From exploring Sydney’s preeminent contemporary arts festival to a night of musical theatre on Sydney Harbour, the autumnal season boasts a host of world class shows, events and festivals worth highlighting.

Here’s five to look forward to.

Matisse Alive
Henri Matisse – the subject of the landmark AGNSW exhibition Matisse: Life & Spirit, Masterpieces from the Centre Pompidou, Paris – was a twentieth century master whose radical use of colour and form changed the world of art forever.

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Matisse Alive picks up where Matisse: Life & Spirit leaves off. A free program of art, music, performance and community events, Matisse Alive examines Matisse’s legacy more than a century after his heyday – when he made his name with paintings such as Le Luxe I, Joy of Life, Woman with a Hat.

Four contemporary artists illustrate Matisse’s ongoing relevance and interrogate his legacy in new works that form the basis of the Matisse Alice program: Nina Chanel Abney (US), Framily Ties; Sally Smart (Australia), The Artist's House; Angela Tiatia (Sāmoa / Australia), The Pearl; and Robin White (Aotearoa NZ), Vaiola.

Until April 3. John Kaldor Family Hall, Lower Level 2, Art Gallery of NSW.

9 to 5: The Musical
If you need a reason to see 9 to 5: The Musical, we offer you two words: Dolly Parton. The absolute queen earned Tony and Grammy nominations for the musical’s original score when it debuted on Broadway in 2009. If you need another (and you shouldn’t), here’s the cast: Marina Prior, Casey Donovan and Eddie Perfect, who plays Franklin Hart Jnr., the controlling boss everyone loves to hate. And did we mention the music by Dolly Parton?

But in all seriousness, 9 to 5: The Musical, is a razor sharp take down of misogyny in the workplace, just as relevant in 2022 – hello gender pay gap! – as it was when the film debuted in 1980. Be entertained and outraged in equal measure.

Until May 8. Capitol Theatre, 3 Campbell St, Haymarket.

Vivid Sydney
Oh Vivid, how we have missed thee. After falling victim to Covid in 2020 and 2021, Vivid Sydney returns in 2022 with an exciting program of light, music and ideas that spans 23 nights. The festival kicks off on May 27 and intends to be a whole city affair, encompassing Sydney CBD, Circular Quay, The Rocks, Barangaroo, Darling Harbour, Goods Line and Central Station, as well as city landmarks including as Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, MCA and Customs House.

While the full program is yet to be announced, early highlights include the Light Walk, an 8-kilometre path stretching from Sydney Opera House to Central Station illuminated by Future Natives, an installation featuring a flock of 200 Sydney bird species created by Sydney artist Chris Daniel. Ken Done – much-loved artist and national treasure – pairs up with Sydney-based projection specialists Spinifex Group in For Sydney with Love, a celebration of the glittering harbour city projected onto the façade of Customs House in Circular Quay. And Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, a Sri-Lankan born contemporary artist who hails from Sydney’s west, lights up Hickson Road in The Rocks with Earth Deities, a monstrous fire-breathing sculpture.

May 27 to June 18. Various locations, Sydney.

Sydney Biennale
The 23rd Biennale of Sydney, which runs from March 12 to June 13, is titled rīvus – Latin for stream – and takes as its theme Sydney’s waterways and ecosystems. After the last few years in which we’ve seen severe drought and devastating floods, it feels like a good moment to meditate on our city’s rivers and wetlands.

Indigenous knowledge and culture form a key part of the Biennale program, with artists and practitioners including D Harding, a descendant of the Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal peoples, Barkandji elder Badger Bates, Trawlwoolway artist Julie Gough and weaving collective Casino Wakeup Time all contributing works.

International artists also feature in the festival, which serves as an urgent call to action to address the climate crisis. American artist Kiki Smith will present a series of large-scale tapestries at MCA exploring themes of climate change and climate justice, while Colombian artist Carolina Caycedo will present a large-scale mural of satellite photographs depicting the progressive devastation on the Magdalena River caused by the El Quimbo Dam.

March 12 to June 13. Various locations, Sydney.

Phantom of the Opera
Based on a 1910 French novel, Phantom of the Opera opened on London’s West End in 1986. Since then, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s score has become one of the most famous in musical theatre, as well as the world’s longest running musical and cultural touchstone.

Handa Opera’s production of Phantom of the Opera takes place on a floating stage with the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and city skyline serving as a spectacular backdrop. A nightly firework display and themed pop-up bars and restaurants add to the evening’s festive atmosphere.

March 25 to April 24. Fleet Steps, Mrs Macquaries Point, Sydney.

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