Performance review: Bright Lights and Big Dreams, State Opera South Australia

A celebration of some of the great composers of musical theatre.
Bright Lights Big Dreams

State Opera South Australia’s Artistic Director, Stuart Maunder, was one of many who mourned the passing of musical theatre legend Stephen Sondheim last year. Having had to confine memorial tributes and birthday celebrations (the composer and lyricist turned 90 in 2020) to online platforms, the State Opera team were overjoyed to be able to honour his legacy with an in-person show packed with Sondheim hits as well as selections from mentors Leonard Bernstein and Oscar Hammerstein. 

Accompanying the singers (and taking up most of the stage at Her Majesty’s) was the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in all its splendour. Excellent throughout, it had its moments to shine in instrumental overtures from Candide and Carousel.

Bright Lights and Big Dreams kicked off with a rendition of the opening song from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, promising us ‘something for everyone: a comedy tonight!’. Over the course of the evening, they proved themselves skilled comic performers indeed.

Nicholas Cannon, Jeremy Tatchell, Mark Oates and James Nicholson were a delight to watch in upbeat numbers such as Wonderful Town’s ‘What a Waste’ and ‘There is Nothin’ Like a Dame’ from South Pacific. Jessica Mills, Rachel McCall, Jessica Dean and Rosie Hosking were an equally charming quartet in the jazzy ‘Wrong Note Rag’ (again, from Wonderful Town). The comedic highpoint, though, was the delicious pairing of Antoinette Halloran and Ben Mingay for the Sweeney Todd favourite, ‘A Little Priest’. 

The Sweeney Todd numbers were among the few sections performed in full costume (for the rest of the show, the men were in tuxedos, and the women in a succession of glittering evening dresses). Given the lack of sets or program notes for Bright Lights Big Dreams, the costumes, when they did appear, helped to contextualise the songs, especially for those with some gaps in their musical theatre knowledge. Along with Todd and Mrs Lovett, it was the iconic couples who got the full regalia: Billy Bigelow (Mingay) and Julie Jordan (Desiree Frahn) from Carousel, and Tony (Mat Verevis) and Maria (Dean) from West Side Story

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As well as comedy songs and heartfelt duets, the show included a few full-cast showstoppers. West Side Story’s ‘Tonight Quintet’ was one such number. Verevis and Dean, having run up to the dress circle, sang in spotlights above the stage, while the Jets, the Sharks and Hosking as Anita harmonised below. Another highlight was the penultimate song: a rousing rendition of ‘Oklahoma’. 

All round, it was an immensely enjoyable night of light-hearted fun. While Bright Lights and Big Dreams was a particular treat for musical theatre aficionados, those less well-versed would have found it an enchanted evening too. 

Bright Lights and Big Dreams
Opera South Australia
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide

Bright Lights and Big Dreams was performed from 11-12 November 2022.

Megan Koch is a writer and bookseller based in Adelaide. She studied English and Applied Linguistics at Flinders University.