Australian Musical Theatre Festival 2023

A-Performer-at-the-Australian-Musical-Theatre-Festival-photo-by-Cameron-Jones-VisualsIt has been five years since the Australian Musical Theatre Festival first set up camp in Launceston. For four days every May, musical theatre lovers have been drawn to the small southern city with promises of spectacular performances from industry professionals, educational masterclasses, and show-stopping showcases.

It’s the little engine that could; a small community-based festival that has gone from strength-to-strength every year. Part-educational outreach, part-theatrical showcase, it ties itself in knots trying to be all things to all people. But it’s momentum is undeniable, as is the public’s appetite for it.

This year, AMTF reaches new heights; introducing spectacular new events (Tell Me On A Sunday, Carpool Karaoke, Musical Walking Tour) and improving on previous favourites (Ghost Light, Come to the Cabaret, Paper Stars, The Sound of Musicals) to cement its status as a Festival to watch.

Main events would be easily at home on any of Australia’s grandest stages. Rehearsed over one day, Tell Me On Sunday launched the festival with a testament to the stamina of musical theatre’s best performers on the shoulders of its greatest technical and design talents. While Paper Stars – from up-and-comers Miranda Middleton, Grace Chappel and Luke Byrne – finished the festival with a soaring testament to the future of Australian Musical Theatre.

It is a festival that offers the intimacy of stage door with all the chaotic energy of opening night. Where else can one watch Todd McKenney (The Boy From Oz, Dancing with the Stars) sing alongside a local choir at the Royal Oak Pub; or wait for a flat white beside Rachel Beck (Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast), sing karaoke with opera star David Hobson or wander City Park with Elenoa Rokobaro (Tick, Tick…Boom).

Expert masterclasses and discussion panels from these theatre legends present nuance and contemporary commentary with an endearing conversational air. While musical walking tours and Carpool Karaoke offer pure unbridled fun.

This is not to say the festival is without problems. It boasts a clear institutional bias; an inevitable result of its connections to the Victorian College of the Arts through the Festival’s Artistic Director, Tyran Parke (Head of Musical Theatre at VCA). Some events read as showcases of this cohort, or projections of Parke’s personal interests as a result. Likewise, the festival would do well to consider its audience. The question of who has access to  this festival – especially considering its steep price-tag – casts its ethos of inclusion in a shadow it would do well to interrogate moving forward.

But it is a festival eager to do it all: invest in new Australian theatre, educate the next generation of talent, showcase current talents and engage with the Launceston community. In doing so, these ambitious organisers have stretched themselves thin.

It’s no wonder some events seem a tad slapdash; there is simply no time to consider how each of its worthwhile intentions can be best served. No one expects complete finesse from Festivals (there can be a live-wire charm to its chaos after all).

But some details must be heeded – run-times, for example, need to be strictly adhered to; and there are only so many times when an actor’s self-aware quip about lighting, missed music cues or having little rehearsal time can be accepted in good faith. Moving forward these are minor kinks to be worked out.

Much of the festival’s charm stems from the community at its heart. The wide smiles and helpful hands of volunteers and attendees from Launceston College, Encore Theatre Company and Sony Cue fill the cold Launceston streets with the most welcoming air.

While bright-eyed students and unassuming locals prove the most active audience members and kindly participants. Accompanists, Vicky Jacobs and Amanda Hodder and the VCA second-years work tirelessly. As does Mr. Parke; a near-constant presence at every event.

What the future holds for the festival is difficult to predict. It will likely come down to a question of funding. I do hope money is thrown at this festival with abandon. And I hope, in turn, that they use it discerningly – to expand the scope of performers given an opportunity to perform and learn from it, to allow programming to be more intentional about its main events and their relationship to the local community and more time for rehearsals and dress-runs.

Musical theatre has never been a cynic’s domain. It is a glittering world of heavy sentiment, emotional earnestness and spectacle. At its best, Australian Musical Theatre Festival not only showcases our best performers working today (or soon to be working) but replicates this vital mix to create an atmosphere that is uniquely charming, infectious, and welcoming.

It’s rough around the edges, but perhaps that’s part of the charm. You’re dropped into something like the chaos of an opening night and, just like any opening night, the show will inevitably go on. For years to come, one hopes.

The Australian Musical Theatre Festival took place in Launceston, Tasmania from 17 – 21 May 2023. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: A Performer at the Australian Musical Theatre Festival – photo by Cameron Jones Visuals

Author: Guy Webster (attended as a guest of the Australian Musical Theatre Festival)