by Susie Boswell.

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