Helpmann Awards highlight the best of Australian live performance

The 2018 Helpmann Awards came to a climax on Monday night with a star-studded ceremony Sydney’s Capitol Theatre on the set of Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical.

The awards celebrate the very best in live performance across the country over the last year and take in everything from ballet and contemporary dance, theatre, opera, live music and comedy.

The atmosphere outside the awards ceremony was electric as limousines pulled up outside the Capitol Theatre in central Sydney. Office workers heading towards central station stopped trying to get a glimpse of the stars walking down the red carpet as cavalcades of flash bulbs lit up the street.

Inside nervous nominees mingled, slipping on glasses of champagne while catching up with the crowd filled with Australia’s leading entertainers, producers and directors.

Once inside the auditorium, prior to the television broadcast beginning two fabulous cast members from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert The Musical took to the stage in a hilarious dressing room skit to give some advice about how to keep your speech to under 30 seconds and look your best on national television.

As the cameras rolled the cast of the show took to the stage to perform It’s Raining Men as the opening to the awards ceremony and star Tony Sheldon welcomed the audience and announced the first of the awards of the evening.

David Campbell took home the Best Male Actor in a Musical award for his part in the musical Dream Lover. Campbell had also been nominated for his role in The Hayes Theatre Co’s production of Assassins. Esther Hannaford, who portrays singer songwriter Carole King in the musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical was named Best Female Actor in a Musical.  

Wentworth star Pamela Rabe was named Best Actress in a Play for The Children a co-production between the Sydney Theatre Company and the Melbourne Theatre Company. The Sydney Theatre Company’s run of success continued when Huge Heaving was named Best Actor in a Play for his leading role in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.

Neither Rabe or Weaving were able to attend the awards, and at the start of the night the ceremony was acknowledging the work of a string of people who weren’t there. Celia Pacquola sent a numerous video accepting her award for Best Comedy Performer and Drag star Taylor Mac was named Best Cabaret Performer for the epic performance of A 24-decade History of Popular Music.   

As the awards progressed hosts included music writer Glenn A Baker AM, choreographer Rafael Bonachela from the Sydney Dance Company, multiple Helpmann Award winning mezzo soprano Jacqueline Dark, and comedian Anne Edmonds who provided many of the night’s most comedic moments.

Dancer Beau Dean Riley Smith was named the best dancer in the land for his leading performing in Bagarra Dance Theatre’s production of Bennelong while The Australian Ballet’s Ako Kondo was awarded for her role in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. There respective works were also awarded Best Ballet and Best Dance Performance. Bennelong added Best New Australian Work to it’s swag of accolades as well.  

The handing out of the accolades was punctuated by performances from some of the best musicals of the past year., including a number from Muriel’s Wedding The Musical. Dancers Davide Di Giovanni and Charmene Yap from the Sydney Dance Company performed their mesmerising duet from Ab [intra]. 

Neil Armfield’s operatic version of Hamlet (pictured above) was named Best Opera and leading man Allan Clayton was triumphant as the Best Male Opera Performer. Nicole Car was named Best Female Opera Performer for her work in Opera Australia’s production of La Traviata.

The Children was named Best Play, while Beautiful: The Carole King Musical was the winner of Best Musical beating stiff competition from locally written works Muriel’s Wedding The Musical and Dream Lover.   

While several Western Australian productions, performers and creatives were scattered among the nominees the only trophy heading west was for The Perth Festival’s staging of Jordi Savall with the Hesperion XXI & Tembembe Ensemble Continuo. The performance from the classical music historian was named Best Chamber and/or Instrumental Ensemble Concert.

The show closed with the biggest line up of Australia’s leading vocalists from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s recent concert production of Funny Girl.

The rousing performance of Don’t Rain on My Parade saw many divas take to the stage including Trevor Ashley, Michaela Banas, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Casey Donovan, Virginia Gay, Verity Hunt-Ballard, Dami Im, Maggie McKenna, Zahra Newman and West end and Broadway star Caroline O’Connor – who belted out the tune in fine form.

After the awards the stars celebrated at an after party at Sydney’s Town Hall where the room was brought to life by an impressive lighting projection and a live performance on the gigantic pipe organ, before a DJ spun the disco classics for the dance floor.

Graeme Watson

The writer attended the awards as a guest of Live Performance Australia.