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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

Reviews: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Listen to The Breeze Review by James and Hilary

Christchurch talent coup in entertaining ‘Desert Queen’ fabulousness

Staging Priscilla Queen of the Desert has to be one of Showbiz Christchurch’s most ambitious undertakings. Cast and crew must grapple with the challenges of 500 costumes, 200 wigs and headpieces (primarily sourced from previous productions), the choreography and vocal demands of an array of disco tunes and pop songs and some moments of pure pathos in the midst of camp chaos. For the most part, Showbiz can be proud of this epic spectacle.

Read full review: What’s Up review by Ruth Agnew

Priscilla shakes her groove thang

Full of fabulousness and the original pre-meme Felicia, this camp costumed comedy caper has more mince and flesh on display than the Mad Butcher. More funny, funky, flash cheese than the Canterbury cheesemonger.

Not that the story matters so much as the sights and sounds of the sensational set-pieces, but essentially it’s about drag racing across Australia. It’s the tale of two drag-queens Mitzi (Isaac Pawson, last seen in the Court Theatre’s pert musical comedy Legally Blonde, but also swimmingly good in The Little Mermaid) and Felicia (an unflinchingly brave Tom Worthington), and a transgender woman Bernadette (the versatile Cameron Douglas, who impressed in the terrific That Bloody Woman, among many recent Court appearances). The tart, tucked trio are contracted to perform a drag show at a casino in Alice Springs in the remote Australian desert. Beautifully bitchy, they head west from Sydney on a fine feathered, rather reckless roadtrip aboard their pink party bus, Priscilla.

Well chosen, the three male leads’ voices blend beautifully, even hampered by unwieldy Ocker accents and some technical sound issues.

The sheer exuberance of the entire triple-threat cast matches the calibre of the astonishing OTT costumes, which damn near steal every scene.

The touching father-son storyline as well as the budding romance manage to be poignant and heart-warming, amidst the extravagance of hundreds of costumes.

The Christchurch crowd is always a bit staid and standoffish to start with but by the frocking-up of the Australian-themed finale the marvellous cast had earned the standing ovation. This accomplished quick-change diva-licious cast deserves a crowd ready to party. Eat your heart out, Adele.

Read full review: Backstage Christchurch review by Margaret Agnew

A stunning array of costumes that just keep on coming

Cameron Douglas is particularly impressive as the ageing transgender performer Bernadette, played by Terence Stamp in the film. He is utterly convincing and embodies the tricky role with aplomb.

Emily Burns, Jane Leonard and Naomi Ferguson are also fabulous as the three glittering divas that descend on wires from above to provide a kind of camp Greek chorus and knock-out some disco classics.

The flying singers are just one of many impressive feats of stagecraft on display in this technically outstanding production. Priscilla the bus becomes a character in her own right – turning on the stage, roaring across the outback and providing a lofty stage for dance numbers.

There is also a stunning array of costumes that just keep on coming like an unending waterfall of glitter and feathers.

This show is a great excuse to hear some rocking pop tunes performed with style and verve and enjoy some Broadway standard production values.

Read full review: The Press review by Charlie Gates

Amid the Gloss, Most – but Not All – Comedy Rooted in Truth

Showbiz Christchurch does spectacle really, really well. Their production of Aussie jukebox musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert plays to their strengths; it is a glitzy, glamorous, camp, high energy carnival that really pushes its cast to deliver an outrageously over-the-top evening of entertainment.

Read full review: Theatreview by Erin Harrington

Conquering fears all in a day’s work

By Kineta Knight Booker

Jane Leonard, Emily Burns and Naomi Ferguson talk with Kineta Knight Booker at the start of Priscilla rehearsals

If you think belting out pop tunes, while wearing big wigs, big costumes and big makeup and flying was challenging enough, try adding in a fear of heights to the mix.

That’s exactly what one of the Divas in Showbiz Christchurch’s Priscilla, Queen of the Desert will be working to overcome this month as the trio will spend a lot of time suspended above the stage during the show.

Jane Leonard, who plays Diva 2, used to love abseiling and rock climbing but a bad abseiling fall a couple of years ago broke her confidence with heights. However, she’s working on it.

Diva Jane Leonard prepares for a photoshoot in the expert hands of wig specialist Sarah Greenwood Buchanan, assisted by Scott Campbell and watched by fellow Diva Emily Burns.

“I went to Adrenalin Forest last year and forced myself to get used to heights again. At the end of the day we knew it was in the job description so whatever previous feelings or fears I have towards heights can’t overcome the feeling of singing some banging tunes with some equally banging ladies,” Leonard says.

Showbiz Christchurch’s general manager, Michael Bayly, has assured Jane that every possible technical safety precaution is in place. “We work with the finest technical crews in New Zealand. The Divas will be safer than Lady Gaga at the Superbowl!,” says Bayly.

The three Divas provide much of the live entertainment in the stage spectacular. Without a doubt, Showbiz has chosen three of the city’s biggest vocal talents.

Leonard, Emily Burns, and Naomi Ferguson are established solo artists, but it’s the three-part harmony they create together that puts any singer at the top of their field.

Burns, who plays Diva 1, had a busy 2016 with The Court Theatre’s Mary Poppins, Showbiz’s Mamma Mia!, Poppins in Invercargill, Evita with Showbiz, and ended the year at The Court in Legally Blonde.

Although she’s keeping a tight lid on her plans for 2017 with a determined “Watch this space”, the naughty sparkle in her eye always tells more than she’s letting on. “I would love to give you more information, but that I can not disclose,” Burns laughs.

Some might consider that a ‘diva’ response, but secrecy and tight contracts is the business of show business.

Leonard adds, “Beyonce said, ‘Diva is the female version of the hustler’… You’ve got to do your own hustle. Hustling doesn’t need to be a negative thing. Hustling is finding your work, working towards your craft in our field. That’s your hustle.”

Leonard too had a big 2016, starting the year in Poppins, then We Will Rock You, Ben McDonald’s HMS Pinafore, kids shows at The Court, Showbiz’s Evita and ended the year in Legally Blonde. She hopes to keep the momentum going, but remains as elusive as Burns when it comes to her next project. She works as a nanny and teaches drama between acting gigs. “You audition and you may get offered a contract, but you can’t really disclose information.”

Naomi Ferguson has been a stalwart on the Canterbury music scene for many years and last appeared on stage for Showbiz 10 years ago as Grizabella in CATS. She has since started a women’s performance company, Empress Theatre Collective, which will have seasonal events this year, and appeared as Blanche DuBois in last year’s Repertory production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Ferguson reflects on her role as Blanche while looking towards her new role as Diva 3, and says it’s a “spectrum opposite kinda role”. She says “Blanche was awesome but emotionally devastating every night, so this is more like – woohoo, party! And I get to hang out with these two cool ladies and make three-part harmony which is such a treat.”

And “hang out” they will. Ferguson doesn’t mind the heights the Divas will be soaring to, and says “This is just like abseiling in crazy costumes.”

Listen to Kineta Knight Booker’s entire interview the Divas:


Postscript: In April 2017 Emily will move to Los Angeles to begin rehearsals in famed Broadway and West End composer Stephen Schwartz’s new show Born to Dance for the Princess Cruise Lines.

Muffin Break Riccarton unveils the official Priscilla Cupcake

Stephen Robertson, Director and Choreographer of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Ollie Bubb, one of the actors who plays Benji, tuck into official Priscilla cupcakes.

The team at Muffin Break Westfield Riccarton are all on board for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – The Musical. Showbiz Christchurch is the first New Zealand theatre company to stage Priscilla which opens at the Isaac Theatre Royal from 24 March – 8 April 2017.

Based on the 1994 Oscar-winning hit movie, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – The Musical has been captivating audiences worldwide since it debuted in 2006. It has played sold out seasons in Sydney, the West End and on Broadway, toured internationally, and won numerous accolades including the prestigious Olivier and Tony Awards. Priscilla is without doubt Australia’s most successful theatrical export.

The story centres on the journey of two Sydney drag artists and a transsexual, who hop aboard a battered old bus named Priscilla, searching for love, friendship and family. Their journey of self-discovery takes them on a road trip to the heartland of Australia where they find more that they could have ever dreamed of.

The cupcakes in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – The Musical from the UK Touring Production. Photo credit: Paul Coltas.

The owners of one of New Zealand’s most successful Muffin Break franchises, Violet and John Blay, are enthusiastic supporters of Christchurch musical theatre. Violet has worked on many Showbiz Christchurch productions over the last 25 years and is on the board of Christchurch Operatic Inc. She also dresses all the male leads. For Priscilla she will dress actor Cameron Douglas for his role as Bernadette Bassenger – one of the original Les Girls and famous for many of the brilliantly caustic one liners in the show.

Becoming Bernadette from Showbiz Christchurch on Vimeo.

Muffin Break Westfield Riccarton staff members Paige Ogilvy & Gaby White are geared up to support of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

How does Violet find time to volunteer her time and run a successful business in the busiest mall in Christchurch? She puts it down to having great staff, who have enthusiastically swapped their Muffin Break shirts for Showbiz Priscilla T-shirts to support the show.

The team daily bakes special Priscilla cupcakes inspired by the cupcake costumes worn in the show. The cupcakes are proving popular with customers as each purchase gets them in a draw for a Priscilla Prize Pack which includes show tickets and Muffin Break goodies. “We’ve one customer who comes in every day since the competition started to buy a Priscilla Cupcake and enter the draw,” says Violet. As well as the competition, Muffin Break Westfield Riccarton is offering a 10% discount voucher on tickets to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert with every purchase.

The competition closes on 27th March 2017.

>> Find out more | Purchase Tickets

500 costumes, 3 flying divas, 1 spectacular bus – Priscilla arrives in Christchurch

The Divas: Emily Burns, Naomi Ferguson and Jane Leonard

The Divas: Emily Burns, Naomi Ferguson and Jane Leonard

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert rolls into town on 24 March for what will be the first production in Showbiz Christchurch’s 2017 season.

Utilising over 700 costumes, wigs and headdresses from the UK touring show, Showbiz’s production will be the first New Zealand theatre company staging of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – The Musical. The show opens at the Isaac Theatre Royal on 24 March until 8 April.

Translating the iconic movie to a stage musical setting required significant changes by the authors of the film, Stephen Elliot and Allan Scott, and the musical’s writer and first director, Simon Phillips. The musical has evolved considerably since the first production left Australia eight years ago, there are now several stage versions, all different yet all preserving the audience focus on the show’s three unique characters and their personal and physical journey. The show’s enormous success has seen versions staged from South Korea to Sao Paulo and in just about every language including French, Portuguese, Spanish, Greek and Swedish. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is without doubt Australia’s most successful theatrical export.

The Showbiz version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert directed by Stephen Robertson will be a new interpretation of the show using the costumes and script that recently toured the UK and was last staged in Auckland.

Tom Worthington as Felicia

The title role of Priscilla is not played by an actor but is instead a bus which is being built in Christchurch by Scenic Solutions – along with a myriad of other set pieces designed by Harold Moot, including a nightclub, a casino and two outback pubs. Priscilla is set to be a visual feast on stage, with another Christchurch business, Lightsite, designing the lighting effects which will transport the audience from an inner city Sydney flat into the wide open spaces of the Australian outback.

Markham Lee as Bob and Cameron Douglas as Bernadette

Robertson has cast Cameron Douglas in the principal role of transsexual Bernadette, the oldest in the trio. Douglas has enjoyed a busy career since graduating NASDA in 2002, including performing in over 20 musicals and as the lead singer and guitarist in NZ’s premiere skiffle rock and roll band, The Goldonies.

The two other lead roles will feature Isaac Pawson (Tick/Mitzi) and Tom Worthington (Adam/Felicia), both graduates of the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA) who are carving out careers in musical theatre.

Providing many of the pumping disco hits that Priscilla has become synonymous for are the three flying Divas: Emily Burns, Naomi Ferguson and Jane Leonard accompanied by a rocking live band lead by New Zealand’s leading musical theatre maestro, Richard Marrett.

Also joining the cast at the end of February will be Auckland actor Melinda Joe who will play Cynthia, a woman with some unique talents!

Garry McQuinn of RGM Productions, the shows lead producer, is immensely proud of this version of Priscilla which will be staged by Showbiz. “The show is in better shape in every way – including dramaturgically, scale, production-wise, book and music – than the version we took from Sydney in 2008,” says McQuinn. “It’s a production I’m proud of in every respect.”

At the heart of the story is a message of tolerance, diversity and anti-bigotry. Its producers are committed to seeing the bus journey continue for as long as possible – not only on the world’s largest stages but in regional theatres as well. “I am really delighted that Christchurch will host the first season of the show produced by a New Zealand theatre company,” says Showbiz Christchurch President, Di Brodie.

>> Find out more | Purchase Tickets

NASDA Student Wins Ultimate Musical Theatre Package

Kate Hanning with her Showbiz Christchurch 2017 Season prize pack.

One of the joys of working in musical theatre is being able to share the shows with others.

If you follow us on Facebook, or any of our media partners, you’ll have noticed from time to time we run competitions to win show tickets.

In partnership with The Breeze, Showbiz recently offered the ultimate musical theatre lover’s giveaway – two tickets to all three shows in the Showbiz Christchurch 2017 Season, plus a night’s accommodation at Novotel in the Square and dinner for two at Casa Publica!

Who wouldn’t want a prize like that! When Breeze announcer Hilary Muir rang the lucky winner, Kate Hanning to tell her the good news, she found out Kate was also a musical theatre student at National Academy of Singing & Dramatic Art (NASDA). It’s just the luck of the draw but the prize couldn’t have gone to a more appropriate person!

Listen to the phone call:


Novotel Hotel

New Appointment Announced at Showbiz Christchurch

On the back of a hugely successful 2016 season, Showbiz Christchurch has appointed a full time Communications Manager to a new role with the company. This position will grow Showbiz Christchurch to a company of four permanent staff backed by the Christchurch Operatic Inc. (COI) Board and a huge team of performers, production personnel, volunteers and passionate musical theatre enthusiasts numbering in their hundreds.

Wendy Riley joins Showbiz from The Court Theatre where she worked as part of the marketing team on over 50 shows including Blood Brothers, One Man, Two Guvnors, Mary Poppins and That Bloody Woman.

Prior to working for The Court, Riley managed her own design company for 16 years and also has a background in graphic design.

In 2015, Showbiz Christchurch appointed Michael Bayly as General Manager to oversee the future direction of the company, commencing with the 2016 season of shows: Mamma Mia!, Hairspray and Evita at the Isaac Theatre Royal. The 2016 season has been a tremendous success with more than 45,000 patrons enjoying these world class Showbiz productions. “Both of these appointments reflect an ongoing commitment by Showbiz Christchurch to continue to grow the quality and scale of musical theatre offerings for Cantabrian audiences,” says COI President, Diane Brodie.

The Communication Manager’s first task will be to work on the launch of the 2017 Season of shows which is due for release on Tuesday 22nd November.

Evita: Engaging, Accessible, Dazzling

Evita: 15 Sept 15 – 1 Oct 2016


Where do I begin? Halfway through the first act it strikes me that New Zealand musical theatre is in triumphant form, for this production of Evita is a triumph, a tour de force, and I am deeply impressed.

Evita is the brainchild of Tim Rice who, in 1973, caught the tail-end of a broadcast about Eva Duarte, the working-class actress who rose to become first lady of Argentina, as wife of Juan Peron. Eva’s popularity soared through her controversial charity work and her extraordinary charisma. The stage musical was informed by Argentine director Carlos Pasini Hansen’s film Queen of Hearts, which Rice saw “at least twenty times” and “was hooked”.

An original, if politically risky concept for a stage musical, it shows Rice and Lloyd Webber, perhaps ironically, at their best. Evita is a powerful theatrical performance and experience.

It’s difficult to know how much of the choreography and styling of such a famous show is prescribed. Harold Prince directed the West End and Broadway productions. However, Hon Lianne Dalziel, Patron of Showbiz Christchurch, states that “this production brings fresh life to a classic with new design, direction, and orchestration”.

Stephen Robertson, the director/choreographer of the current Showbiz Christchurch production, is to be applauded for his great eye for detail. The amateur cast is large and with a large cast there will often be one or two performers who, shall we say, are less attentive than others. Not so in this production. I am struck by the focus and commitment of every cast member. This is a stunning performance.

The sets, though simple, are evocative and effective. The costume department has done a brilliant job. The music, under the direction of Richard Marrett, is superb. The actors are ‘in the zone’. In such a stellar cast it seems unjust to single out individuals but this heaven has a Venus and a Sirius.

Emily Burns is phosphorescent. What a star! As Evita, her transformation from a coquettish girl of fifteen to an ailing woman of thirty-three is entrancing to watch. Her stage presence is compelling and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. And Jack Fraser who plays Che, the everyman narrator, is a dynamic and powerful presence. These two need to own and command the stage and they certainly do.

To be fair, all of the leads hold their own. I love the sensitivity of Roy Snow, as Peron, performing ‘She is a Diamond’, and Jane Leonard as Peron’s mistress, singing ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’.

The ending is unusual. I’m not sure if it’s a timing factor but I’m not prepared for the final line. It’s only the fall of the curtain that alerts me to the play’s conclusion. Is this a writing failure or an issue of timing?

This Showbiz Christchurch production of Evita is an ambitious undertaking and sports an enormous cast. It has brilliant set pieces with well-honed scene transitions, impressive orchestrations, dynamic choreography, and a tiara of sparkling performers. It succeeds in translating what is a foreign and complicated life into an engaging and accessible tale, with characters we come to care about. It’s the first time I’ve seen the show and I love it.

If you long for world class production values, for the quality of performances found in the West End, or on Broadway, you can find them from now to October 1st at the Isaac Theatre Royal in this dazzling production of Evita. Congratulations to all involved.

Review by Grant Hindin Miller, Theatreview, 16 September 2016

Evita Review: The Press

Evita: 15 Sept 15 – 1 Oct 2016

Evita: 15 Sept 15 – 1 Oct 2016

In the musical’s latest reincarnation presented by Showbiz Christchurch it is all good – in fact, it’s very good indeed.

“Any musical which begins with a funeral can’t be all bad,” the producer, Hal Prince, reportedly commented after reading the first draft of Evita.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical voyage through of the life and times of one Maria Eva Duarte de Peron, or Evita to her adoring thousands, is still not at all bad.  In the musical’s latest reincarnation presented by Showbiz Christchurch it is all good – in fact, it’s very good indeed.

Any musical constructed on such a delicately balanced blend of beauty and bombast will always present major challenges to the director and cast. One false step and the entire edifice will descend into lachrymose, over-blown portentousness.  Under Stephen Robertson’s finely-tuned direction, principals and cast successfully negotiated the perilous line to emerge with a production which became a revelation.

As a work of musical theatre, Evita is carried on three sets of shoulders. While the ensemble sections are enormously important – and they were exceptionally good on opening night – the trio of principals must display, collectively and individually, a formidably strong combination of acting and singing abilities to sustain the musical.

In the title role, Emily Burns gave a formidably focused first-night performance, attacking her role at full emotional throttle. Evita could easily become a creature of cliché, but Burns abandoned any temptation to overplay the melodrama, preferring to give us something hard, venal yet disconcertingly vulnerable.

Moving between brassy assertiveness and soft seductiveness, her singing could never be described as  pretty, but it was perfect for the part. Together with an equally  powerful acting presence, she triumphed, especially in her scenes with Roy Snow as Juan Peron. I would have perhaps liked less impassiveness and more rabble-rousing dictator, but Snow nevertheless became an excellent foil to Burns’ calculated glitter.

As Che, companion, narrator and observer, Jack Fraser injected exactly the correct amounts of raw cynicism and outrage into the part with a voice and stage presence which embedded his role firmly in the mind.

There was no reason for tears, Argentinian or otherwise, about a production which struck all the right notes with distinction.

Review by Christopher Moore, The Press, 16 September 2016