Some things you can’t learn in school [by Matt Baker]
Composer, lyricist, and musical director Vicki Millar has a Masters Degree in Musical Theatre (specialising in Writing), so I am surprised that I Wish I Learned came across as such a primary level production. The story is devoid of plot and is instead driven by the characters, who, by themselves, are simply not interesting enough to carry a show. Until a specific series of consequential events are kneaded into the script as opposed to characters switching their thought track to fulfill the sound track, and until the dialogue is (heavily) edited, the story, and consequentially the show itself, remains incomplete.
The show’s narrative is structured via the musical scale and the songs’ titles are not without their charm. There is always freedom in structure, and there is something incredibly satisfying, especially for those who are musically inclined, about the song-list and the slightly kitsch way in which it is presented in the programme, but more work is needed to authentically translate this spectacle element to the stage.
Colourful Culture Clash [by Sharu Delilkan]
We were welcomed to the opening night of Madame Butterfly by The Edge’s Director Robbie Macrae, billed as the grand opening of the newly refurbished ASB Theatre with improved decor and acoustics.
Having seen Madame Butterfly more than a decade before in Hong Kong we were intrigued to see how an American-Asian love story would play in an Anglo-Saxon country.
The story of Madame Butterfly follows an ‘oh so familiar’ theme – one we saw repeated over and over again in Asia whereby a handsome European (Gwai Lo) charms a young, beautiful Asian girl into a relationship – both have different hopes, desires and cultural values that ultimately tear them apart. As with many of the Pakeha in Asia that ‘went native’ – a large proportion struggled to maintain their ‘love’ when it was time to head back to the motherland and often the besotted and flattered young girl was literally left holding the baby while the ‘husband’ goes home to his white ways and often back to his unsuspecting white wife. The difference in cultural realisation of respect i.e. face and bringing shame to the family are and have never been fully understood leading to tragic circumstances. Giacomo Puccini’s portrayal of these events still has relevance today, and I still recall how many people in the audience of the Hong Kong version ironically comprised of older Pakeha guys holding hands with their Asian girlfriends less than half their age.
Charge!!! – National Theatre's War Horse coming to Auckland in 2013 [by James Wenley]
UPDATE 7 May 2013: Poor Joey! War Horse is no longer coming to Auckland on its Australasian tour. Producers have blamed the cancellation of the August Season on " high costs, a competitive market, sluggish ticket sales and even a long summer." The citing of a "competitive market" suggests that War Horse is an early casualty of the mega Musical Wicked, which opens in Auckland in what was to be the last week of War Horse. This news is not good for the viability of attracting future substantial shows to Auckland. If War Horse isn't viable for our market, what is? See the NZ Herald (which suggests that Auckland's theatrical calendar is made up entirely of international shows!).
Original story below, which was written when War Horse was first announced:
War Horse, adapted from the book by Michael Morpurgo, has been a mega-smash for The National Theatre of Great Britain since its debut in 2007. The story explores the universal suffering of World War One as seen through the eyes of Joey, one of the millions of horses who were taken on the battlefield. Up to a million horses perished during the conflict.
Currently playing in the West End, Broadway, Toronto, and a US Tour, War Horse comes to Auckland (after an Australian season) from August 20th for 4 weeks at the ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre.
Forget what you know about the film – a beautifully shot if schmaltzy affair from Spielberg – War Horse on stage is the real deal. I saw the play at the Lincoln Centre in New York last year, and it rates as one of my top theatre experiences. I am so thrilled I’ll get the opportunity to see the show once again.
The talking point is the breathtaking puppets from South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. The play’s main character is very much Joey – a stunning life size horse shell manipulated by three puppeteers that can not only plough, charge, and jump, but firmly wins the hearts and minds of an audience. In total, the show has 18 puppets including horses Joey and Topthorn and a cheekey goose.
A liberal dose of Sugar helps the spectacle go down [by James Wenley]
Mary Poppins got the Disneyified film to stage treatment in 2004, joining such properties as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. It’s a big, big business – 6.5 million people have seen Poppins on stage, and it’s made over $470 million. Four productions play around the world. While the 1964 film, with its glorious Sherman Brothers Musical score, was full of stage potential, a Cameron Mackintosh penned article in the program reveals the journey to stage was anything but straightforward.
The film is one of the great childhood classics, spanning generations. My VHS was on constant rotation as a child, and our copies cover was destroyed long ago! It’s a brilliant film – the Jolly Holiday live action/cartoon mash, that accent, Tomlinson, Andrews. But above all else, those songs; balancing the playful Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Spoonful of Sugar , with the delicately wistful Feed the Birds, accompanying a powerful story about a father connecting him his two children, culminating in that great humanist sentiment – “Lets go fly a kite”. Up where the air is clear is indeed.
Pink, Wet, Complicated [by Rosabel Tan]
When I tell a guy at work I’m going to The Sex Show, he laughs. “You’re not,” he says. He pauses. “You are.”
“I am.” He looks disappointed and mildly confused. “Do you want to come?”
“Not really,” he screws up his nose. “Maybe.”
It’s an interesting reaction and there are plenty more to come, because as it turns out, the type of people who attend a show offering “a snapshot of New Zealand’s sexual psyche” on a Friday night are couples, some young, many middle-aged, a few families and a scattering of older-looking men.
Devised by The Outfit Theatre Company and first staged last year, The Sex Show comprises of a series of vignettes depicting various sexual experiences: you have twenty-something couples experimenting with cyber-sex, bar-toilet sex, stick-everything-up-everywhere sex; young girls grinding frantically on the dancefloor; younger girls grinding frantically on their soft toys; sexually starved housewives and their Family Party politician husbands; couples avoiding temptation, or not; despicable men; and a chirpy band of sexual creatures taken straight from the set of a children’s show that’s gone horribly wrong – but with characters like Fellatio Fox (Ema Barton), Sex Panda (Brad Johnson), Cunnilingus Cat (Tarquinn Kennedy) and the Clitoracle (Heidi Kauta), you know you’re in good hands.
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious [by Sharu Delilkan]
When I met Matt Lee for the first time I couldn’t believe that he was over 30.
The star of stage and TV (Australia’s So You Think You Can Dance, Matt has appeared in The Voice on TV2) had the complexion and physique of a young man in his early 20s.
When I gasped in dismay he said: “I suppose it’s the active lifestyle I lead.”
So it was not surprising to learn that he started his dancing training at the tender age of 5. However he says his teacher’s valuable advise to him even then was “learn to sing, act and dance so that you can be versatile.” That fabulous advice has won Lee a number of roles in renowned theatre producer Cameron Mackintosh’s show. And his role as Bert in Mary Poppins makes that a total of four, to date.
Madge is looking a little different… [by James Wenley]
Michael Griffiths is a busy man. Not only is the Australian actor starring as Bob Crewe on a little show called Jersey Boys 8 times a week, but he’s also prepping for his one man cabaret show, to be performed on his one night off.
And it’s not just any Cabaret show either. The material girl herself, Madonna, is coming to Auckland! In In Vogue: Songs by Madonna, Michael Griffiths plays Madonna – but with no accent, costume or wig – just him on the piano taking us through her life and hit parade as we’ve never heard them before.
Michael expressed himself and answered my questions…
So this must be the life – you get to tour to Auckland in Jersey Boys AND put on a cabaret show on the side. Was this the plan from the start?
When Jersey Boys first announced we were coming here it was the first thing that crossed my mind and I'm always on the lookout for cabaret venues. It wasn't until we did a couple of rehearsals in the Wintergarden (under the Civic) and I saw the grand piano hiding down there that I realised it was the perfect venue for IN VOGUE and then it was full steam ahead!
A show to fall in, and out of love.. [by James Wenley]
In the middle of Musical The Last Five Years, Jamie and Cathy pledge their loves and their lives in the song The Next Ten Minutes, which features both a tender proposal (“Will you share your life with me / For the next ten minutes? / .... And if we make it till then can I ask you again for another ten?”, and the wedding vows (“Will you share your life with me / Forever / For the next ten lifetimes?”). It’s a love song full of dreams and beautiful sentiment in its lyrics, but melodically it’s slow, heavy, with a hint of the sinister. With a real sense of musical foreboding, not the soaring love song the lyrics suggest – this love, and its platitudes, are doomed.
But you don’t have to wait to the end of the show to find this out, nor even this middle. Right at the beginning, Cathy (Cherie Moore) tells it blunt: “Jamie is over and Jamie is gone / Jamie's decided it's time to move on… And I'm still hurting”. Her story starts at the end, and moves backwards, from this moment of finality through to the first faltering beats of her heart. Jamie’s (Tyran Parke) story meanwhile goes from start to finish – from puppy dog eyes to the jaded brow. It’s a gimmicky device (See also, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal), but knowing at least the start and end of one of the stories makes us focus on all that goes on in between, trying to fit together the pieces of why and how.
Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, the musical has achieved cult success, premiering in Chicago in 2001 and playing off-Broadway the following year. Brown drew from his own failed marriage in writing the material, which led to threats of a legal challenge from his ex-wife which saw Brown rewrite one of the songs to less overtly mirror his own life. Whether the creation of the show was therapy or otherwise, and there certainly seems to be a hint of introspection, the end product is an articulate look at relationship stages, dynamics, and mutual destruction.
Perfectly pitched performance predicted [by Sharu Delilkan]
Having grown up when Grease the movie hit the big screen I was keen to speak to Dion Bilios, when I heard that he was cast to play Frankie Valli in Dodger Theatrical’s production of Jersey Boys – The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.
The 24-year-old Sydney-sider’s first comment to me was “There aren’t many opportunities for a short guy to be up front singing, so I jumped at the chance to play Frankie.”
The 5 ft 6 in singer, dancer and actor says although he has never been in a band, getting together with the other three other performers as The Four Seasons – Declan Egan (Bob Gaudio), Anthony Harkin (Tommy De Vito) and Glaston Toft (Nick Massi) – has felt very much like being part of a musical group.
“And with us touring to promote the show, doing a few excerpts from the musical, it almost feels like we’re a band on tour,” he says.
Broadway’s gritty smash hit musical tells the story of how four blue collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks became one of the biggest American pop sensations of all time. Valli, Gaudio, De Vito and Massi joined forces to become The Four Seasons, writing their own hits and developing their unique sound, eventually selling over 175 million records before they were 30 years old.
You want us to do what? [by James Wenley]
Show Pony asks you to get naked. Providence asks for a pash. And Wake Less asks you to dinner… among other things.
Three shows where the normal ‘rules’ don’t apply. Three shows where the audience is an important part of the performance. Three shows that made up for one intense, beguiling, perplexing, invigorating, weird and wonderful night at The New Performance Festival.
I’m writing about all three of together as there were some interesting conversations going on between them. All three were two-handers, in the sense that there were mostly two performers onstage, whose interaction and relationships were important. But these relationships are complicated by the role of the audience within the performance. Our normal theatre contract – we watch, they perform – is waived. In these shows, spectators become participants. Wake Less warns: “As an audience member at a Binge Culture performance, you can expect to be included. You might be questioned, teased, looked in the eye or invited to save a pod of whales.” Are you brave enough?