It is little wonder Melbourne is renowned for its theatre and live performances. No matter what time of the year you visit, you’ll find an abundant choice of live performances to attend—from world renowned musicals such as “Aladdin” and “The Book of Mormon”—to experimental theatrical productions and concerts from the world’s biggest musical stars.
Like every good theatrical city we even have our own ghost—Federici. You’ll find him at the Princess Theatre. According to the legend, Federici died of a massive heart attack on 3 March, 1888 after a performance of the opera “Faust,” two years after the theatre opened. Every opening night, a seat in the Dress Circle is left empty for him and it is a sign of good luck if there is a sighting of Federici on that night.
The Princess is one of several fine old theatres that are just as popular today as they were when they opened. The Regent Theatre has endeared itself to the people of Melbourne since opening as a grand picture palace in 1929. Devastated by fire in 1945, it’s now more lavish and grand than ever.
Built in 1928, the Comedy Theatre is a blend of European flavours. The exterior is a replica of a Florentine palace, while inside, the colours and design give it a distinct Spanish style. According to the experts it’s these grand old theatres, together with the more modern spaces, which ensure Melbourne’s standing as a live entertainment mecca. During the recent Melbourne International Comedy Festival, for example, more than 100 venues were used for the festival’s 556 shows.
While the Princess, Regent and Comedy tend to attract the "big blockbusters," which usually stay for months, there are many other venues offering top-notch facilities for more short run plays, musicals and live performances.
Arts Centre Melbourne, for example, hosts everything from major productions, including Opera Australia performances at the State Theatre, to classic musical concerts and experimental plays. Hamer Hall is one of a number of venues popular with visiting musicians. The Melbourne Recital Centre is another, thanks to its magnificent acoustics. Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena are popular with local and international pop stars while the mega-stars head to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Etihad Stadium.
Plays are staged at numerous venues around the city. Melbourne Theatre Company plays, for example, are staged at both Arts Centre Melbourne and its own in Southbank Theatre. This complex includes the 500-seat Sumner Theatre and the more intimate 150-seat Lawler studio. The Coopers Malthouse complex houses three venues—the 500-seat Merlyn Theatre, 200-seat Beckett Theatre and 100-seat Tower Theatre.
In addition to these larger theatres there are the many smaller venues. These include Chapel Off Chapel in Prahran. The 250-seat Chapel (in the converted former Independent Church of Prahran) has featured a steady string of shows. The Chapel Loft, a smaller 100-seater, is a popular space for independent theatre and has launched the careers of many emerging artists.
La Mama in Drummond Street, Carlton, is one of Melbourne’s oldest and most fondly regarded theatres. Founded in 1967 by Betty Burstall after she visited La Mama in New York, it has become a major part of Melbourne’s artistic life thanks to its continuing program of what’s new and exciting in Australian theatre.
Fortyfivedownstairs at 45 Flinders Lane provides an affordable and supportive inner city venue for theatre performances, music and exhibitions by a wide range of artists. It aims to present quality productions of new and classic theatre and to encourage innovation, new ideas and hybrid art forms.
Theatre Works in Acland Street is a medium-sized performance space with a rich and extensive history of producing quality, alternative in-house productions, while also providing an open-access venue for arts practitioners.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre in Chapel Street is both a theatre and theatre company. Red Stitch is run by an ensemble of young actors. It’s one of many theatrical companies that call Melbourne home.
The Melbourne Theatre Company is one Australia’s largest performing arts companies in Australia. Founded in 1953, it’s also the oldest professional theatre company in Australia. It currently exists as a semi-autonomous department of the University of Melbourne.
The Production Company is a not-for-profit theatrical company specialising in promoting and showcasing new and established theatre talent and stimulating the Melbourne and Australian theatre industry. It stages three musicals at the Arts Centre Melbourne each year.