17 Jul 2018

Helpmann Awards step-change. David Atkins takes charge

Julius Grafton puts on the suit.

It was a different Helpmann Awards for 2018, with a two night split trimming the main Capitol Theatre awards night show into a more manageable performance for ABC TV. CX walked the red carpet, assiduously ignored by the media pack who were all over Esther Hannaford (Best female actor in a musical / Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) instead.

A full house comprising the young and beautiful (on-stage) and the rest of us (patrons of the Arts, industry workers, sponsors, friends. And CX) were mixed together in a heady aroma of hope, desperation and inebriation after the foyer bar was flogged beyond design. Sydney’s stunning Capitol Theatre and Michael Cassel with the producers of Priscilla Queen of the Desert graciously allowed the Helpmann’s on to the set, a big ask for any dark Monday in theatre.


The previous night (Sunday 15 July) saw half the awards delivered in the Lower Sydney Town Hall, where technical winners included Michael Waters who won best sound design for Muriel’s Wedding The Musical and Nick Schlieper won Best Lighting Design for Bennelong. Jacob Nash took out Best Scenic Design, again for Bennelong which was a Bangarra Dance Theatre production.

On Monday night the Capitol Theatre event looked and sounded fabulous, however a two minute period of nothing after the curtain rose was either a TV hold or a glitch. This was immediately forgotten when the first performance kicked off: a vivacious stampede of sass with the cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical.

Then followed a cluster of awards delivered and this time the nominees were named on a video roll instead of by a presenter (thank you Director!) so the delivery was very slick. With one exception: the 30 second speech limit where the orchestra strikes up to exit the waffler, was NOT universally enforced. This was wrong wrongness.

Next performance was an evocative duet from Sydney Dance Company dancers Davide Di Giovanni and Charmene Yap, followed by the stars of Muriel’s Wedding the Musical singing the Juliusmedia theme song: ‘You’re f—ing amazing!’ Actually, it is just called ‘Amazing’. But it contains the said lyric, and I can’t fail you by not including it!

I wasn’t following the program as I prefer to be surprised by whatever performance comes next and I sure was: the Brisbane born international indie pop sensation Sheppard materialised on stage and looked shocked themselves as the curtain opened and they faced 2,000 seated theatre types. They delivered their song ‘Coming Home’ brilliantly. It must have been weird for them, and I’m not sure why they were there either!

The commanding Maggie Dence delivered a moving poem to colleagues past, preceding the In Memoriam, a sobering segment that this year honoured 84 lost and fallen comrades. I was sad for a minute or so, especially remembering that the Helpmann Awards in 2015 is the last place I saw a very frail Eric Robinson, one of Australia’s production industry legends.

The show closed with the biggest line up of Australia’s leading vocalists from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s concert production of Funny Girl. Divas and funny girls themselves Trevor Ashley (Hairspray), Michaela Banas (Upper Middle Bogan), Natalie Bassingthwaighte (The X Factor), Casey Donovan (Australian Idol), Virginia Gay (First Tuesday Book Club), Verity Hunt-Ballard (Mary Poppins) Dami Im (Eurovision), Maggie McKenna (Muriel’s Wedding), Zahra Newman (Book of Mormon) and West end and Broadway star Caroline O’Connor had the audience standing in their seats and cheering for more.

Then it was a cold walk up George street to The Sydney Town Hall for The After Party which showcased the classic Centennial Hall brilliantly. The booze was flowing, a DJ perched like God up high was fiddling with his Mac (sending emails, checking his profile) while pressing play on some dance tunes, and an organist materialised to play the overture from Phantom of the Opera on the Grand Organ. When it was installed in 1890, the Grand Organ was the largest in the world and described as the ‘finest organ ever built by an English organ builder’.

Watching the dance floor at the Helpmann’s reminds me: never dance where there are professional dancers dancing. You cannot. Ever. Look. Good.

Sydney has been good to the Helpmann’s. Stephen Found’s Foundation Theatres (Lyric and Capitol) have always made room, the state and city have chipped in. But the theatre and events powerhouse of Australia has snagged the show next year, and we look forward to catching up with what will probably be the largest awards show so far, in Melbourne.

  • Footnote: a sombre topic overheard was the future of Sydney’s Theatre Royal – dark for several years and currently in the hands of a developer who may, it is mooted, transform the essential theatre (Sydney only has a few) into a freaking shopping arcade.
  • Another sad footnote. CX and ENTECH co-founder Caroline Fitzmaurice-Grafton passed away three years ago on the very same night as the Helpmann’s. We will always remember her.





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