Bigsound Festival

Shows in Brisbane you need to see before the year is out

For fans of live entertainment, Brisbane has never offered so much choice. 

More performance spaces of different sizes have opened up opportunities for a wider variety of concerts, musical theatre and plays. And that’s before you consider festivals such as Brisbane Festival and BIGSOUND, which suck an enormous number of artists into the city for tonnes of shows.  

It’s already been a bumper seven months of shows in Brisbane but 2018 still has plenty more to come. Here’s what to check out.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (July 13 – September 2)

Carole King | shows in BrisbaneWhere: Lyric Theatre, QPAC

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical has been a critical hit since premiering at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre almost five years ago.

This Australian production has won five Helpmann Awards and features Esther Hannaford in the feature role, the show charting King’s life from teenage singer to global superstar. Yes, “A Natural Woman”, “I Feel The Earth Move”, “You’ve Got A Friend”, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Locomotion” all feature.

Karakorum (August 7)

Who: Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Where: Concert Hall, QPAC

What do you get when you combine the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, medieval folk ensemble La Camera delle Lacrime and Australian actor David Wenham?

The answer is Karakorum. A musical interpretation of William of Rubruck’s quest to convert the Great Khan to Christianity, Karakorum is based on Rubruck’s own recollections of the journey. The music is performed on an eclectic range of instruments, follow the journey west to east, with Wenham playing the role of narrator.

Which Way Home (August 8-11)

Where: Brisbane Powerhouse

The Brisbane Powerhouse boasts a tonne of excellent live shows and theatre performances between now and the end of the year. One of the best is Which Way Home, writer Katie Beckett drawing on her own memories of growing up with a single father to create a road-trip story about what it means to be Indigenous in modern-day Australia.

If nothing else, catching a show at The Powerhouse is an excuse to stick around at Bar Alto for a meal afterwards – it’s one of the best Italian restaurants in town.

BIGSOUND (September 4-7)

Bigsound | shows in BrisbaneWhere: Fortitude Valley (various locations)

It may have started as a music conference, but BIGSOUND has morphed into a fully fledged festival and one of the year’s best opportunities to discover new music via an enormous program.

Already announced for 2018 are 139 artists including Didirri, CLEWS, Arno Faraji, San Mei, Bad Juju and Robbie Miller. They’ll play all across Fortitude Valley, Brisbane’s entertainment precinct, in some of the city’s best bars, clubs and live music venues.

Cinderella (September 7-15) and The Nutcracker (December 14-22)

Cinderella | shows in BrisbaneWho: Queensland Ballet
Where: Lyric Theatre, QPAC

Queensland Ballet has elevated itself in recent years under the artistic direction of Li Cunxin (famous for his book Mao’s Last Dancer) to become a globally recognised dance company.

The Ballet has had a busy 2018 but still has two major shows to come before the end of the year. The first is Cinderella, acclaimed choreographer Ben Stevenson’s first full-length ballet. It’s a fabulous production, appealing to both adults and kids.

The second is The Nutcracker, which Li has turned into a Christmas tradition for Brisbane. Queensland Ballet’s 2018 edition will feature choreography from Ben Stevenson, costumes by Desmond Heeley and Noelene Hill, and sets by Tom Boyd. It’s a production performed with a lot of love, making it perfect for the festive season.

Brisbane Festival (September 8-29)

Yothu Yindi | shows in BrisbaneWhere: Various locations

The grandaddy of Brisbane’s cultural calendar returns in 2018 with a typically monumental line-up of music, stage shows and installations.

You could see Sarah Blasko in the round at The Tivoli, Eskimo Joe in concert with Camerata (Queensland’s chamber orchestra) and Peter Grimes at the QPAC Concert Hall. Or you can take a turn for the weird with a wander through House of Mirrors at the Treasury Brisbane Arcadia and the sensory deprivation of the Seance shipping container. Or you can just take things at your own pace, visiting the A Force public artwork at Flowstate or pulling up a rug for the closing night Riverfire display.

For live music, the lineup is EPIC and includes Tkay Midza, Jen Cloher, Polish ClubDestroyer and Yothu Yindi.

The festival is what you make of it, and doubles as a perfect through-line for exploring the wider city.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert (September 26 – October 21)

Priscilla | shows in Brisbane Where: Lyric Theatre, QPAC

Having blown through Sydney, Broadway, the West End, Europe and Asia, Simon Phillips’s acclaimed production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is finally coming to Brisbane, opening at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre in September.

This tenth-anniversary edition features Tony Sheldon as Bernadette and Ray Meagher as outback mechanic “Bob”, both reprising their roles after first appearing in the Sydney original.

Otherwise, you should know what to expect: a heap of music, a heap of costumes and, most importantly, a heap of fun.

Don Giovanni (October 19 – November 3)

Who: Opera Q
Where: QPAC Playhouse

Opera Q’s 2018 program reaches a crescendo with its staging of Mozart’s masterpiece, Don Giovanni. The talent attached to this thing is intimidating, British-Australian bass-baritone and rising star Duncan Rock taking on the role of the sociopathic Don in a Lindy Hume production.

Still, perhaps the best thing is the location. QPAC’s Playhouse may be relatively small, but that means you can get up close and personal with the action, copping the power of this opera at point blank range.

Don Quixote and Giselle (November 7-18)

Giselle | shows in BrisbaneWho: La Scala Ballet
Where: Lyric Theatre, QPAC

Queensland Ballet doesn’t get to have all the fun in 2018, Italy’s iconic Teatro alla Scala Ballet Company (La Scala Ballet) heading to Australian shores in November to perform exclusively in Brisbane.

The 240-year-old company will be showcasing two productions from their classical repertoire: Don Quixote and Giselle. It’s a rare opportunity to see one of Europe’s most acclaimed ballet companies on this side of the world.

Bill Murray, Jan Vogler And Friends (November 16)

Where: Concert Hall, QPAC

Remarkably, there are still tickets available for this most unlikely of team-ups, legendary actor Bill Murray collaborating with renowned cellist Jan Vogler to present a show based on their 2017 album, New Worlds.

The performance mixes classical music (Ravel, Schubert, Saint-Saëns and Bach) with writing from American greats such as Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. Book seats while you still can.

Empire Strikes Back In Concert (December 1)

Who: Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Where: Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre

If there’s one way to improve the spectacle of Luke Skywalker getting his arm sliced off, it’s to match it to a full symphony orchestra hitting the emotional beats.

That’s the setup when the Queensland Symphony Orchestra takes to the stage at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, presenting the score of Star Wars-favourite Empire Strikes Back while the film plays on the big screen overhead. There are just two performances that day – try to book well in advance.

Woodford Folk Festival (December 27 – January 1)

Woodford | shows in BrisbaneWhere: Woodfordia, Woodford

Seeing out the year at the Woodford Folk Festival has almost become a rite-of-passage for young Brisbane music fans.

One of the country’s best-loved multi-day fests, Woodford packs in an enormous amount of music across its five-day program. This year’s line-up has yet to be unveiled but expect a mix of high-profile and up-and-coming artists across a range of genres. The festival also always boasts a heap of theatre and visual arts performances, workshops and talks. 

Besides, set in the rolling hills of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland north of Brisbane, Woodford is just a pleasant place to be.

Still not enough of a cultural fix? Check out this list of exhibitions around Brisbane to fill your quota for the year. 

If you’re spending the weekend in Brisbane this list of ultimate Brisbane accommodation will also help.

Which shows are you going to see?