Top 10 things to do in Melbourne

JAMES CROOT
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2014
les miserables
Cameron Mackintosh Limited

REIMAGINED: Simon Gleeson (Jean Valjean) and Hayden Tee (Javert) go toe-to-toe in Les Miserables.

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Melbourne offers plenty for lovers of popular and more classical culture this winter. Here's 10 reasons to head to Victoria's capital before spring sets in.

AFL 

Yes it's a sporting contest but attending an Australian Rules games is also a cultural event.

This uniquely Aussie sport combines volleyball, netball, football and rugby skills to create an athletic, balletic and sometimes brutal game.

Best seen in the big, centrally-located downtown arenas like the Melbourne Cricket Ground or the Etihad Stadium and enjoyed with a traditional pie.

For those unfamiliar with the game, melbournesportstours.com.au offers a hosted experience.

Regular season runs until the end of August with playoff matches in September.

ASTOR CINEMA

Built in 1936, this art-deco seaside cinema still retains its original charm. A classic, single-screen theatre with stalls and a dress circle, it boasts a capacity of 1150.

In keeping with the theme, there's only the occasional screening of the latest blockbusters here, instead this offers a rare chance to see classic films on the big screen.

The line up for August includes Heat, The Godfather and The Shining and weekend double bills of Hitchcock, John Hughes and 1980s fantasy films. 1 Chapel St, St Kilda.

CINEMA NOVA

Surrounded by the famed Lygon St dining district, this bastion of art house cinema offers many exclusive screenings of foreign films and documentaries.

It's bland, small mall location belies its diverse lineup and clientele who can enjoy everything from high teas to director talks and late night screenings of cult classics.

Also make sure you check out fabled Italian eatery Brunetti's downstairs and terrific book store Readings across the road. 380 Lygon St.

DREAMWORKS ANIMATION: THE EXHIBITION

Celebrating 20 years of the home of Shrek, Toothless and Po the Kung Fu Panda, this allows visitors of all ages the chance to chart the changes in animation techniques over the past two decades and see how an animated film is put together.

Interactive displays allow people to alter a character's facial expressions, take a dragon's eye view of Berk and try their hand at creating their own animated masterpiece. Runs until October 5. ACMI, Federation Square.

GAZI

One of Melbourne's newest cultural dining experiences, George (Masterchef) Calombaris's latest epicurean innovations involves Hellenic "dirty food".

From the hanging clay pots to the opening plan dining area, the theatre-district restaurant exudes a warm, street-style vibe.

Dishes include tender meat and fries-filled Souvlakakia, wood-grilled prawns and a blood-orange infused, to-die-for Acropolis Now dessert. 2 Exhibition St.

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ITALIAN MASTERPIECES

Hot on the heels of last year's superb Monet exhibition, comes what has been described as "the richest collection of Italian masterpieces ever to come to Australia".

Featuring works commissioned by the Spanish Royal Court, these "fusions of colour, drama, brilliance, bravery, history, religion and artistic genius" by the likes of Raphael, Titian and Tiepolo could previous only be seen at the Museo Del Prado in Madrid.

As usual, the gallery has supplemented the exhibition with a series of tours, talks, films, musical performances and themed dining options. Runs until August 31. National Gallery of Victoria, 180 St Kilda Rd.

THE KING AND I

Former Blue Heeler Lisa McCune and La Bamba's Lou Diamond Phillips (replacing the originally touted Jason Scott Lee) star in this lavish production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1951 musical about a schoolteacher and the King of Siam.

A solid and at times spectacular production that's likely to be enjoyed more by an older audience. What it lacks in the music and lyrics department it almost makes up for in the way of sheer spectacle.

Runs until the end of August. Princess Theatre, 163 Spring St.

LES MISERABLES

Recalibrated, reorchestrated and revitalised, this latest version of one the world's most beloved musicals provides even more vibrant entertainment than ever.

Gone are the synthesisers that gave away the show's early 1980's origin and the iconic revolving set. In their place come more naturalistic, emotional conveyances of feelings through song and central staging of some truly terrific set pieces.

Bookings available through to the end of October. Her Majesty's Theatre, 219 Exhibition St.

VICTOR HUGO: LES MISERABLES - From Page to Stage Exhibition 

Featuring rare items from the collections of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France (including Hugo's original handwritten manuscript of the classic historical novel), Maison de Victor Hugo, Musee Rodin and Cameron Mackintosh, this world-first exhibition looks at the life and times of the French author and politician and the many stage and screen interpretations of his 1862 masterpiece.

Held in conjunction with the latest staging of the musical, it also includes a chance to try on wardrobe and take to the stage yourself.  Runs until November 9. State Library of Victoria, 328 Swanston St.

WICKED

If you missed it when it played in Auckland last year, here's another chance to see Stephen Schwartz's musical which promises to spill the beans on the untold story of the witches of Oz.

"Brilliant staging, absorbing storytelling, charming songs and roof-lifting vocals, vibrant choreography and costumes - it still possesses all the ingredients that have made it the musical theatre phenomenon of the last decade," wrote the Sydney Morning Herald's Cameron Woodhead about this production.

Runs until September 7. Regent Theatre, 191 Collins St.

James Croot travelled to Melbourne on Qantas with the assistance of Tourism Victoria. Qantas has frequent direct flights from Auckland to Melbourne.

- Stuff

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