Battle lines are drawn in the fight for domestic cultural tourism with Melbourne and Brisbane going mano a mano to attract visitors.

For a time Melbourne had the field to itself with annual Winter Masterpieces blockbuster art shows luring the aesthetically inclined to Bleak City in its bleakest months. Then Brisbane weighed in with concurrent and, dare one say, rather more exciting exhibitions coupled with the promise of added sunshine.

Few would argue that warm Brisbane is a more attractive destination in June and July than its chilly southern sister. Under new boss Tony Ellwood, who cut his curatorial teeth at the National Gallery of Victoria, the Queensland Art Gallery has pulled a couple of marquee name shows, Andy Warhol in 2007, Picasso in 2008. These in turn have pulled impressive numbers of interstate visitors.

Brisbane has also trumped Melbourne and Sydney with a fine new Gallery of Modern Art, aka GOMA. Both the Beattie and Bligh governments have tipped bucks of money into the string of museums along the Southbank riverfront. In addition to the all-new GOMA, the Queensland Art Gallery, the Queensland Library and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre have all undergone major makeovers.

This year’s Brissie blockbuster, opening this week, is a world exclusive show of seventy paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The city has also dipped a cautious toe into the waters of international performing arts, nabbing the Paris Opera Ballet, originally scheduled to appear in Melbourne until the Victorian Major Events Company decided it didn’t fit their model, which seems to be something between Wicked and the Grand Prix.

The pincer movement from the northern and southern capitals seems to have stung Sydney and last night New South Wales Major Events announced a new event called Vivid, which has all the appearance of having been cobbled together quickly, a program with more sparkle than substance. The advertising for Vivid promises “a Festival of music, light, ideas” which is partially correct as the program seems particularly light on ideas. What’s more the banners slathered all over Harbour City are a far from festive black and virtually indistinguishable for the banners puffing the umpteenth revival of Chicago.

Meanwhile, Shane Warne the Musical has become Shane Warne the Flop, closing this weekend in Sydney after a run of just a week and a half.

A smash hit at Melbourne’s Athenaeum and subsequently in Perth, the musical, a clone of Keating the Musical, was conceived, written and performed by the vastly talented Eddie Perfect.

Shane Warne rolled into the grungy Enmore Theatre in Sydney’s inner west on May 20 and rolls out tomorrow evening.

Reasons for the failure are many. Some plame the producers, accusing them of extreme parsimony. The luvvies reckon the producers chose the wrong venue, a former cinema with acoustics better suit to rock music, and misjudged the target audience. The producers blame Sydney arts journo Bryce Hallett who penned what they describe as “a destructive and speculative story in the Sydney Morning Herald” which appeared the day the show opened and claimed that the cast had been informed just before opening night that the run was being aborted.

After Keating, in later performances of which Perfect had played Alexander Downer, and with Tony Award nominee and fearless leader of Company B at Belvoir, Neil Armfield as director, success seemed almost guaranteed. That’s showbiz.

In this new game of wooing the out-of-towners, punters are watching to see which city woos most successfully. But the smart money is on Brisvegas.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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