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Flipping Fried Eggs

An Eventful Trip Around South Vietnam

From an interview with Aircraft Engineer, Corporal Colin Creighton, No. 41 Squadron, RNZAF

Class 6, RNZAF Cadet School, 28 Feb 1966. Colin Creighton second from right, back row. Source: Gary Danvers Collection, Flickr.

The New Zealand Government was a reluctant participant in the Vietnam War, and it chose not to commit its air combat squadrons to the conflict. Instead, individual RNZAF pilots were seconded to other air forces. Sixteen helicopter pilots served with the Royal Australian Air Force in South Vietnam and flew troops, supply and gunship missions in support of ground troops. Fourteen fixed-wing aircraft pilots served with the United States Air Force as forward air controllers. RNZAF personnel also contributed to a Combined Services Medical Team.

The RNZAF contributed No. 40 Squadron to airlift NZ troops into South Vietnam on Hercules transporters, and No.41 Squadron flying Bristol Freighters on re-supply missions from Singapore to New Zealand military units and medical teams in South Vietnam. [i]

41 Squadron flights to support the medical team at Qui Nhon and the New Zealand Embassy in Saigon continued after the withdrawal of New Zealand military forces in 1971. At the end of March 1975, a Bristol Freighter was sent from Singapore to Qui Nhon to airlift out the five-member volunteer medical team. The last No. 41 Squadron flight out of the country departed on 21 April carrying 38 embassy staff and refugees.[ii]

Mainlander Colin Creighton, was an aircraft engineer corporal based out of Singapore with No. 41 Squadron RNZAF from 1971 to 1973:

“From Singapore, we covered the entire Southeast Asian Basin looking after all the New Zealand interests in the area, including Vietnam. I was up there from 1971 until halfway through 1973 when I returned to New Zealand. The squadron stayed up there until 1978 before it came home, it’d been up there for a little over 30 years non-stop.”

View over the Mekong Delta/Miền Tây en route to Cần Thơ © Colin Creighton.

In 1971 41 Squadron transported five RNZAF helicopter pilots from Hobsonville to fly in Singapore to join the rotary-wing flight of No. 41 Transport Squadron. Three RNZAF Iroquois helicopters were also sent to Singapore in broken-down form by Hercules on September 25th and 26th. Colin was one of the ground crew who travelled with the pilots.[iii]

“Even back then Bristols were big ugly old things. Most of the helicopters could fly faster than we could. But they would get in and out of short strips and cart a five-tonne load, which is quite remarkable for their size and considering that they were built in 1945. They even took part in the Berlin airlift in the late 1940s. They are a well-proven old aircraft.

“I also knew the Iroquois very well, we had those on strength in Singapore. I spent a lot of time in the Malay jungle working with the helicopters up there on exercises, living in tents or in the jungle while you were fixing it.”

The Iroquois is one of the world’s most iconic helicopters, famous for its extensive role in the Vietnam War and distinctive ‘whock-whock’ sound. Source: Air Force Museum of New Zealand.

The Iroquois is one of the world’s most iconic helicopters, famous for its extensive role in the Vietnam War and distinctive ‘whock-whock’ sound. Source: Air Force Museum of New Zealand.

One of Colin’s ex RNZAF comrades, who served in Electrical/Avionics from January ‘67 to April ’87, recalled how one of his first jobs after completing his electrical/mechanics course in late 1968 was to “empty the bogger” of a Bristol after a Singapore to Whenuapai flight, “not a nice job”. “However, much more fun leaving one behind in Bangkok with Fuzz Freeman, Colin Creighton and Keith Reilly for a single man’s tour of Thailand in 1973.”[iv]

“40,000 Rivets Flying in Formation”

A typical 41 Squadron fortnightly resupply run was flight No. 5912 on 4th December 1972. The Bristol was loaded up at Tengah airbase in Singapore with supplies and crew, including two flight officers, a mechanical/aviation electronics operator, five service crew including one Flight Sergeant, two Corporals – one of which was Colin Creighton – and two ‘baggies’ or General Service Hands. The first stop was Butterworth in Malaya, then on to Saigon before they headed north to Qui Nhơn where the New Zealand Surgical Team was based. They returned to Saigon via the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVNAF) base at Nha Trang, then headed south to Cần Thơ where there was the US and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) base. Their last leg was back over the South China Sea to Butterworth and finally back to base at Tengah. It was a three-day round trip. [v]

“I remember the Freighter as difficult aircraft to fly well … lacking pressurization, air conditioning, weather radar, retractable undercarriage or state of the art avionics.  We cruised at 135 knots TAS, below 10,000 feet, sweating like pigs on the ground and freezing at cruise altitude.” wrote Flt Lt Peter Tremayne, who completed 28 flights with 41 Sqn RNZAF into or through Vietnam from 1965–1968 and 1975, and seven flights into Vietnam with 40 Sqn RNZAF from 1969–1971. The Bristol was often referred to as “40,000 rivets flying in formation”.

The crew of a B170 Bristol Freighter from 41 Squadron RNZAF talk with members of the New Zealand Surgical Team at Qui Nhon hospital. Image courtesy of Manatū Taonga | Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

The crew of a B170 Bristol Freighter from 41 Squadron RNZAF talk with members of the New Zealand Surgical Team at Qui Nhon hospital. Image courtesy of Manatū Taonga | Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

An Eventful Trip Around the Regions

“They [the Bristol] had three crew, and when we went on an away trip from Singapore we carried a staff of four servicing crew as well. This is the way I got thrown in the deep end several times. Being a single man, no married man wanted to go up to Vietnam, they would say “you’re single, you can go” and well I didn’t mind. I was young and silly in those days. I was 21 coming up 22 when I went to Singapore, and I was coming up 24 when I came home. I did another six months at Wigram, and then I got out of the Air Force.

“Generally, we’d leave out of Singapore. First, we would head to Malaya to stop off at a couple of army and airforce bases there. From there we’d head on to Bangkok where we dropped stuff off at the New Zealand embassy. Then occasionally we’d fly right up to Chiang Mai. From there we’d fly across the country, down to the base of Thailand again, to the area where the Bridge over the River Kwai film was set.

“We left Thailand and flew to overnight outside Phnom Penh in Cambodia, then fly the short hop into Saigon, landing there at about three in the afternoon. After we got everything sorted out, we went into town and were dropped off at our hotel by an army driver.  The hotel was almost completely booked out by American troops on R&R, so we had a good night there. We weren’t allowed out of the hotel, but that didn’t stop us going to the local bar down the road. We just didn’t want to get caught by the local cops because they’d shoot on sight as the city was under curfew, so we had to be a bit careful.

“We got picked up in the morning and taken back out to the Saigon airfield [Tan Son Nhut Air Base] where we were dropped off at the big US Navy mess [US Army, Navy, Airforce and Marine corps were stationed there], which held about 300 people having breakfast. Everything was on display, including ice cream and jelly, and it only cost twenty-five cents.

Colin and crew land at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport to observe part of the airport under attack from Viet Cong missiles. © Colin Creighton.

“Six of us sat down to have breakfast when an almighty bang went off behind us. A soldier over the other side of the room jumped up and yelled: “get out of the room, there’s incoming!” Three hundred odd people just disappeared, leaving us Kiwis sitting there thinking “what the hell’s going on?” We thought we’d just finish our breakfasts and as we got stuck in another bang went off. This one was much closer and it made the fried eggs on my plate flip up and land on the table! Well, we thought “OK, what do we do now?” There was no-one else around, so I got up and went and helped myself to more fried egg, sat down and we all finished our breakfast!

“After breakfast we went outside, there was nobody around, so we jumped in the Land Rover and drove around the corner to the passenger terminal where we were to meet the aircrew. From there we could see everything that was going on on the airfield. The rockets started coming in right about then, in groups of three or four, and there were about a hundred during the morning, finishing at 11 am. Just as we would think “thank god, it’s all over,” the next lot started coming in so we had to stay put. All the windows in the passenger terminal were perspex and they were shaking in and out by about 150mm with each big bang.

“When we went outside there were pieces of metal lying around the building. We had to do a good clean around the area, pick up the shrapnel and make sure none was trapped in the aircraft, and there were no holes in it. The shrapnel was still blue with heat when we picked it up. When we finally got out of there, as we taxied out we could still see the smoke from rockets going off in the distance.”

Getting Personal

“From Saigon, we went up to near Cam Ranh Bay [Vietnam], which was a big naval base, then inland from that was an American airfield and we landed there. As we taxied in we could see there was an aircraft with a group of Viet Cong prisoners getting ready to be taken out. We went around the corner and parked, and as we were changing over our cargo, a machine gun on the hillside opened up – a big 12.7 mm Chinese or Russian machine gun.

“It was spraying bullets around – it wasn’t personal at that point – and I got the task of sitting on top of our aircraft and shooting back. After about three magazine-fulls the machine gun stopped, a gunship had come in from one side of the hillside and levelled all the trees with its mini Gatling guns. During that time I heard one round go past my ear with a hell of a bang, that’s when you know its getting personal!”

An RNZAF No. 41 Squadron Bristol Freighter taxies into Cam Ranh Bay Naval Base. Note the group of Viet Cong prisoners at right. © Colin Creighton.

Stuck in the Middle – the Risk of Friendly Fire

“We very hastily got out of there and flew back to Saigon, with just one more stop to go. We changed over freight and passengers and heading back down south. We flew at about 11,000 feet over the ground, so we’re out of the way of machine gunfire. As we were heading south, I looked up through the observation dome in the back, and I could see three contrails about 30,000 feet up. I said to the pilot over the intercom “be aware that we’re flying under a B-52 flight.” And he said, “don’t look down then will you.” Which I did and here are three big long, thick strips of jungle erupting underneath us. Each B52 aircraft was carrying 120 – 500 pounders, they’re big bombs, One of those would level about six houses and we went diagonally straight through the middle of it. We didn’t see them until they’d blow up underneath us, but we could feel the impulse of them as we flew over top!”

The Yanks weren’t too Impressed

“We got down to our last point, which was just a dirt landing strip. As we came in over the end of the runway, there was an almighty bang from under the freighter as we went over the fence line. We taxied in, I jumped out, and everybody came out and went looking around the aircraft expecting to see a big hole in it, but there was nothing. However, underneath the plane there were four aerials with a big lead between them, one had come adrift and slapped down under the belly of the aircraft. The Americans had put a pole up, with what looked like a big soccer ball on top, like a homing beacon to guide aircraft onto the runway. They’d put it up the day before, we took it off the next day, the Yanks weren’t too impressed!”

1975 RNZAF Bristol Freighter NZ5907 at Saigon's Tan Son Nhut Airport evacuating 33 passengers including the NZ Ambassador for South Vietnam, Norman Farrell (right). Source: Gary Danvers Collection, Flickr.

1975 RNZAF Bristol Freighter NZ5907 at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Airport evacuating 33 passengers including the NZ Ambassador for South Vietnam, Norman Farrell (right). Source: Gary Danvers Collection, Flickr.

The Fall of Saigon – NZ Moves out

At the beginning of April 1975, New Zealand Embassy officials cabled Wellington and reported that the situation in Saigon was deteriorating rapidly. Norman Farrell, the New Zealand Ambassador, recommended the immediate evacuation of non-official New Zealand citizens. The civilian medical team had already been evacuated from Qui Nhon at the end of March.

Over the next two weeks the Singapore-based 41 Squadron RNZAF, which sent a detachment to Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport, made a series of flights to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate New Zealand citizens and various South Vietnamese nationals granted ‘unofficial’ refugee status. Some of these refugees, dependents of New Zealanders living and working in South Vietnam, were evacuated without the approval of their government. The last of these flights, on 21 April 1975, carried Ambassador Farrell and most of the remaining staff of the New Zealand Embassy. [vi]

“The enemy was coming in over one side of the airfield as our aircraft got out the other side. They had the New Zealand High Commissioner and his staff and equipment onboard these two aircraft, and they just got out of there by the skin of their teeth. This was our New Zealand High Commission that had been based in Saigon. These planes were loaded up with his staff, all their official documents and secret gear, some of their Vietnamese staff and anything else they needed to rescue.  They were on the two aircraft with their aircrew and servicing crew on board. They operated out of there for about a week before that final day carting stuff out. But the very last flight out was the High Commissioner and his staff, and they were just getting out of there by the skin of their teeth. The old aircraft [Bristol Freighter] stood proud in the time it was up there.”

 

Colin provides guidance to Miss Saigon principal actors Jack Fraser (Chris) and James Foster (John).

Colin provides guidance to Miss Saigon principal actors Jack Fraser (Chris) and James Foster (John) during a film shoot at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.

 


Sources:

[i] Air Force Museum of New Zealand.
[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No._41_Squadron_RNZAF. Accessed 1 August 2019.
[iii] The Auckland Star Sep 1971 https://www.flickr.com/photos/gcdnz/32583591944
[iv] Bobajob, ex RNZAF Electrical/Avionics, Jan67 to Apr87. Accessed 31/7/1019
[v] Scotty’s List (Version 3) All Flights into Vietnam by 41 Squadron RNZAF 1 December 1962 – 21 April 1975 – Issued Oct 2017. Accessed 1 August 2019.
[vi] https://vietnamwar.govt.nz/memory/fall-saigon
With special thanks to Colin Creighton for sharing his memories.

A show brimming with images and scenes that incite reactions and provoke questions

The pop musical Miss Saigon is a global stage sensation set during the closing days of the Vietnam War and the pull out of America from Saigon. It’s the heartbreaking story of a doomed romance between an American GI and an orphaned Vietnamese girl – two traumatised individuals, desperate for comfort, finding love in dreadful circumstances.

Separated by the fall of Saigon, Kim gives birth to Chris’ son alone and waits faithfully for his return. Unable to contact Kim, Chris remarries and attempts to move on with his life in the U.S.

Jack Fraser will play Chris

Three years on, circumstances bring Chris and Kim together again, and he learns the truth… but with tragic consequences.

This tribute to Puccini’s Madama Butterfly brought forward to the 1970s during Vietnam’s American War also draws parallels with the tragic story of Fantine from Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s legendary hit musical Les Misérables.

Young, unworldly and abandoned, Kim and Fantine sacrifice all for the sake of their children. Both are stories of passion and exploitation, which reflect the jarring reality of life during pivotal moments in history shaped by French nationalism and colonialism.

As one theatre reviewer said “these shows brim with images and scenes that incite reactions and provoke questions”.

The Showbiz Christchurch Production

Tina Bergantinos-Panlilio to play Kim

Ten years after staging the New Zealand premiere, Showbiz Christchurch is mounting their second production with the same Christchurch based creative team from 2009: Stephen Robertson as director and choreographer and Richard Marrett as musical director.

The show calls for a strong Asian and European cast. Returning from the Philippines for the lead role of Kim is former New Zealand resident Tina Bergantinos-Panlilio, who has played this role previously in the Hamilton Musical Theatre and Dunedin Operatic productions of Miss Saigon. She will be performing opposite Jack Fraser as Chris.

Miss Saigon will be Jack Fraser’s third role this year with Showbiz Christchurch having had major parts in The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and We Will Rock You. He is also no stranger to the work of Boublil and Schonberg having performed twice in Les Misérables.

Marcus Rivera to play The Engineer

Filipino/Australian countertenor Marcus Rivera will perform the role of The Engineer. Marcus knows this role well as he has played it three times previously. He also comes with a vast CV of theatre, opera, film, TV, concert and cabaret credits.

Also in the cast are two performers who were in Showbiz’s 2009 production of Miss Saigon. Ena Azuma, who was one of the evacuation children, and Eric Wong return to the production in the ensemble.

Also reprising its role is the set. In just three days long-time Showbiz volunteer Don Gillanders and a team made the Iroquois helicopter which features in one of the most spectacular scenes in the show, the evacuation from the American Embassy which is based on real events which took place on 30 April 1975.

The Music

All epic stories need epic music and, in Miss Saigon, Schönberg uses music to underline the conflict between the two distinct cultural worlds of Kim and Chris.

Musical Director Richard Marrett will conduct An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics

Musical Director Richard Marrett

Musical Director, Richard Marrett says this show is among his favourites to conduct: “its score is wonderfully orchestrated and is at times soaring, passionate and epic, and at others delicate, intricate and beautiful. In the hands of 19 expert players, the live orchestra will certainly transport theatregoers powerfully through the turbulent, emotional worlds of the play”.

“The orchestrations employ diverse musical styles,” says Miss Saigon percussionist Craig Given. “There is a fusion of Western and Asian influences, as well as some saxophone infused Broadway-style power ballads.” Given and international ethnic percussion specialist Doug Brush will have a large set up of traditional and ethnic instruments such as gongs, prayer bowls and a ‘damaru’ or Tibetan skull drum, which was traditionally made from the cranium of two human skulls.

“There isn’t much else that is this big, logistically interesting and rhythmically complex,” says Given.

The Inspiration for Miss Saigon

Claude-Michel Schönberg, of Les Misérables fame, was taking a coffee break and thumbing through a magazine someone had left on the piano when he came across a photo of an 11-year-old Vietnamese girl about to board a plane from Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon to join her American father who she had never met, leaving behind her mother.

“I was so appalled by the image of this deliberate ripping apart that I had to sit down and catch my breath. I suffered for the mother as though I might see my own little boy leaving me forever, and I suffered for the child as though in my early youth, I had been forcibly removed from my parents. Was that not the most moving, the most staggering example of ‘The Ultimate Sacrifice’, as undergone by Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly, giving her life for her child?”

“This photograph was for Alain [Boublil] and I, the start of everything…” wrote Schönberg, in October 1995, six years after their second musical, Miss Saigon, had premiered on the West End, and four years after it had opened on Broadway.

The Miss Saigon Effect

For some, the show awakens long-suppressed memories from their own time spent in Vietnam.

“My Dad was a Vietnam Veteran. He passed away in April this year and is dearly missed,” says Natasha Armstrong of her father former W2 Company Radio Operator, Tom Naylor. “When Showbiz Christchurch staged Miss Saigon in 2009 we all went to watch as a family. It was really emotional, but Dad enjoyed it. He even talked a little about his time in Vietnam.”

Don Lord, Executive Director of Hagar NZ says: “Vietnam remains a significant target for traffickers. Vulnerable women, particularly from villages like the one Kim in Miss Saigon was from, are today at risk of sex trafficking and forced labour. Many are trafficked into neighbouring countries to meet the demand for wives in rural communities, into other Asian countries as forced labour, and even as far as Europe.”

Hagar New Zealand is a charitable organisation which supports the recovery of women and children who have survived severe human rights abuse in Vietnam, Cambodia and Afghanistan. Some of their clients have come from situations where they have been trafficked and in slavery and Hagar is committed to seeing them healed and thriving.

For a member of the Christchurch Vietnamese community, the beauty, poignancy and relevance of Kim’s song about her son, “I’d Give My Life for You”, reflects an essential aspect of Vietnamese culture: a mothers’ love, sacrifice and selflessness.

The Tale of Kieu, a significant work of Vietnamese literature, is a poem which recounts the life, trials and tribulations of Thúy Kiều, a beautiful and talented yet tragic young woman, whose story is used to illustrate Phuc duc, a karma like merit-virtue which can be created by women and handed on to future generations.

Like Kim in Miss Saigon and tens of thousands of other Vietnamese women during and after the Vietnam War, she sacrificed herself to save her family.

Showbiz Christchurch had NZ Vietnam Veterans and NZ Vietnamese, who escaped before and after the fall of Saigon, share their stories with the Miss Saigon company and theatre patrons. With such meticulous and in-depth background work put into delivering the best audience experience, there is much to look forward to in this new production of Miss Saigon.

Bụi đời – the dust of life

They’re called Bui-Doi
The dust of life
Conceived in Hell
And born in strife
They are the living reminder
Of all the good we failed to do
We can’t forget
Must not forget
That they are all our children, too

Miss Saigon [1]

Mỹ lai ‘Amerasians’

The children of American GIs and Vietnamese women

“Wisps of blonde can be seen bobbing and darting among the rivers of black haired women and children in the street markets.

“Round blue eyes peer out of thatched huts. Along dusty paths, some of the faces that beam up at strangers are black, others are fair-skinned.

“Contrary to some expectations, most of the mixed children have been accepted and cherished by their Vietnamese mothers and grandmothers, and many also by aunts and cousins and others in remote branches of their extended families.

“Relatively few have been totally abandoned to orphanages, and only a small number are available for adoption.

“The trouble comes outside the protective circle of the family, for when those youngsters step into the streets, enter the schools and seek new friendships, they are often met by teasing and ridicule from both adults and children.” [2]

New York Times reporter David Shipler wrote this from Saigon in 1974, the year following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on 27 January 1974, heralding the suspension of all U.S. combat activities. The Vietnam War, as it was known in the US, had become a political hot potato. American people were protesting. Troop morale was generally low. Drug use was prevalent. In Vietnam, “drugs were more plentiful than cigarettes or chewing gum” and attempts to suppress use was “almost completely ineffective” and would come only with the withdrawal of the American troops, a US congressional report concluded in 1971. [3]

The standard length of service in Vietnam was one year. The best morale-builder of all was that soldiers could actually count the days ‘til they returned home. ­

Image from: Pushing On, Bui Doi, The Dust of Life

Image from: Pushing On, Bui Doi, The Dust of Life

Bụi đời– the dust of life

Left behind after the removal of the US troops were one million orphans who had grown up to have families – and lose them – during the war. Included were those known as Bui Doi – the dust of life. Some 8000 of these were the offspring of American GIs and Vietnamese mothers. Many were harassed, many were left to run the streets. These children were generally rejected by Vietnamese society, yet for years, Vietnam would not let them out, and America would not let them in.

“They are of mixed race in an essentially homogeneous society, without a father in a patriarchal society, reminders of what is seen as lack of morality on the part of Vietnamese women and of a time in Vietnamese history that is not exactly viewed with joy and happiness.” [4]

Estimates vary as to exactly how many ‘Amerasian’ children there were in Vietnam. “The US Government has alluded to about 8,000, while the Vietnamese say there are in excess of 10,000, maybe up to 15,000,” said human rights lawyer Sanford Mevorah in 1985. At the time, only 131 had made it to the US.

“The US and Vietnam had agreed that the children, born of American servicemen and Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War, were a US responsibility, but the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries meant there was no machinery to bring them to the US.” [4]

Colour Makes a Difference

Saigon. In the An-Loi area of the town more than 15.000 refugees were housed including Eurasian and Afr-Asian orphans left behind by the departing of US army. Source: Magnum Photos.

Saigon. In the An-Loi area of the town more than 15.000 refugees were housed including Eurasian and Afr-Asian orphans left behind by the departing of US army. Source: Magnum Photos.

The illegitimate ‘negro-fathered’ children were doubly disadvantaged. New Zealand paediatrician Dr. Margaret Neave worked for the Save The Children Fund with the NZ surgical team in Vietnam, based at the Qui Nhon hospital in South Vietnam.

When asked about their future, she spoke plainly:

“Their future? None I can see.

“At the moment, most are protected in orphanages. But later on . . . well, they won’t get jobs. Discrimination, you know.

“The Vietnamese are disgusted by them.”

Dr. Neave estimated there were “some thousands” of these children throughout Vietnam – most of them left behind in moves to adopt orphans. She did not criticise the Vietnamese attitude towards these children, and said, “You need a few generations of food in your belly to afford generosity.” [5]

One former Vũng Tàu bar girl had three half-black children by three different GIs. The soldiers have all gone home, but she has “no regrets” she said, “Because at the time I

like to have money.”

“It was a happy life. A house to live in, you like with one American, that American gave you money and bought you things. With all that money it is you who made the decision to work that way or not. And if you happen to have a baby because you’re not careful, that’s your bad luck”. [6]

Generally speaking, the different children, the half-white as well as the half-black, were “doomed to ostracism.”

“But, of course, it is worse for the Afro-Asian children. Like many other people, the Vietnamese are very conscious of colour,” Mcrovah said in a 1985 interview, appealing to the United Nations for help to break the political impasse that existed preventing ‘Amerasian’ children from being brought to the United States from Vietnam.

“They consider dark skin undesirable, associating it with the Moi, or savages, the tribal people who occupy their mountainous rain-forest country. To them, light skin colour – as long as it is without the taint of foreignness – is highly prized.”

The Hairy Cow blogspot: Bui Doi - the Dust of Life

Image from The Hairy Cow blogspot: Bui Doi – the Dust of Life

Nobody Cares

It wasn’t just the Americans who had left their mark on a generation of Vietnamese children.

“In 1954, when the French military forces withdrew in defeat from Indo-China, they left behind an estimated 10,000 illegitimate Eurasian children and a scattering of Afro-Asians in Vietnam alone.

“By the end of 1967, nearly 4000 of these children were repatriated to France under that Government’s policy of recognising citizenship regardless of legitimacy”.

“Saigon’s streets, as well as the streets of Da Nang, Tuy Hoa, Bien Hoa, Vung Tau, and other cities occupied by foreign troops in Vietnam, are crowded with homeless children who beg, shine shoes, pimp, sell themselves, wait around for a chance to steal.

“These boys and girls have nothing, and nobody cares. Cuts, scratches, and abrasions on their dirty bodies become infected and scarred. Their flimsy cotton shirts and shorts go from dirty to filthy, and then rot into tatters until the children beg or steal money to replace them.”

“Every war produces illegitimate children, but under some conditions, the children are fairly easily absorbed into their society. How many illegitimate children were born in Europe during World War II will never be known, because, except for the half-Negro children, the youngsters’ parentage has gone generally unremarked.

”As the illegitimate boys of Vietnam have little choice but to beg or steal, so the girls mostly become prostitutes.” [7]

The Showbiz Christchurch production of Miss Saigon is at the Isaac Theatre Royal from 27 September 2019

The Showbiz Christchurch production of Miss Saigon is at the Isaac Theatre Royal from 27 September 2019


Sources:

[1] Miss Saigon music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr, adapted from the original French lyrics by Alain Boublil.
[2] The GIs’ children grow up (1974, September 11). The Canberra Times (ACT: 1926 – 1995), p. 15. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
[3] McDonald, Ian. “Over half of American Army have tried drugs.” Times, 29 Apr. 1971, p. 1. The Times Digital Archive, Accessed 27 July 2019.
[4] UNITED NATIONS Help urged for Vietnam’s ‘children of the dust’ (1985, November 8). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), p. 5. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
[5]All Children Must Have A Future“” The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982) 9 August 1972: 6. Web. 28 Jul 2019.
[6] The GIs’ children grow up (1974, September 11). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), p. 15. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
[7] The forgotten waifs of the war in Vietnam (1969, December 17). The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), p. 68. Retrieved July 25, 2019.

Saigon Tea, Bar Girls and ‘Boom Boom’

Miss Saigon

The jarring reality of life as a bar girl during the Vietnam war

In the Showbiz Christchurch production of Miss Saigon, American GI Chris (played by Jack Fraser) and Vietnamese orphan Kim (played by Tina Bergantinos-Panlilio) meet in a Saigon bar where Kim works as a bargirl.

The French had designed Saigon to accommodate 300,000 people. By 1972 there were over three million people in the twenty-one square miles of Saigon proper, and another million on the outskirts. It had become the most densely populated city in the world. South Vietnam had transformed from 90% rural to 60% urban. “The French left three permanent features; boulevards, bread and brothels,” wrote Anthony Carthew for the Canberra Times in 1966.

During the American Vietnam war, the bars in central Saigon were the haunt for thieves, confidence men, beggars and gangs of children who’d rob soldiers as they left. Brawling was common.

“Le Thi Xuan, at 16, has already had considerable experience peddling cigarettes and prophylactics at the entrances to bars where Americans congregate, and she is just beginning to work as a bar hostess, Xuan asserts in her rapid pidgin English, ‘Someday of the war in Vietnam I get American husband, go States. I got American boy-friend work ship … all time go Manila come back Vietnam. He make beaucoup [big] money. He talk maybe pretty soon we marry, go States.’

“For all Xuan’s confident assertion, there is apprehension in her voice. She knows it is unlikely she’ll marry an American. She’s much more likely to bear an illegitimate child who will inherit her kind of life.”

“In order to enter the society of bar hostesses, she lies about her age. The police make a half-hearted attempt to see that the hostesses are at least 18, but abuses of age limits and activities far outstrip enforcement.” [1]

SOUTH VIETNAM. Saigon. A bar where GIs find prostitutes and heroin. 1971. Image: Magnum Photos.

Many of Saigon’s bar girls came from villages in the Mekong Delta – the vast maze of rivers, swamps and islands at the southern tip of Vietnam. Others were war widows with young families to support.

“One feels sorry, of course, for these men, many of whom die from wounds because their slender bodies have so little resistance to infection and shock. But their widows are in need of a deeper sympathy. In some cases, Vietnamese-fashion, they have to support the entire family, ranging from grandparents to obscure, penniless cousins. When her man is killed, a Vietnamese wife is paid one year’s salary by the army – about $220 (£110) for private. After that – nothing.

“If she is pretty she can become a bar girl and hope; to make enough money to open a little street stall in the market, which is every bar girl’s ambition. If she is not pretty, and does not have the education which would win her one of the few jobs open to women, she has no alternative but to become a prostitute.” [2]

All were ostracised from ordinary Vietnamese society. Yet their weekly earnings were reported to be more than that of South Vietnamese cabinet ministers. [3] “A prostitute earned as much as $180 per month. The average government civil servant earned roughly $30 a month, and even cabinet ministers and Assembly members had fixed salaries of $120.” [4]

Mai (20) works in one of the many bars in the area of To do Street in Saigon. She earns more keeping soldiers ‘company’ and keeping them drinking than does any member of the Vietnamese Cabinet or Assembly. Mai claims she supports her mother and 5 young brothers and sisters on her earnings. When she first went to work in the bar she cried all day, but later she got used to the job. Her biggest worry is that she will never find a “nice” Vietnamese man willing to marry her because of what she does. She hopes to move to another part of the country when the war is over and start a new life. She can earn as much as $180 a month. Source: Magnum Photos.

Australian troops were considered much tighter with his money than their American counterparts. They were nicknamed ‘Cheap Charlies’ by the bar girls who had a little ditty they used to sing to the tune of ‘This Old Man’:

Lester Mengel, The 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR) with Kim, a Vietnamese prostitute. Source: Australians at War Film Archive.

Uc Dai Lot. Cheap Charlie
He no buy me Saigon Tea .
Saigon Tea cost many, many P [piastres, the local almost worthless Vietnamese currency]
Uc Dai Lai, he Cheap Charlie.

Uc-da-loi, Cheap Charlie,
He no give me MPC, [Military Pay Certificate]
MPC costs many many P,
Uc-da-loi he Cheap Charlie.

Uc-da-loi, Cheap Charlie
He no go to bed with me,
Bed with me costs many many P
Uc-da-loi he Cheap Charlie.

Uc-da-loi, Cheap Charlie,
Make me give him one for free,
Mamma-san go crook at me,
Uc-da-loi, he Cheap Charlie.

Uc-da-loi, Cheap Charlie,
He give baby-san to me,
Baby-san costs many many P,
Uc-da-loi, he Cheap Charlie.

Uc-da-loi, Cheap Charlie,
He go home across the sea,
He leave baby-san with me,
Uc-da-loi he Cheap Charlie

Image from website: 24 pics of prostitutes of the Vietnam War

Saigon Tea

Saigon Tea bars were usually narrow places, with a bar and stools along one side and small padded booths on the other. The manager was called ‘Papa -san’ and he looked after the cash register. Middle-aged women, called ‘Mama- san’, kept the girls moving.

Once inside, the customer would sit at the bar and order a drink, paying around $2. The local brew, Ba Muoi Ba (33), was best avoided. It was low quality, unfit for human consumption according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and rumoured to contain formaldehyde – but it was cheap! [5]

About 20 seconds after sitting down at the bar, a girl would sidle up and introduce herself to the GI. The dialogue was unromantic and, to the uninitiated, incomprehensible:

“Hey, you. You No 1 (the best). Come here, sit down’, the bar girl begins as she spies a GI.

“How long you come Vietnam? How long you stay? Where you work? Work Bien Hoa, huh? You kill beaucoup VC (Big Vietcong) you No 1. You buy me one Saigon tea? I love you too much.”

If he showed interest, she would ask him to buy her a glass of Saigon tea, a one-ounce glass of almost colourless liquid costing $2 and tasting faintly of mint.

“With it comes a paper tab in two parts. The girl tears off her half of the tab, for which she will later collect $1.”

“By the time the customer has bought two glasses of Saigon tea, and had two drinks himself, he can be persuaded to sit in one of the padded booths. Once there, he is kissed, cuddled, tickled and petted — and encouraged to buy Saigon-tea — until he either regains his senses or runs out of money. Generally, these two things happen to him at the same time.”

“A tea-bar girl is slim, dark and fascinating. Her age is between 17 and 30. Working eight hours, she can earn up to $40 a day. Often her earnings provide food and lodging for her large refugee family who would otherwise be destitute.”[6]

Photo from manhhai on Flickr captioned: GI and bar girls in a bar during the Vietnam War in September 1967 in Saigon

Deluxe class joy-girls

Some bar girls will promise anything to sell another glass of Saigon-tea with no intention of giving the customer anything other than attentive company and superficial affection. Others, however, are prepared to go further. “They’ll bat their dark eyes like a schoolgirl and ask the GI: ‘How much you pay?’” [7]

From dingy back street bars to the ‘the de luxe class joy-girls’ on the verandah of the Continental Palace, ‘a relic of the French Colonial days’, bar-girls were everywhere. [8] There were between 100,000 and 300,000 girls who were prostitutes, bar girls and temporary wives of GIs, heavily dependent on the American presence. [9]

“The dignity of Vietnamese women has also suffered tremendously during these five, six years since the arrival of the American troops. The women who have been driven from the countryside because of the heavy bombing have to flock into the towns, can’t find any jobs, and so have to prostitute themselves. It’s the only way left to them—they are sold as sex objects. The families with daughters who have gone to that point suffer. Even the husbands have to shut their eyes when their wives have to prostitute themselves in order to feed the children. And it’s moral torture for the husbands”, said Madame Van of the People’s Liberation Government. [10]

With the wartime boom in prostitution, the courts no longer committed a girl solely for being a prostitute, as “that would be like trying to stop a tidal wave”, said Sister Mary, an Irish nun who ran a centre for delinquent girls in Vinh Long, South Vietnam, 50 miles southwest of Saigon. Girls from ages 10 to 18 were admitted to the centre founded in 1958 by the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem (1954-63) after a crackdown on vice. The girls had often been involved in more serious crimes, such as kidnapping other girls. Sister Mary pointed out some of the girls and spoke matter-of-factly:

“There’s Lisa, she’s 10. She was working in a brothel in Saigon. She still has marks on her body.”

“That is Rose — she used to steal 10,000 piastres ($A40) a day.”

“She [16-year-old Margaret] was kidnapped, drugged, and put to work in a Saigon bar”.

SOUTH VIETNAM. Saigon. A bar where GIs find prostitutes and heroin. 1971. Image: Magnum Photos.

The Economics of War

When the Americans withdrew from 1974, a significant source of income left with them. The new government found themselves responsible for “an unknown number of prostitutes, drug addicts and other social misfits whose existence had until then depended on the corruption generated by rich foreigners.” [11]

The Communist government claimed 350,000 prostitutes were left behind and set about a programme of ‘re-education’ establishing the ‘Centre of Rehabilitation for the Dignity of Women’ in Saigon. Between 1975 and 1985, over 14,000 women in the newly named Ho Chi Minh City were sent to these centres.

Sister Françoise, a French Roman Catholic nun and government advisor, spoke of the prostitutes as generally simple peasant women driven into the trade by the economics of war. The majority were common women forced to migrate into the city either because of the fighting or bombing or through the Strategic Hamlet Program, the plan by the governments of South Vietnam and the US to combat the communist insurgency. [12]

Like the American resort at Vũng Tàu where ‘boom boom girls’ serviced the needs of GIs on leave, the French, after 100 years of occupation, also had some experience in this area:

“After a 56 day siege beginning March 13, 1954… French colonialism died in Indochina after almost 100 years, in one of the 20th century’s crucial battles.

“There were women then, too, inside the French encampment. … There were also two ‘bordels mobiles de campagne’, French mobile field brothels, with 18 Algerian and Vietnamese girls. When the siege ended, the puritan Vietminh sent the Vietnamese girls and their madame for ‘re-education’, as happened to Saigon bar girls after 1975. Yet now, my hotel, like others in Dien Bien Phu, had its own willing courtesans in a large annex marked ‘Thai massage’. Puritanism has gone the way of state central planning as the free market flourishes. So much for ‘re-education’,” wrote James Pringle for Reuters in 2004. [13]

“In the French as well as in the American period, the ‘Flower Boats’ or sampans plied their trade. They were frequently family operations, with the daughter(s) working as prostitute(s) while the brothers pimped on dry land. Some of the larger junks, however, were professionally run, often by the Saigon underworld. Prior to 1975, statistics from the Ministry of Society of the Saigon government reported about 200,000 professional prostitutes. In Saigon alone in 1968, there were about 10,000 professional prostitutes. By 1974, the figure had reached 100,000.” [14]

Photo from manhhai on Flickr captioned: Saigon 1972 – Photo by Raymond Depardon – Rạp REX chiếu phim Love Story (Chuyện Tình) American soldiers and Vietnamese women in front of a movie theater.

Sightseeing and ‘sweet nothings’

When the American military withdrew from South Vietnam and Thailand, the extensive sex industry created for the rest and recreation of the troops had to find new markets. The Asian sex industry turned to other countries to find ways to continue to profit from the estimated 100,000 prostitutes who had been recruited to meet military needs. One route to profit was though sexual tourism. [15]

By the end of the 20th century Vietnam’s southwestern neighbour, the impoverished, corrupt and lawless Cambodia, had become the centre of the child sex trade – a favourite destination for sex tourists.

Poor Vietnamese parents caught up in the country’s thirst for consumer goods, sold their children for as little as £200, condemning them to torture, humiliation and disease in neighbouring Cambodia. They were joining the children from India, Thailand and the Philippines working as prostitutes in Asians squalid brothels.

“When I first met one of these children, 12-year-old Dah Vit, it was clear she had been tortured. Cigarette burns scarred her rest and hands. We were sitting in the back room of a brothel a few miles outside of Phnom pen, the Cambodian capital.

“‘She’s a virgin, fresh, no diseases’, the mother-san, the brothel’s madam, told me.

“Dah Vit’s mother, Trang, believe she had sent the Dah Vit and her other two daughters into the restaurant trade ‘for three months’. The money they would earn would help the whole family.”

“When they come home we will all be better off. Maybe, one day, we will even have a television,” Trang told reporter Nick Daniel in 1996. [16]

Ten years later, Deborah Orr reported in The Independent that Vietnam had become a primary source and destination country for forced labour and sexual exploitation.

“Criminal gangs operating in Vietnam are known to recruit children promising jobs or marriages abroad, or to purchase them from guardians eager to be rid of them.”[17]

Hagar New Zealand is a charitable organisation which supports the recovery of women and children who have survived severe human rights abuse in Vietnam, Cambodia and Afghanistan. They said of Vietnam:

“Vietnam remains a significant target for traffickers. Vulnerable women, men, and children are at risk of sex trafficking and forced labour. Women are trafficked as brides to neighbouring countries, as well as further afield, with incidents of trafficking that reach as far as Europe.” [18]

The willingness for families to pimp their own daughters and for women to seek out prostitution as a career has been attributed both to greed and capitalism on the one hand, and poverty and war on the other. Combined with the ancient ethnic value called ‘phuc duc’ or merit-virtue- which can be created by women and handed on to future generations – and filial responsibility, these may help explain why prostitution was so prevalent during the Vietnam War.

The Tale of Kieu, a significant work of Vietnamese literature, is a poem which recounts the life, trials and tribulations of Thúy Kiều, a beautiful and talented yet tragic young woman, whose story is used to illustrate phuc duc. Like Kim in Miss Saigon and tens of thousands of other Vietnamese bar and ‘boom boom’ girls during the Vietnam War, she sacrificed herself to save her family.

Within the span of hundred years of human existence,
what a bitter struggle is waged between genius and destiny!
How many harrowing events have occurred while mulberries cover the conquered sea!
Rich in beauty, unlucky in life!
Strange indeed, but little wonder,
since casting hatred upon rosy cheeks is a habit of the Blue Sky.
[19]

The Showbiz Christchurch production of Miss Saigon is at the Isaac Theatre Royal from 27 September 2019

The Showbiz Christchurch production of Miss Saigon is at the Isaac Theatre Royal from 27 September 2019

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Cold nights and warm theatres go together like the costumes and music of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical

Amanda Atlas. Photo by Wendy Riley

Review by Kate Divett, Backstage Christchurch

Cold nights and warm theatres go together like the costumes and music of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical – you know it’s something very special (possibly technicolor) and you know you’re going to be entertained. Showbiz Christchurch is bringing Broadway sizzle to Christchurch on a cold weekend.

The mid-season concert that is now a fixture of the Showbiz calendar highlights the ‘best bits’ of a certain composer’s body of work – this time, no less than the modern master himself, Andrew Lloyd Webber. There are 24 songs included, from Lloyd Webber’s best known (and some less well-known) musicals, including The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Whistle Down the Wind, Song and Dance, Evita, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Sunset Boulevard, Aspects of Love, and Starlight Express. Performers include 14 soloists, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, and a dazzling array of dancers and chorus members.

It’s a busy night. With so much happening on stage and such a huge body of work to cover, the pace is frenetic (and at times, humorously, the dry ice is a little overwhelming!). While the concert is once again very enjoyable, the nature of these ‘best bits’ shows also presents some challenges that I’m sure provides plenty of discussion for musical aficionados afterward. Are we in agreement about which is the ‘best bit’ of each musical? Is some context lost in translation when shifted into a concert setting, for example, does everyone understand why that cat just flew up into the sky? Does everyone know that those last people were trains? For the unfamiliar, the songs and the non-singing soloists have the potential to feel a little confusing.

But no matter – we’re here for the music, the singing, and the dancing, and we are not disappointed in this regard.

Highlights of the night are many but have to include Jack Fraser, James Foster, and Amanda Atlas. Fraser and Foster had several outings each, but Fraser’s outing as Judas in ‘Heaven On Their Minds’ was quite brilliant – a powerhouse performance. James Foster gave a beautiful, tender performance of ‘Music of the Night’ from Phantom of the Opera. Amanda Atlas only needed one song to make an impression on the evening – she delivers ‘With One Look’ from Sunset Boulevard with emotional depth and masterful vocal command.

Ashley Brown’s cello solo in the ‘Variations Theme’ from Song and Dance was mesmerizing. What an inspired inclusion, and a virtuoso performance.

Other worthy mentions include Donna Alley as a suitably outrageous ‘Prima Donna’, and Michael Bayly in various roles, most memorably for his sassy singing (and costume) as King Herod in ‘Song of the King’. He also provides a solid counterpart to Chuana McKenzie’s Evita numbers, my favourite being ‘I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You’. Jenna Baxter (‘Whistle Down the Wind’) and Karen Tewnion-Smith (‘Unexpected Song’) each had marvelous moments. The Children’s Chorus were delightful, particularly melting our hearts in ‘No Matter What’.

The dances elevate the evening. From the slinking entrance of the Jellicle Cats to the sultry tango that echoes McKenzie and Bayly’s courtship in ‘I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You’, they provide context and atmosphere in the concert setting.

Bravo to Richard Marrett and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. Theirs is, as audiences have rightfully come to anticipate, a reliably fabulous performance of unrelenting musical magic.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable, easy way to spend an evening. We have some outstanding talent in Canterbury, and these concerts are a very special opportunity to showcase their skills. Showbiz Christchurch is once again shining the light towards the end of a wintery tunnel with their mid-season musical offering.

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber: a nice way to finish the week

Photo by John Foster

Review by Patrick Shepherd, stuff.co.nz

This was a nice and easy way to finish the week with a well put together show that was just the right length and did a good job of covering the work of one of musical theatre’s most prolific and successful composers.

I have to say I’m not the biggest Lloyd Webber fan but I enjoyed this and felt that it represented some of his best work, drawn from 10 musicals, as well as including song choices that were perhaps not the most obvious.

Artistic director Ravil Atlas pulled together a good production, Showbiz delivering the high standard that we have come to expect, all under the expert musical direction of Richard Marrett and the accompaniment of the CSO.

Photo by John Foster

Photo by John Foster

I’ll get to the solo items shortly (if I can find my way through the slightly overdone dry ice) but I felt that what really brought the stage to life were the seemingly indefatigable dancers and the strong chorus. I also liked the children’s chorus, adding that extra dash of zest in uptempo numbers like Song of the King and pathos in the exposed cameos in No Matter What.

Standouts for me were Jack Fraser, James Foster and Amanda Atlas, all strong voices taking on songs that needed robust delivery. Fraser’s Heaven On Their Minds was gutsy and angry, handling the rapid-fire lyrics brilliantly, a definite contrast with the subtlety of his duet with Charlotte Taylor in All I Ask of You. They blended well.

Foster’s Music of the Night was perfectly executed, making for a suitably creepy but polished Phantom, hitting those formidable high notes confidently. He also took on Love Changes Everything, again nailing it.

Amanda Atlas only appeared once in With One Look, a song of faded glory and misplaced hope, and she gave it her all. Atlas always manages to get to the heart of a song and, boy, did she do that here.

Photo by John Foster

Photo by John Foster

Ashley Brown’s account of the Paganini Variations was a surprising and welcome inclusion, fiercely difficult and not made easier by the stage arrangement. I liked the inclusion of the dancers but felt that he could have held centre stage in his own right for the second set.

Donna Alley was superbly arch in Prima Donna, soaring above it all gloriously, and I liked Jonathan Densem’s take on Joseph. Michael Bayly hammed it up in Song of the King and provided the rock for Chuana McKenzie’s Evita bracket.

Unfortunately, his mic failed him in Hosanna but he gamely saw it through. McKenzie was suitably sultry and manipulative in I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You, following an energetic Buenos Aires, and Jenna Baxter’s Whistle Down the Wind was nicely done. I also enjoyed Karen Tewnion-Smith’s direct delivery of Unexpected Song and James-Paul Mountstevens handled Starlight Express well.

The show runs until 16 June.

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber is a night full of favourites

Photo by Wendy Riley

By Emma Dyer

Showbiz Christchurch’s mid-year concert, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, is as delightful as a box full of chocolates. It is a perfectly sized taster, a wide range of pieces from one of the most renowned composers of musical theatre. If you aren’t familiar with his work, if you are familiar with his work, if you love it, if you don’t, whatever your feelings you will almost certainly find something to appreciate in this spectacular show.

James Foster and Charlotte Taylor. Photo by Wendy Riley

James Foster and Charlotte Taylor. Photo by Wendy Riley

Showbiz Christchurch have been given special permission, from Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, to make this show more than just a singer on stage and some musicians hidden away. Instead what you are treated to is a selection of fully staged mini productions from ten different musicals. Each given the care, costumes, choirs, full orchestras, expertly performed choreography, subtle but perfect lighting, and so on that make you feel instantly transported to that musical. Part of the genius of the evening (and of the composer himself) is really that there is such a wide range of musical styles and subject matter. With so many highlights throughout the evening it is indeed a hard task to pick just a few.

Evita transports you to 1940s Argentina.  Charming Evita (Chuana McKenzie) whether for love or love of power pushes herself as a perfect match for Juan Peron (Michael Bayly). She sings of her claims that she’d be “surprisingly good” for him, while the other half of the stage is given over to a couple dancing a tango to represent this verbal tango taking place between Evita and Juan Peron.

Photo by Wendy Riley

Photo by Wendy Riley

One of the absolute stars across many numbers from several different musicals is James Foster. He completely blew us away every time he took to the stage, appearing to be a natural actor who seems to embody every role he takes on, his powerful voice impressed most especially in “Music of the Night”. Another from The Phantom of the Opera, “Prima Donna” pairs laugh out loud comedy with breathtaking vocals when Donna Alley perfectly plays the demanding yet insecure personality of an early 20th century opera star. And what would a star be without their entourage, a trio of strong male vocalists imploring her to grace the stage with her presence. Oh go on.

Switching it up again, fans of Elvis will love “Song of the King” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Looking and sounding like something out of a show in Las Vegas the stage lights up with dancers clad in glittering gold Egyptian inspired costumes, this number is more than packed full of energy and pizazz.

Amanda Atlas. Photo by Wendy Riley

Amanda Atlas. Photo by Wendy Riley

You might not know the musical Whistle Down the Wind but if you’re a fan of 1990s Irish boy-band Boyzone, “No Matter What” is sure to fill you with delight. And if all of that wasn’t enough this number has some of the most adorable young performers take to the stage, they do Christchurch proud to have so much talent and grace at such a young age.

If you’ve always wanted to see CATS then you’ll be left wanting more as the stage is filled with perfectly costumed dancers leaping and flying about the stage as if they really were cats, while behind them the choir and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra tells a vivid story.

Photo by Wendy Riley

Donna Alley and Michael Bayly. Photo by Wendy Riley

This show is for you if you like any or all of the following; celebrity dancing shows, old school Hollywood glamour, ballet, contemporary dance, drama, comedy, flashy clothes, opera, classical music, escapism, love stories or really just a great night out. If you need a break away from the gloominess of a Christchurch winter then you’d really be sorry to miss this show. And while you’re at it make sure you get your tickets now for Showbiz Christchurch’s next production Miss Saigon because the people who brought you The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber really know how to put on a show.

“We have costumes; we have staging; and we have special effects”

The lMusic of Andrew lloyd Webber in concert. Photo by John Foster

When Showbiz Christchurch wrapped up the 2018 season of Broadway Hitmen they knew from audience feedback there was a great desire to hear more music from composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The success of Broadway Hitmen has helped shape the format of the up and coming concert The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Even though the concert has been devised by Lloyd Webber himself, Showbiz were able to choose the pieces they wanted to include. With so many smash hit musicals to his name, it wasn’t going to be easy to choose just 24 songs to feature in the concert.

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Photo by Wendy Riley

James Foster and Charlotte Taylor. Photo by Wendy Riley

“In designing the show, I wanted to pick the music we hadn’t done [in the 2018 concert],” says Artistic Director Ravil Atlas who was the Musical Director on Broadway Hitmen. “This presented a challenge because this year we have approval from Lloyd Webber for the music to be staged as it would be in a show. We have costumes; we have staging; and we have special effects.”

Atlas’ approach has been to tie each of the different show numbers into mini vignettes – creating a nostalgic journey through some of the ‘best bits’ of each show. “It’s been interesting to work out where to cut and put things,” says Atlas.  “We only have two standalone numbers, Love Changes Everything from Aspects of Love, and With One Look from Sunset Boulevard, which set up the last vignette, Starlight Express.”

Showbiz Christchurch is renowned for producing shows that could easily be at home on Broadway or the West End. The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber is proving to be even more popular than recent Showbiz concerts, with the Grand Circle of the Isaac Theatre Royal recently opened for sale for those who weren’t quick enough to purchase tickets when they went on sale at the end of last year.

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Photo by Wendy Riley

Cello soloist Ashley Brown. Photo by Wendy Riley

Each musical vignette from The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Whistle Down the Wind, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Song and Dance, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar and Starlight Express features between two and four songs performed by a full 33 piece on-stage orchestra – the CSO. They’ll be sharing the stage with 14 soloists from amongst Canterbury’s top performers – some well-known to Christchurch audiences and some new talent. There will also be a 30 strong on-stage chorus, 21 ballet, Latin and musical theatre dancers, and a children’s chorus from Impact Dance and Stage School who will perform numbers from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Whistle Down the Wind.

“Some parts of the show will have 90 people on stage at one time,” says Stage Manager Mandy Perry who will be supported by a team of Assistant Stage Managers to help co-ordinate such a big cast. The set will feature a series of asymmetrical raised platforms for the orchestra designed by David Bosworth of 4th Wall Theatre Services, and a concave cyclorama which will provide a canvas for lighting designer Grant Robertson of The Light Site. “Everybody that’s working on the show is really going to get a chance to show off!” says Atlas “It will be gorgeous.”

The lMusic of Andrew lloyd Webber in concert. Photo by John Foster

Photo by Wendy Riley

There are three choreographers working on the concert, each focusing on their area of expertise in Latin dance (Donna Frost), ballet (Hayley Watts) and musical theatre (Mandy Roberts). Whilst Atlas has a very busy time as artistic director, vocal and acting coach, and stage director, he will hand the baton over to renowned musical director Richard Marrett who will conduct the CSO.

The Showbiz Christchurch Saunders & Co Season of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber in Concert is at the Isaac Theatre Royal for three performances only from 14-16 June 2019.

“We Will Rock You” keeps its promise, you will be rocked

We Will Rock You is the latest musical show to grace the stage of The Isaac Theatre Royal, and it keeps its promise, you will be rocked.

By Emma Dyer

We Will Rock You is a story about rebellion, set to the music of Queen, with outrageous futuristic or punk costumes, and an endless supply of music references and jokes. You don’t have to be a Queen fan but it definitely doesn’t hurt to be a fan of pop music culture because the jokes will be that much funnier. Exhibit Brit, a rather rough and tough male character who proudly identifies his full chosen name is “Britney Spears”. With gags like that you know that you’re in for a good time.

Listening to this show it isn’t hard to remember why they still call Freddie Mercury a genius. The range of songs that Queen has given the world is why the entire list of musical numbers [in the musical] can be made up of their work. There are 23 different Queen songs in this show, most of them so perfect a band would be lucky just to produce one in their career. While it would be hard to pick a favourite you could do worse than Killer Queen or the show closer (which they really make you beg for) Bohemian Rhapsody.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a bunch of jokes, excellent music, and more leather than a field full of cows. There is a serious message here. In a time where we are really questioning the massive amount of power that a few internet giants hold over our lives this really is a story of what the future could look like if we let it. It is outrageous and at times almost cartoonish, but it could be our future. The gags might take things to extremes, evil villain Killer Queen’s hair or the white and rather distressingly tight outfits of the “Gaga Kids”, but there is still a strong undercurrent of truth. For decades the music of Queen has been a part of our collective culture. The writer of this show, Ben Elton, knows a thing or two about pop culture, about making fun of it, and about becoming part of it. You might not be familiar with his name but you probably know his work on comedic classic TV series like “Blackadder” or “The Young Ones”. His joyful, playful, biting, and absurd sense of humour comes through in this show in a way that is delightful and eye-rolling at the same time.

Welcome to the “iPlanet” (Earth has been rebranded), where nobody communicates in real life, individuality is strongly discouraged, and live music is banned. On this planet we have the dreamer dude Galileo Figaro, played by Caleb Jago-Ward who looks remarkably like a young Bon Jovi. Then we have badass babe Scaramouche (and if you think that is a odd name or that you shouldn’t call her “babe”, well so does she) played by the fantastically talented Jane Leonard. What develops from here is a story of love story, of teenage rebellion, and of why it is important that music keeps being created for love not money. But where in another telling of this story Scaramouche could have been relegated to sitting on the sidelines cheering on the musical hero Galileo, that simply isn’t the case here. She’s tough, she fights for what she wants, she runs towards the danger, and she doesn’t take any condescending talk from anyone. Meanwhile Galileo spouts out musical lyrics that just appear in his head, with no idea what they mean, but excellent comedic timing (“Scaramouche will you do the fandango?” does not go down well with her).

For regular attendees to the theatre, used to seeing the orchestra or band tucked away under the stage, it might be quite the surprise to see them on a platform precariously high above the stage, as much a part of the show for the eyes as they are for the ears. Multiple electric guitars replace the usual violins or oboes. So that what you end up with is an awesome lineup of musicians playing  great songs in a very rock n’ roll way. Add to that the supporting ensemble singing and dancing to fill the stage with their energy and enthusiasm, not an easy feat in some of the skin tight costumes, and you have something that could easily be described as “a kind of magic”.

While the baddies are definitely bad they still are relatable. Who doesn’t want to be special? Killer Queen (played to nasty perfection by Naomi Ferguson)  just wants to be special by ensuring nobody else is. Her evil henchman Khashoggi (played by the excellent Jack Fraser), well he just wants to avoid having his brain fried by his boss. The usual office politics. And what about the goodies? Well they hang out in the run down beat up Hard Rock Cafe. They are a punk dressing group of bohemians including VHS wielding Buddy (as in Holly played by Aaron Boyce), outrageous Oz (as in Osbourne played by Catherine Hay) and her lover boy risk-taker Brit (as in Spears played by Tom Hart). So what do the Bohemians want? They want music, they don’t know what it is or what it sounds like or even how to play a VHS tape, but they know deep down in their souls it’s what they need. And in the end everyone needs that, we need music to keep us human, to make us think, cry, be angry, and to unwind. We Will Rock You is a promise kept of all that and more. Buy tickets, see the show, remember why you love music and life.

We Will Rock You, the Musical by Queen and Ben Elton, 29 March – 13 April 2019