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Another Spectacular Three Production Year for Showbiz Christchurch

Showbiz Christchurch returned to the Isaac Theatre Royal stage in full force for 2016 and pulled off the perfect hat-trick of Mamma Mia!, Hairspray and Evita to full houses and rave reviews. Showbiz have announced their 2017 season and it is set to be another stellar three production line up of unmissable theatre and music.

The 2017 year begins in March on a fabulous big bus called Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. This extravagant musical has over 500 outrageous costumes, 200 magnificent headdresses, a spectacular new bus custom built in Christchurch, and a hit parade of dance floor classics including ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, ‘I Will Survive’, ‘Hot Stuff’ and ‘Shake Your Groove Thing’.

From 26 – 28 May the Isaac Theatre will be alive with the sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein. This full scale concert – with a live Broadway-style orchestra, vocal soloists and a chorus of over 100 from Showbiz and NASDA – will feature songs from Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, The King and I, South Pacific, Carousel, amongst others.

In September the soulful Broadway musical comedy Sister Act will have audiences feeling divine. Based on the hit Whoopi Goldberg movie, Sister Act features original music by legendary composer Alan Menken, who wrote the music for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Little Shop of Horrors.

Tickets for all three shows are on sale from Thursday 24th November. Showbiz will be repeating the popular full season discount offer which was so successfully introduced for the 2016 season. Discounts of 10% for one show, 20% for two and 30% when booking for all three performances will be available on all Premium and A Reserve seats until 31st January 2017.

Tickets start from $55.00
All bookings at Ticketek 0800 842 538 or www.ticketek.co.nz

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - opens 24 March 2017

An Evening of Rodgers & Hammerstein Classics - 26-28 May 2017

Sister Act - Opens 8 Sept 2017

Lead Roles Announced for NZ Theatre Company Premiere of Wicked

There is no more exciting way for one of Christchurch’s oldest musical theatre societies to commence its 80th year than by staging one of the most popular Broadway shows of all time. Showbiz Christchurch commences The Saunders & Co 2018 season at the Isaac Theatre Royal on 6 April with the New Zealand theatre company premiere of Wicked.

Rebekah Head

“Every time we ask our patrons which shows they would like to see, Wicked always comes out on top,” says Showbiz Christchurch General Manager, Michael Bayly.

Wicked tells the untold story of an unlikely but profound friendship between two witches who first meet as sorcery students at Shiz University: the blonde and popular Glinda, originally played by Kristen Chenowith, and a misunderstood green girl named Elphaba, played by Idina Menzel in the Broadway Production.

Showbiz auditions for the lead roles began in September, with full company auditions following in October. “They proved to be extremely popular,” says Bayly, attracting over 163 performers from throughout Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland, as well as performers based in Melbourne and London.

Jane Leonard

Jane Leonard

Competition was intense for the coveted roles of Elphaba and Glinda. “Due to the demands of these lead roles, the audition panel selected two performers for each,” Bayly said. “It is with great pleasure we can now announce that Elphaba will be played on alternate performances by Jane Leonard and Heather Lee Wilcock, and Glinda will be played by Rebekah Head and Ellie Neal.

Christchurch based performer Jane Leonard is already a favourite with Showbiz audiences. She played Meg Giry in The Phantom of the Opera (2015); the mistress in Evita (2016); a diva in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and a featured soloist in An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics (2017).

 

Heather Lee Wilcock

“When I received the phone call telling me I had landed the role of Elphaba I had just woken up, so it was very much a case of ‘pinch me, I think I’m still dreaming’,” explains Leonard. “Elphaba is one of those roles that in a beautiful way confirms and solidifies your abilities and hard work as an actor, and for that I am grateful.”

Heather Lee Wilcock is an Auckland based performer and who won the NAPTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her portrayal of Tracy Turnblad in the North Shore Music Theatre production of Hairspray. Wilcock has twice played the lead role in Evita.

Another performer figuratively pinching herself is Ellie Neal, who saw the touring Australian production in 2013 and has dreamed of performing one of the lead roles ever since.

Ellie Neal

Neal is a graduate of Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School and the Lee Strasberg Film and Theatre Institute. She played the lead in The Court Theatre’s 2016 production of Legally Blonde and runs her own theatre company, Vision Theatre NZ in Wellington. Wicked will also be her first production with Showbiz.

Now based in Auckland, former Christchurch performer Rebekah Head will also play Glinda. Since graduating from NASDA in 2014, Head has been busy performing throughout New Zealand with NZ Playhouse, Whoa! Studio, Auckland Fringe and The Court Theatre. Wicked will be her first production for Showbiz.

Head sums up her delight at landing the role of Glinda by quoting a song from the show: “I couldn’t be happier!” She adds “I’m also super excited to be playing a role that was originated by an actress who is under five feet, just like me.”

The Showbiz production will be directed by New Zealand musical theatre heavyweights Stephen Robertson and Richard Marrett, and choreographed by Robertson and Glen Harris.

The remaining principal roles, ensemble, dancers and backing vocalists will be announced on Tuesday 7th November.

 

Showbiz Christchurch Announces 2018 Season

Showbiz Christchurch celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2018 with one of the most popular line-ups of major musical entertainment it has ever staged and the announcement of its first annual season sponsor.

Christchurch law firm Saunders & Co are partnering with Showbiz Christchurch and have put their name to the 2018 season.

Saunders and Co General Manager, John Bates says that it is Showbiz’s proven track record of delivering a consistent, innovative and high quality product, with widespread appeal that attracted the law firm to this partnership. “Showbiz Christchurch exemplifies what we value and strive for within our own organisation,” says Bates.

The Saunders & Co 2018 season commences at the Isaac Theatre Royal with Wicked on 6 April, followed by Broadway Hitmen – a concert of Cole Porter and Andrew Lloyd Webber hits from 13-15 July, and is completed by Les Misérables opening on 14 September.

The Showbiz Christchurch season of Wicked is the New Zealand theatre company premiere of one of the most successful Broadway shows of all time. It tells the untold story of an unlikely but profound friendship between two girls who first meet as sorcery students at Shiz University: the blonde and very popular Glinda and a misunderstood green girl named Elphaba.

The Showbiz production will be directed by New Zealand musical theatre heavyweights Stephen Robertson and Richard Marrett, and choreographed by Robertson and Glen Harris.

Showbiz Christchurch 2018 Season - Broadway Hitmen

A full show orchestra, soloists and a large chorus will fill the Isaac Theatre Royal stage mid-year to present Broadway Hitmen, a concert of back-to-back hits from two of the biggest names in musical theatre, Cole Porter and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The concert will be under the baton of Ravil Atlas (Atlas Voices and TVNZ’s The Naked Choir) with stage direction by Nickie Wellbourn, who will step off-stage after her powerhouse performance as the rapping Sister Mary Lazarus in Sister Act.

Les Miserables

The season will be brought to an epic conclusion in September with Les Misérables, a grand and moving story about the survival of the human spirit which has won over 100 international awards and been seen by over 65 million people worldwide. This true modern classic is based on Victor Hugo’s novel and features one of the most memorable scores of all time, proving that great drama never gets old!

Showbiz is repeating the popular Season subscriptions discount for all three shows. Theatregoers can purchase standard Premium or A Reserve seats for one 2018 Showbiz production and receive a 10% discount. Purchase a second show at the same time and the discount increases to 20%. Purchase all three productions and receive a 30% discount*

* Discounts are preloaded into the online ticket price and apply to standard full price Premium and A Reserve seating when purchased as a single transaction prior to 31 January 2018. Discounts don’t apply to the $2.50 Isaac Theatre Royal Heritage Levy component or the Ticketek service fee components of the ticket price.

> Find out more about season discounts

Reviewers Praise Sister Act

Theatreview: Sparkles With Infectious Energy
By Grant Hindin Miller

“This is slick, colourful, polished entertainment with evocative backdrops, brilliant live musical accompaniments, attractive choreography, dazzling costumes, and topped off by committed performances from a gigantic cast. With Sister Act, Showbiz Christchurch triumphs once more with a full razzamatazz theatrical extravaganza.”

“You hope for a show where everyone is doing their best and here it is. Not surprisingly every member of the cast deserves the thunderous applause which, on opening night, extends to a number of curtain-calls.”

>> Read full review


The Press: Sister Act entertaining and engaging
By Tony Ryan

“What could easily have been the all-too-usual big brash Broadway approach, emerged as entertaining, engaging and even, at times, genuinely moving. The show is superbly cast, from Monique Clementson’s impressively portrayed Deloris Van Cartier, to the consistently believable and focused performances of the entire ensemble.”

“The chorus of nuns is, perhaps, the real star of Sister Act …”

”The added incongruity of gangsters singing and dancing contributes further comedy, which made the outstandingly performed Lady in the Long Black Dress (Chris Symon, Blair McHugh, Rychalo Thompson) a real highlight.

“All the solo contributions were excellent with no weak link, but I must mention Nick Purdie’s (Curtis Jackson) singing of When I Find my Baby…”

“Set (John Harding), costumes (Lesley Burkes Harding) and lighting (Grant Robertson) played a significant part in the show’s effectiveness with some creative visual effects that completed a highly enjoyable night of musical theatre.

>> Read full review


Backstage: Review – Sister Act is ‘fabulous, baby’
By Kate Divett

“Clementson offers sass, vulnerability and humour to create a character the audience connects with. Her vocals are rich, soulful and powerful.”

Other performances are solid and in safe hands. Sarah Greenwood Buchanan is outstanding as the Mother Superior, her song Haven’t Got A Prayer is marvellous. Nick Purdie (Curtis Jackson) offers his smooth voice to the truly vile gangster role.  Chris Symon (TJ) holds back his stunning voice to provide terrific comic relief, and is joined by fellow ‘thugs’ Blair McHugh (Joey) and Rychalo Thompson (Pablo) to woo the nuns in Lady in the Long Black Dress. Matthew McMenamin (Eddie Souther) is well cast as the nice guy who gets the girl in the end. Ian Lester (Monsignor O’Hara) is at his best when in full-blown preacher-mode.

“And then there are the nuns. A terrific gathering of incredibly talented women.”

“…. the sum of this production’s various parts is entertaining and leaves you with a sense that you’ve just been through a disco workout. Sister Act is indeed a fun way to end the Showbiz Christchurch season.”

>> Read full review


Tearaway Review: Is It a Sister Act? Broadway Comedy Hits Christchurch
By Aaron Dahmen

“Sassy, stunning and beautiful – the final production of the 2017 Showbiz Christchurch season was near close to perfect.”

“With pitch perfect renditions of the greatest Broadway hits, each song was met with an equally powerful audience response. Simply put: they loved it.”

“Maintaining engagement through masterfully crafted comedy, one never felt out of touch as the storyline developed – inspiration for facilitating a further creative masterpiece.

“Ending on a final Sister Act finale – this was the moment where everything came together. The moment where the show name in question was brought to the forefront, and duly delivered.

“A Sister Act through and through; can I hear an Amen?”

>> Read full review


The Star Review: Diva-fever and dancing nuns “will leave you dazed”
By Georgia O’Connor Harding

“This show is a visual spectacle, and when those nuns get down to boogie in their sparkling get-ups under gleaming stages lights, it will leave you dazed – seriously, this show is bright.

“But there is a heart-warming substance behind all those sparkles which stars a vocally powerful cast led by the bold Monique Clementson.”

“The nuns made the show, especially in large ensemble numbers Take Me to Heaven and Raise Your Voice.”

“A highlight is when Nickie Wellbourn, as the no-nonsense Sister Mary Lazarus, raps – no surprise that received a big applause.

“The choreography was clever, especially the dynamic performance of When I Find My Baby, featuring gangsters and edgy dancers, Ella Wilson and Jenna Morris-Williamson, as hookers.”

>> Read full review

Setting the Scene for Sister Act

The dead man, Ernie Williams

Man Found Dead in South Philly Alleyway Linked to Mob

Homicide detectives are investigating the death of a man whose body was found in a dumpster in a South Philly alleyway on Christmas Eve after an autopsy revealed that he had been shot, police reported.

Police have identified the man as Ernie Williams of South Philadelphia. Sources familiar with the investigation said Williams is believed to be a mob gangster who had a prior arrest record. He is a known associate of Curtis Jackson, a local nightclub owner with family links to Carl “Better Days” Jackson of the Northeast Philly Irish Mob. The body was discovered in a commercial alleyway in the early hours of Christmas morning behind the club owned by Curtis Jackson.

Nightclub owner Curtis Jackson

Officers from the Philadelphia Police Department responded to the scene and the body was transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, which declared the death a homicide.

Alleyway in South Philly near where body was found

Local Nightclub Singer Missing

Friends of singer Deloris Van Cartier are growing increasingly concerned about her safety after she went missing from the central city nightclub where she was auditioning on Christmas Eve.

Missing nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier

Van Cartier, whose real name is Doris Carter and formerly worked for McDonald’s, was hoping the audition would launch her professional singing career.

Backup singers, Michelle and Tina say she was last seen wearing a distinctive blue fur coat. No sign of her has been reported since and she has not made contact with family or friends.

Police are refusing to comment.

Queen of Angels Church threatened with closure

Queen of Angels Cathedral and Convent may be shut down completely as a chronic lack of priests and falling attendance sees Masses canceled.

Sources close to the parish believe that an offer to purchase the buildings has been received by the Archdiocese from two antique dealers.

Monsignor O’Hara

The situation at Queen of Angels is so critical that weekday services have been canceled and Sunday Masses are only held every second weekend.

Aging priests, a lack of young seminarians and a plummeting number of practicing Catholics have left the Church facing an unprecedented crisis.

The institution in other districts have dealt with the same turmoil by shutting churches and clustering whole parishes.

And it may not be long before more churches in Philadelphia are forced to do the same, it’s been warned.

Monsignor O’Hara told the Philadelphia Bulletin: “Weekday Masses are disappearing because if there’s only one priest who has to travel around three or four churches, plus do funerals, weddings, visiting the sick and administration, it’s impossible.

Queen of Angels Mother Superior could not be reached for comment but is said to be deeply unimpressed.

“Some parishes have more than one church but only one priest, so there might be Mass every second day in each church.

“But older people are now finding their local church doesn’t have Mass and they can’t get to another church so that’s a major issue.”

Priests across Philadelphia have been asked to count Mass-goers over the next three weeks, an audit which could lead to the cancellation of Masses which have poor attendance.

Expanding Antiques Business Behind Church Offer

The two antique dealers behind the offer to purchase Queen of Angels Church have been identified as Mr. Swanson and Mr. Lardner of Bachelor’s Antiques. They have a showroom in the city and specialize in buying and selling antique, vintage and mid-century design pieces, including furniture, ornaments and jewelry.

Antiques are in Lardner’s blood; his family had antique shops in Bella Vista and his first purchase was a Georgian tea caddy when he was seven.

“We outgrew our city premises and rented a shop in South Philly for a month this time last year, and that was really successful” said Lardner “This building was always one we liked and we would be lucky to secure it.”


Sister Act Nuns Strut their Stuff

Wannabe disco diva Deloris snuck out of the convent with nine Sisters (and one musical director) to record a track she’s been working on.

Here they are performing for The Breeze Canterbury 94.5 with James and Hilary – but don’t tell Mother Superior, she’ll go mental!

Nuns take to the stage in Broadway hit musical comedy

Monique Clementson plays wannabe nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier

The final production in the Showbiz Christchurch 2017 season opens at the Isaac Theatre Royal on 8 September. Sister Act – A Divine Musical Comedy follows the exploits of 1970s wannabe disco diva Deloris Van Cartier as she escapes from her gangster boyfriend. Having witnessed him commit a murder, she is put in protective custody in the one place the cops are sure she won’t be a found: a convent!

Disguised as a nun, Deloris finds herself at odds with the rigid lifestyle of the nuns and their uptight Mother Superior. Using her unique disco moves and singing talent, she inspires the nuns to create a more contemporary choir and they become the hit of the community. Word of their success reaches her ex-boyfriend Curtis, who arrives with his gang to settle the score with Deloris.

Sister Act is directed and choreographed by New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate Sara Brodie who has an extensive list of directorial credits to her name including over eighty productions for theatre companies throughout Australasia. Her last Showbiz Christchurch production was directing Monty Python’s Spamalot in 2015.

Musician and composer Matthew Everingham is directing the score of gospel and disco music written by Tony and eight-time Oscar winner, Alan Menken (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Little Shop of Horrors).

Clementson in Invercargill Musical Theatre’s production of Sister Act

Monique Clementson will play Deloris, the same role she recently performed in Invercargill Musical Theatre’s production of Sister Act. Clementson is a big ‘70s fan who grew up listening to disco hits and counts Sister Act I and II as her favourite movies. Growing up in Nelson, she and her older brother would compete against each other to sing the high notes in the gospel hits that featured in the Sister Act movies. It wasn’t until Clementson attended the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA) in Christchurch in 2014 that she realised her favourite movies had been turned into a Broadway musical featuring all new original music.

Nick Purdie will perform the role of the gangster boyfriend, Curtis Jackson. Purdie played alongside Clementson as Cop and love interest ‘Sweaty’ Eddie in the Invercargill production. Jackson’s gang will be played by Chris Symon (TJ), Blair McHugh (Joey) and Rychalo Thompson (Pablo). Matt McMenamin will perform the role of Eddie.

Charlotte Taylor and Greta Casey-Solly will complete Deloris’s cabaret trio in the roles of Michelle and Tina.

Nickie Wellbourn as Sister Mary Lazarus

Veteran musical theatre and cabaret entertainer Sarah Greenwood-Buchanan steps back on stage as Mother Superior. Her most recent supporting lead role was as Tanya in the sell-out Showbiz season of Mamma Mia! The principal nuns will feature Hannah Falconer (Sister Mary Robert), Kate Taylor (Sister Mary Patrick), Nickie Wellbourn (Sister Mary Lazarus), Anne-Marie Cotton (Sister Mary Martin of Tours) and Glenda Bailey (Sister Mary Theresa). Ian Lester will play Monsignor O’Hara and Raoul Neave will appear as the Pope.

Clementson and Purdie will be joined on-stage by a cast of more than 50 nuns, gangsters, altar boys, singers, dancers and musicians to create a stunning looking and sounding show with all the pizzazz of Broadway.

“The auditions for Sister Act were a revelation as auditionee after auditionee sang incredibly well – which of course meant we had to turn away some very good singers. It is a credit to the voice teachers in Christchurch,” says Brodie. “I am looking forward to hearing our Nuns singing together for the first time, which given their individual talents will be quite something.”

The Showbiz Christchurch production of Sister Act – A Divine Musical Comedy will be at the Isaac Theatre Royal from 8-23 September.

 

First Christchurch Hui for Women in Theatre works towards fostering a vibrant arts sector

It was while completing research on the representation of females in New Zealand theatre for her Bachelor degree that Dearna Doglione came across some statistics that shocked her. She grew increasingly unhappy with numbers showing that while women formed the majority of the theatre audience, they were significantly under represented backstage, on stage, as playwrights on mainstages, and at executive management level in New Zealand theatres. “I knew that many women I admired also felt uneasy with the state of New Zealand theatre but helpless to implement change. I felt it was time we got together to talk about tangible steps forward together in the industry,” says Doglione.

This provided the impetus for her to organise the first Christchurch Hui for Women in Theatre on Sunday 2nd July 2017 at the Exchange Christchurch which was attended by 30 female theatre producers, performers, directors, educators, dramatists, marketers and backstage crew.

Inspired by a similar event in Wellington in 2016, the Christchurch hui provided an opportunity to bring together in one room conversations that are already happening separately about how to address the gender imbalance in the industry and discuss what sustainable actions could be taken to improve the situation.

Topics as diverse as pay scales and equity; mentorships and professional development; and how to increase the number of plays written by women performed on mainstages were raised and discussed. Some of the outcomes included steps to improve the overall representation of women in theatre; and shared platforms for collective conversations and support.

The hui was facilitated by Co-Artistic Director and Producer Holly Chappell of Two Productions. “This first women’s hui was about listening, connecting and trying to figure out how to make some change,” says Chappell. “In leading this hui, I really wanted to listen, value and guide us all towards achievable outcomes – tangible things that could really make a difference. It was really exciting to be surrounded by a room of strong, intelligent and driven female artists and we can’t wait for the next one!”

The Christchurch Hui for Women in Theatre was supported by the Exchange Christchurch and Showbiz Christchurch.

Meet Sister Act’s ‘Lady Fabulous’, Deloris Van Cartier

Monique Clementson: Deloris Van Cartier

Following an exhaustive search, we are thrilled to announce that Monique Clementson will be following in the footsteps of Broadway and Hollywood actor Whoopi Goldberg to perform the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act.

Cheeky, vivacious and with loads of charm, Monique will take to the Isaac Theatre Royal stage as ‘Lady Fabulous’ in Sister Act – A Divine Musical Comedy on September 8th. This hit Broadway musical features original new music by Tony and eight-time Oscar winner, Alan Menken (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Little Shop of Horrors).

> Meet Monique


More Cast Members Announced

> Meet the Sister Act Cast, Ensemble & Dancers

First Concert in 79 Years set to open at the Isaac Theatre Royal

First Showbiz concert in 79 years at a major theatre

Showbiz Christchurch is staging their first traditional concert in a major theatre in 79 years. Since its establishment in 1938 (under the name Christchurch Operatic Inc), Showbiz has entertained over two million audience members with major musicals. From 26-28 May Showbiz will present a grand concert ‘An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics’ at the Isaac Theatre Royal in conjunction with the renowned National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA).

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

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

With a chorus of 120 singers, 14 soloists and a Broadway style orchestra – all under the musical direction of Richard Marrett – the concert will feature some of the best loved works of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II from the Golden Age of Musical Theatre, including: ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Younger Than Springtime’, ‘People Will Say We’re in Love’ and ‘I have Dreamed’.

Marrett will conduct a 30 strong Broadway style orchestra made up of the city’s leading professional musicians.

Jane Leonard

Jane Leonard

The concert is proving a popular choice with young and old, and many of the chorus and soloists have fond memories of enjoying Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals with their parents or grandparents. “My mum used to sing ‘Climb Every Mountain’ to me as a lullaby when I was a little,” says 24 year old soloist soprano and chorus member Jane Leonard (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera). “I remember putting our video of The Sound of Music on at any chance I could get, and singing and dancing along.”

Soloists Michael Bayly and Donna Alley will open the concert vocally with the aptly named “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” from State Fair. Bayly and Alley are not just singing partners on-stage, but are also partners off-stage after meeting through a shared love of musical theatre. Bayly trained in opera and performed the title role in the Showbiz 2010 production of Sweeney Todd before taking up the role of General Manager with the company. Alley performed the coveted role of Carlotta in the 2015 Showbiz season of The Phantom of the Opera.

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland trained singer Celine Rosa Tan comes to the concert with a wealth of performance experience in international musicals and television roles. She will make her Showbiz debut as part of the chorus and in a duet with Nigel Withington with a number from The King and I.

Featured Soloists for An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics

Meet the Rodgers & Hammerstein Concert Featured Soloists

Other soloists include Mezzo Sopranos Amy Bowie, Greta Casey-Solly, Dearna Doglione and Kira Josephson; Sopranos Jane Leonard and Charlotte Taylor; Baritones Nick Hollamby and Terry McCartan;  and Tenors Jack Fraser, Nigel Withington and  Blair McHugh – all who also lend their voices to the 120 strong chorus.

The orchestra will feature alongside the singers, bringing the total number of performers onstage to 150. “This promises to be a masterpiece of musical theatre in concert, on a grand scale,” says Showbiz President Markham Lee.

An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics will be performed at the Isaac Theatre Royal from 26-28 May 2017.

Tickets: Ticketek.co.nz/Showbiz or 0800 842 538

A Short History of Drag in Theatre

Mosaic showing gargoyles in form of theatrical masks of tragedy and comedy, from the Baths of Decius on the Aventine Hill, Rome.

For as long as there’s been theatre, there’s been drag. Transvestism on stage, which began as a form of sublimation (casting men in female roles to exclude women from the arts), eventually became a way for men and women to explore nuances of understanding of gender as society has evolved.

Following on from Shakespearean times with the King’s Men, to cross dressing in popular Hollywood culture (Some Like it Hot, Mrs Doubtfire and Victor/Victoria), Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a modern expression of a tradition dating back to the earliest theatrical performances.

Ancient Greece

Much western theatre history traces its origins back to Ancient Greece, including the custom of male actors in female roles. Greek society considered women unfit for the stage ensuring their complete exclusion from the theatre productions. Early Greek theatre was staged at festivals attended by men only, which reinforced the need for men to perform as women.

Imogen by Herbert Gustave Schmalz

Shakespeare and Drag

The revered bard wrote some of the greatest female roles for the stage, such as Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra or Juliet, yet it would not have been until 1660 when James II lifted the gender restrictions on stage that these roles would have been performed by women. All the original performances of Shakespeare’s heroines would have been given by men or adolescent boys, cross-dressed to give their audience a guide as to their dramatic gender.

Castrati, Early Opera & the Church

Women were forbidden to appear on stage in the Vatican ruled Papal States from the middle ages until the 19th Century, giving rise to one of the more extreme sacrifices for music, the Castrato. In Vatican choirs and early Italian Opera, female roles were performed by male Castrati. Boys were castrated prior to puberty, and as adults possessed very high, yet powerful voices. The most successful Castrati achieved rock star status and great wealth. Female roles on stage were performed by Castrati in early Opera, and although the practice declined, it was not until 1903 that it was banned by the Vatican.

Victorian Drag

The Victorian era, far from being prudish, saw an explosion of cross dressing on stage. The stars of the theatre world were frequently men dressed as women, and this gave us the first recorded use of the word ‘drag’, used as theatre slang to refer to the long skirts of the day that would drag across the floor as the leading actors filled the stage with their flamboyant performances.

Panto Dames and Principal Boys

Mary Martin as Peter Pan from the 1956 presentation of NBC’s Producers’s Showcase.

Pantomime is a predominantly English theatrical tradition still popular today in Commonwealth countries. It draws its roots from folk theatre and commedia dell’arte, and grew in popularity during Victorian times, surviving to the modern day with its traditions of gender reversal and cross dressing accepted without question. The leading male juvenile role is commonly performed by an attractive young woman, in fitted garments such as tights or breeches – creating a gender tension throughout the romantic scenes with the principal girl. An older male actor as the frequently unattractive Pantomime Dame is a source of much of the humour.

Christchurch Operatic Inc’s  Drag Connection

Frank Perkins and internationally famous New Zealand female impersonator Stanley Lawson from the Digger Pierrots. Auckland War Memorial Museum call no. D570 E8 M956

During the first and second World Wars, Kiwi troops in Europe and the Middle East were entertained by the New Zealand Army ‘Concert Party’, with female roles performed by men. Private Stan Lawson excelled in his role as a female impersonator during WWI. The “Digger Pierrots” as the troupe were named post war, toured New Zealand, Germany, Australia and America to great acclaim, appearing at the Theatre Royal, Christchurch in 1919. Stan Lawson retired and went on to become the original producer of the first Christchurch Operatic Inc productions (now called Showbiz Christchurch) from 1938 onwards.