You’re a Globetrotter, and a theatre fan. You know first-hand the pain of giving up tickets to a hot show because it clashes with your next adventure. The struggle between these dual passions can be real, but there is a way to combine them.
We’re not talking about pilgrimages to La Scala, Palais Garnier, or Teatro Colon in this piece either. Taking in a show in a foreign country, even in a foreign language (yes, without subtitles – be brave!) can be a thrilling addition to a theatre-loving Globetrotter’s trip. It’s not unusual to travel to New York or London to see cutting edge shows that have taken the Anglophone theatre world by storm. But these two cities don’t have the monopoly on great theatre.
Here are some other (non-opera) theatre experiences that come highly recommended while you’re Globetrotting.
Japan – Kabuki and the Takarazuka Revue
Kabuki is one of the world’s most instantly recognizable theatrical forms, and it’s easy to enjoy it on the cheap on your Japan trip. Kabukiza Theatre is Tokyo’s hallowed hall of Kabuki, and sells one-act tickets to curious tourists for a very reasonable price. The act typically lasts between 1 and 2 hours, and for a small extra fee, you can (and should) rent the accompanying audio narration. One distinctive feature of Kabuki is that all the performers are male, with each carving his own distinct niche playing leading men, leading women, villains, mothers… all tropes are based in traditions that go back centuries. If you’re wondering why female performers were banned in the first place, this dates back to the 1600s, when it was common for Kabuki performers to moonlight as prostitutes. Removing women from the stage didn’t stop this practice, by the way… at least, not until relatively recently in Kabuki’s history.
Where do Tokyo’s top female performers hit the boards? At the far less traditional Takarazuka Revue, Japan’s world famous, all-female musical theatre troupe. From original creations to Japanese interpretations of Broadway hits, Takarazuka has been delighting audiences since 1913. As in Kabuki, each performer specializes in a distinct type of role, and many, particularly otokoyaku, who assume male leads, become beloved celebrities in Japan.
Argentina – Broadway of the Spanish-speaking World
If you’re a musical theatre fan, consider snapping up tickets to a show on Buenos Aires’ Avenida Corrientes. An evening at the theatre followed by a slice of pizza (arguably the best outside Italy) is a signature Porteno night out. You can even pick up discounted same-day tickets from Tickets BSAS, located in Cerrito and Diagonal Norte, right near the Obelisk. You may recognize the posters for many of the shows along Corrientes right away, though the majority of them will be performed in Spanish.
While it’s tempting to “go local” and choose a show you probably wouldn’t see back home, know that Argentine Spanish is quite fast, heavily influenced by Italian, and rich with idioms. Even if you’re a Spanish speaker, it can be difficult to keep up. Don’t be ashamed to book tickets to a show you know and love. Seeing it performed in another language can be an immersive treat, and a great way to see how the locals respond to one of your favourites. If of course you have no trouble understanding the Portenos on your Argentina vacation, snap up tickets to a locally written hit and see what original Argentine theatre is all about.
Germany – The Ghosts of Broadway Live Again
Berlin’s theatre scene is thriving, but Hamburg is the theatre capital of the German speaking world. It also boasts the world’s third largest musical theatre scene after London and New York. No country in continental Europe enjoys a big, splashy musical quite like Germany, and the country’s large population is capable of sustaining German translations of many Broadway hits – and flops. Savvy theatre fans may take one look at the “Now Playing” posters in Hamburg and ask “That’s running? Really?”
It might seem a dubious honour, but Hamburg is a great place to catch big shows that bombed on Broadway, albeit usually in German. Large budgets ensure stunning production design is lavished even on shows that vanished from Broadway within weeks. Some of them even find renewed life in German. The odd German-language show has also been adapted to Broadway without much success. Shows like the deliciously campy Tanz der Vampire are best seen in their original form and language, even if you don’t understand the lines. Germany also tends to be a lot more receptive to Gothic musicals than New York or London.
Hamburg isn’t just about Broadway flops and obscure treasures, however. Like Buenos Aires, it can be a great place to see a big, beloved Broadway show in the local language. The Lion King for instance has been playing in Hamburg since 2001. Its custom-built venue overlooking the Elbe River has become a beloved fixture of Hamburg’s cityscape. The local scene is also rich with theatre performed at every level and budget, ranging from fluffy comedies to hard hitting dramas, to scathing political comedies. Of course, it’s all in German, so if you speak the language and want a serious look at Germany’s theatre scene, devote a few days of your Europe vacation to Hamburg.
Australia – Melbourne vs Sydney: An Unending Rivalry
Before you ask, we’re not weighing in on the whole debate here! Both Melbourne and Sydney boast thriving theatre scenes, from big budget musical hits to micro budget black box plays. If you’re a theatre buff, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in both cities, and unlike the other countries on this list, most all of it will be in English. Australia has become a popular “out of town” test market for West End or Broadway-bound shows. Time your visit well, and you may have a chance to see early versions of next year’s biggest hits!
Since everything’s in English however, it’s worth digging deeper to find beloved local institutions delivering theatre you might not find at home. One name that immediately leaps out is Melbourne’s La Mama Theatre, located in the northern suburb of Carlton. La Mama embraces a policy of inclusion and innovation with a focus on Australian work. The original theatre was devastated by fire in May 2018, but the company’s program continues at La Mama Courthouse, a short distance away.
On the Yarra River’s south side, check out the musical and cabaret-loving Chapel Off Chapel. Or grab a cocktail before show time at the intimate Butterfly Club, tucked upstairs at the back of Carson Place in central Melbourne. We can’t do justice to all the city’s small to mid-sized theatre companies here, but you can swing by Half-tix in Town Hall for discounted same-day tickets to shows across the city.
Like Melbourne, Sydney boasts a huge variety of theatre companies creating work of various sizes and styles. In Newtown, it’s possible to see a show at Australia’s oldest continually operating theatre company. The ironically named New Theatre programs a mix of well-loved mainstream plays and challenging niche works.
Musical theatre fans should check out the Hayes Theatre Company in Elizabeth Bay. Named for one of Australian theatre’s most beloved performers, the Hayes programs a year-round season of musicals including brand new work, performed on an intimate small theatre stage. The theatre’s former occupants, Darlinghurst Theatre Company, have since moved to the Eternity Playhouse in neighbouring Darlinghurst, where it continues to present intimate, captivating work.
Of course, both the Sydney Opera House and Victorian Arts Centre in Melbourne host an enormous variety of non-opera theatre productions throughout the year, so pop in to see what’s playing while you’re in town.