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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

WWRY: “an exceptional, high energy, full noise and lights opening night”

Reviewed by Kate Divett, Backstage Christchurch.

Friday 29 March

It is a deeply reflective time to be living in Christchurch currently, as we try to make sense of the events of Friday 15th March. We are a city in mourning and in shock. In the fortnight that has followed, we have gathered together in many ways – to grieve those who have been lost, to support those who remain, and in vigils for the peace and way of life we hold so dearly. Gatherings have been important.

Showbiz Christchurch thought deeply about whether or not to gather for the opening of their season of We Will Rock You. Their unanimous decision that “the show must go on” was the right one. I have personally found solace in the words of Leonard Bernstein this week: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before” and I held these words in my mind as I entered the theatre doors on Friday night.

So this is what the cast and crew of We Will Rock You have done: an exceptional, high energy, full noise and lights opening night, and an act of defiance against those who would want our lives interrupted. Bravo and thank you to all involved.

With the theatrical music of Queen woven together by the comedic writing of Ben Elton, it’s a winning combination. The story is set 300 years in the future, and the internet has destroyed any sense of community or individualism. Humans conform to mainstream, commercial ideals that are enforced, Big Brother-style, by Globalsoft Corporation. A small group of rebel Bohemians, however, are living counter to this tyranny, believing in a prophecy that a dreamer will come to help them find the last remaining musical instrument that has been hidden on the iPlanet. And there’s obviously a love story in there for good measure, which is brilliant.

Okay, the story might be a little bonkers, but we’re really here for the music – and we are not let down. At all. If the title of the show “We Will Rock You” was a promise, then Showbiz have definitely kept it. From the opening strains of ‘Innuendo’, we’re reminded that Queen’s music is intricate, lyrical, and incredibly well-known – especially in the recent success of 2018’s biographical film about Freddie Mercury, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. The band set the tone for an epic night of rock immediately, and bravo in particular to Michael Ferrar and Heather Webb for their work on guitars. Brian May’s solos and breaks are some of the more recognisable in music history!

The night belonged to the two lead roles though. Caleb Jago-Ward (Galileo) is phenomenal – it’s actually difficult to adequately express how extraordinary his voice is.

It is a treat to see him throw himself into what must be a very fun role to perform and apply his vocal talent to. Every song was a winner. Jane Leonard (Scaramouche) is equally brilliant and a fabulous casting opposite Jago-Ward, bringing sass, feisty attitude and some great comic timing. I particularly enjoyed ‘Somebody To Love’, but the duet moments for these two singers – particularly in ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ were magical.

Naomi Ferguson (Killer Queen) and Jack Fraser (Khashoggi) had reliably good performances as the evil counterparts to Galileo and Scaramouche. Ferguson, in particular, had a big role with a big personality to play – and a wig to match – and the vocal range required of her songs would be a challenge for most singers. We have Freddie Mercury to thank for that! Her costumes were wonderfully outrageous, and this is a good opportunity to congratulate Diane Brodie QSM (Costume) and Sarah Greenwood-Buchanan (Hair and Makeup) and their teams for their incredible work once again.

Aaron Boyce (Buddy), Catherine Hay (Oz), and Tom Hart (Brit) played excellent parts and contributed even more mouth-dropping vocal performances. I particularly noted that Hart’s voice at times sounded incredibly similar to Mercury’s, particularly in ‘I Want It All’. Hay and Hart have some very funny on-stage chemistry and brought wonderful comedic moments. Boyce plays a fabulous futuristic hipster, a great leader of the Bohemian group.

The cohesion of direction, musical, production and technical elements of this production is evident for all to see.

The Showbiz Christchurch team should be incredibly satisfied that they are doing their bit to serve the Christchurch community with high-quality moments of escape into the Arts when we need it most. The themes of the show – standing up for what you believe in, acceptance of difference, friendship, and the power of music to unify people – hold an added poignancy that could not have been predicted. The response from the audience on opening night – whooping, hollering, and generous applause throughout, followed by a joy-filled sing-a-long and an emphatic standing ovation – were all confirmation that this is a show that will add to our collective wellbeing. Audiences should secure their tickets before the season sells out and get ready to rock (yeah!).

The Showbiz Christchurch Saunders & Co Season of We Will Rock You is on from 29 March – 13 April at Isaac Theatre Royal.

Hit Queen musical to have its NZ theatre company premiere in Christchurch

Queen (image supplied).

It’s been 27 years since legendary Queen front-man Freddie Mercury passed away from an AIDS related illness yet his music remains as popular as ever.

Anyone who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s will remember Mercury for his flamboyance and enormous popularity, and thanks to the recent success of the multi award winning biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, new generations of music lovers are discovering the powerful and uplifting songs of Queen.

Even though it’s been over two decades since the original band members wrote and performed together, Queen remains as popular as ever due to their “dramatic, anthemic and inspiring songs which never get old no matter how many times you’ve heard them”, wrote entertainment reporter Emily Brow.

Writing on the news website Unilad she quotes NZ music professor and Queen fan Nick Braae: “Queen frequently sing about themes that have a universal quality; searching for love, family and relationship challenges, growing up, understanding one’s identity – none of which are confined to a particular historical time.”

Unsurpassed for their unique lyrics, dramatic and innovative style, it’s no surprise that the music of Queen underpins a unique musical theatre show which makes its NZ theatre company premiere in Christchurch on 29 March 2019.

Comedy writer Ben Elton (image supplied).

Written by comedy genius Ben Elton (Blackadder, The Young Ones) and Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor, We Will Rock You (WWRY) features 24 of Queen’s biggest hits re-imagined and woven into the story of a dystopian world where individuality is extinct and live music is banned. Born into this world are Galileo and Scaramouche, two outcasts who band together with a rebel gang of Bohemians to rediscover rock music and bring down the all-powerful GlobalSoft company and its tyrannical boss, The Killer Queen.

The story may sound as far-fetched as most of Queen’s lyrics but the musical’s worldwide popularity is undeniable. Since its West End debut in 2002, it has toured internationally amassing audience numbers of over 16 million.

The set, props and costumes for this Showbiz Christchurch production have come from Queen Theatrical and feature over 150 costume pieces designed by BAFTA and Olivier award-winning costume designer Tim Goodchild. Taking influence from Adam Ant, Kiss, Boy George, Madonna, the Bay City Rollers and other ‘80s musical icons, Goodchild has created a wardrobe of eclectic designs that are evocative of a Vivienne Westwood couture collection.

The set, built in the UK by leading designers Stufish Entertainment, will be brought to life on the Isaac Theatre Royal stage by director Stephen Robertson, lighting designer Grant Robertson (The Light Site), AV designer Dave Spark (Pixel Productions), sound designer Glen Ruske (BounceNZ), and David Bosworth (4th Wall Theatre Services).

Caleb Jago-Ward as Galileo (Photo by Showbiz Christchurch/Danielle Colvin).

Caleb Jago-Ward has returned home to take on the lead role of Galileo after his show-stealing performance in The Court Theatre’s recent production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Caleb sprang to attention on the The Voice Australia as a member of Team Delta. It was his performance of the Queen song ‘Somebody to Love’ that got all the judges on their feet and dancing during a blind audition.

Caleb will be joined on stage by Jane Leonard (Scaramouche), Naomi Ferguson (Killer Queen), Jack Fraser (Khashoggi), Aaron Boyce (Buddy), Catherine Hay (Oz), Tom Hart (Brit), an eight member rock band led by musical director Richard Marrett, and an ensemble of 26 singers and dancers, supported by six backing vocalists. Behind-the-scenes are hundreds of volunteers and theatre professionals who provide the crew, technical, costume, front of house, and management expertise needed to bring a show of this size to the Isaac Theatre Royal stage. “It’s our way to share our love of Queen,” says Showbiz president Markham Lee.

Naomi Ferguson as the dominatrix dictator, Killer Queen.

Naomi Ferguson as the dominatrix dictator, Killer Queen. (Image: Showbiz Christchurch/Danielle Colvin.

For the last two years Showbiz have partnered with Christchurch Pride to support each other’s events and shows. “This year – with We Will Rock You – it is appropriate that we have widened that partnership to include the New Zealand Aids Foundation,” says Showbiz marketing manager Wendy Riley.

Showbiz will be supporting the ‘Choice’ campaign to end HIV by donating to NZAF all profits from a WWRY ticketed backstage tour, collecting donations at performances, and making a donation on behalf of the WWRY company at the end of the season.

“Freddie Mercury was such an icon and an important part of starting conversations around HIV with the wider public,” says Jason Myers, CEO of the New Zealand Aids Foundation. “We’re very glad to have the support of Showbiz in raising awareness of, and funds toward, our goal of no new HIV transmissions in Aotearoa by 2025.”

The Showbiz Christchurch production We Will Rock You, the musical by Queen and Ben Elton is on at the Isaac Theatre Royal from 29 March to 13 April. Offical tickets only available from Ticketek.co.nz

Three big new shows, new seating categories and more affordable seats to feature in 2019 season

The launch of the Showbiz Christchurch 2019 season brings together three exciting new productions; a new ticketing structure which significantly increases the availability of entry level Showbiz tickets; and the continuation of the successful partnership with Christchurch law firm Saunders & Co.

The 2019 Saunders and Co Season begins with the New Zealand theatre company premiere of We Will Rock You, the musical by Queen and Ben Elton. The show features more than 24 of the biggest hits written by Queen and its legendary frontman, the late Freddie Mercury, set in a dystopian future world controlled by all-powerful global company controlled by the Killer Queen, where rock music is banned. Two young outsiders and a handful of rock rebels called the Bohemians band together and embark on the search to find the unlimited power of freedom, love and rock music!

Over 16 million theatregoers in 28 countries have rocked out to this unique musical based on the songs of Queen since it opened in 2002. The Showbiz production will be directed by Stephen Robertson with choreography by Gemma Kearney. Musical direction is by Richard Marrett and Matthew Everingham.

The mid-year concert season builds on the success of Broadway Hitmen in 2018 which featured some of the most popular tunes by musical hit maker Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber takes the concert to a new level with fully staged and choreographed production numbers from blockbuster shows like The Phantom of the Opera, CATS, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita and more. Devised by Lloyd Webber, this will be Christchurch’s only chance to be part of an exclusive weekend concert season as the concert rights will not be available after 2019.

Ravil Atlas will be returning in the 2019 concert, this time in the role of Artistic Director.

The 2019 Saunders and Co Season finishes with one of the most daring theatrical spectacles of all time. Nominated for an incredible number of Olivier, Tony and Drama Desk Awards, Miss Saigon is the second massively successful musical from the creators of Les Misérables.

Based on the story of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, Miss Saigon is an epic sung-through pop musical that is universal in its emotional power set amongst the turmoil of the Vietnam War.

Showbiz first staged the New Zealand premiere of Miss Saigon in 2009 to sold-out houses. New Zealand’s foremost directing duo Robertson and Marrett will come together again to bring Miss Saigon to new audiences.

Building on successful strategies developed in 2018 for increasing accessibility to Showbiz productions, the launch of the 2019 Saunders & Co Season on 30 November 2018 will see a new ticket pricing structure introduced which will double the availability of the lowest priced Showbiz tickets.

“Lowering ticket pricing where it counts most is a great way Showbiz, as a community theatre company, can help lower the barriers to audiences for our shows,” says General Manager Michael Bayly.

The two entry priced seating categories, B and C Reserve, have been merged together to create a new B Reserve but all at the lower C Reserve price. This has increased the number of the most affordable seats in the 2019 Showbiz Christchurch Saunders & Co season by almost 100%.
2018 Season Sponsors Saunders and Co are excited to continue to partner with Showbiz Christchurch and endorse these new initiatives. This partnership enables quality innovative productions to continue to be staged by Showbiz for local Cantabrian audiences at the Isaac Theatre Royal.

2019 Season discounts are available for all Premium and A Reserve seating purchased prior to 31 January 2019. Choosing a performance date several months ahead of a show can often be difficult so Showbiz Christchurch has also introduced the FlexiTicket voucher so patrons can take advantage of the generous 2019 Season discounts without having to commit to a performance date.

Showbiz Christchurch delivers another excellent show with Les Misérables

By Emma Dyer

The opening night of Showbiz Christchurch’s current production, Les Misérables, as per their usual practice was a treat for the senses. Stunning scenery combined with gorgeous costumes and excellent hair and make-up within the beautiful surrounds of the Isaac Theatre Royal. The singing and live orchestral accompaniment really makes you feel immersed in the story in a way that watching a movie just can’t rival. There is magic when you attend a live musical theatre performance, it heightens the enjoyment when you know that you are experiencing an incredibly well rehearsed but ultimately unique performance.

If like me you haven’t seen Les Misérables before you may have arrived at the incorrect conclusion that it was largely a tragedy. It is not. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of drama, injustice, and sadness in this scathing commentary on 18th century French society. However there are also plenty of hilarious pratfalls, raunchy gags, and utterly amusing scenes in the show. For those of you that have seen Les Misérables go see it again. This complex tale of love, redemption, sacrifice, and heroism has so much depth that there will always be new layers to unwrap.  Les Misérables is a 38 year old musical, based on the 1862 Victor Hugo book of the same name, and among other social injustice issues it perfectly captures the themes of the contemporary #metoo movement. The perfectly performed song “At the End of the Day” is the best example of this. An ensemble piece which explores general aspects of poverty, but then zeros in on women in the workplace. It talks of women in subordinate roles, who can’t afford to lose their jobs, and are at the mercy of a male superior who can fire them without a second thought if his lecherous advances are refused. Sound familiar?

Onto comedic relief, which is largely provided by the two very talented performers playing despicable but somehow likeable inn-keeper Monsieur Thénardier (Ben Freeth) and his wife Madame Thénardier (Rebecca Malcolm). Blackmailing, rotten souled, scoundrels through and through they mistreat and swindle all they come in contact with, but are still relatable. The brilliant acting of the pair, but especially by Ben Freeth, kept the audience riveted on their every devious and usually suggestive or inappropriate move.

The Thénardiers (Rebecca Malcolm and Ben Freeth) and Valjean (Daniel Belle).

The Thénardiers played by Rebecca Malcolm and Ben Freeth, and Valjean played by Daniel Belle.

Acts of heroism, redemption, and sacrifice are also abundant, even in the face of overwhelming misery. This is a story about doing the right thing, even when you don’t have to, even when it would be easy to find justification for doing otherwise. Several times we witness on stage the characters choosing to sacrifice their comfort and personal feelings. The Ten Tenors performer Daniel Belle is a powerhouse as he plays Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who ultimately devotes his life to making good. Solo mother Fantine, is hauntingly played by Kira Josephson (she was Elphaba’s wheelchair bound sister in Showbiz’s production of Wicked earlier this year) gave literally everything she had to give her young daughter Cosette a good life. You’d have to have a pretty hard heart not to feel her pain, as she is thrown in the path of the comically made-up ladies of the night, during the sarcastically sung “Lovely Ladies”.

Fantine played by Kira Josephson

Fantine played by Kira Josephson

Javert, the apparent villain of the show, is played by James Foster and he delivers a solid performance. This is a character with obviously conflicting emotions who believes himself in the right by virtue of his role as enforcer of the law. It is hard to condemn him for doing what he truly believes to be the right thing, even if his actions feel wrong to modern ideals. One of the things I most enjoyed about the show was how nuanced the story is, there is no definite answer of what is right or wrong. It makes for some seriously suspenseful scenes!

The opening night child performers (they alternate through the season) in the roles of Eponine, Gavroche, and Cosette were each spot on in their own way. The challenging solo of “Castle on A Cloud” was performed by Isla Palmer as Cosette and gave me goosebumps. Her voice was positively angelic.  An optimistic sounding song, heartbreaking in the context of her miserable situation, this young lady performed with a perfect wistfulness. Gavroche actor Duncan Price on the other hand delivered a comic performance worthy of an actor three times his age. These young actors have a great future in the theatre ahead of them.

Monique Clementson as Eponine. Photo by Danielle Colvin

Monique Clementson as Eponine.

There were numerous other outstanding performers incl Eddie Redmayne look-alike Fergus Inder playing young idealistic Marius. Adult Cosette is excellently played by Jacqueline Doherty, and it is a joy to see adult Eponine so sympathetically played by Monique Clementson. Jack Fraser as Enjolras as he once again acts the revolutionary (he was Che in last year’s Showbiz production of Evita).

Aside from excellent singing, dancing, and acting the spectacle was completed by a massive portion of the stage rotating at perfectly timed intervals, adding an extra layer of urgency and perspective to many of the scenes. The set design is incredibly realistic and elaborate, a highlight for me was the barricade made of chairs, tables, doors etc that all perfectly fit together to look like the unstable jumble of a real improvised urban barricade but was instead a carefully crafted set strong enough to hold a troop of performers as they clambered all over it.

The orchestra may have been hidden in the pit, largely invisible to the eye, but it sure made its presence felt. Knowing that the singers are being accompanied live by musicians of the highest quality makes you feel rather proud of our city that we can summon up such talented individuals night after night. The depth of sound that they achieve is really immersive too and adds to the feeling of being directly involved in the story unfolding on stage.

Teh Les Mis Orchestra: Back Row (left to right): Craig Given (Percussion), Matthew Everingham (Keyboard 1), Michael Story (Bass), Iain Brandram-Adams (Cello) and Iain Mclachlan (Trumpet/Flugelhorn). Middle row: Elvira Dommisse (Flute), William Ernest (Keyboard 2), Georgina Rees-Stevenson (Clarinet), Lucienne Shelley (Violin), Susan McKeich (Oboe), Pippa Mills (Viola), Julian Weir (Horn 1) and Brooke Prendergast (Horn 2). Seated: Thomas Eves (Trumpet/Flugelhorn), Richard Marrett (Conductor) and Scott Taitoko (Trombone). Not pictured: Sandy Radford (Viola).

The Les Mis Orchestra: Back Row (left to right): Craig Given (Percussion), Matthew Everingham (Keyboard 1), Michael Story (Bass), Iain Brandram-Adams (Cello) and Iain Mclachlan (Trumpet/Flugelhorn).
Middle row: Elvira Dommisse (Flute), William Ernest (Keyboard 2), Georgina Rees-Stevenson (Clarinet), Lucienne Shelley (Violin), Susan McKeich (Oboe), Pippa Mills (Viola), Julian Weir (Horn 1) and Brooke Prendergast (Horn 2). Seated: Thomas Eves (Trumpet/Flugelhorn), Richard Marrett (Conductor) and Scott Taitoko (Trombone). Not pictured: Sandy Radford (Viola).

It is plain to see that the work of so many people has not been wasted on this epic musical. Everyone involved with Showbiz Christchurch, at all levels, has clearly put their utmost dedication into this production of Les Misérables and it really has paid off. I suspect that most of Christchurch will want to see this show before it finishes in early October. This is definitely a FOMO-worthy event so buy yourself some tickets now, because this show is three hours (incl intermission) of action packed adventure-drama-comedy you won’t want to miss.

 

All photos by Danielle Colvin Photography