Way off Broadway – Book your tickets for 25th July here
Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story
Two hours of the best rock ‘n’ roll songs ever written
Showbiz Vocal Studio provides expert vocal tuition in a small group environment, with a focus on repertoire and performance technique specific to the musical theatre stage. All ability levels are welcome. To enroll, click here
Another great year has almost flown by and what an interesting one it has been. Three spectacular productions that brought over 25,000 patrons into the theatre at a time when Christchurch most needed some fabulous entertainment and escapism.
In the final quarter of the year, both Michael Bayly and Markham Lee resigned from their roles as General Manager and President, heralding in some new and exciting changes ahead of us!
I’m absolutely thrilled to have stepped up into the role of President, leading Showbiz into 2020 and beyond. We have a fantastic season ahead of us in 2020, packed with beautiful and brilliantly written music, including the groovin’ in your seat kind. I’m looking forward to working with you all, onstage and off, or seeing you in the audience.
We Will Rock You
“With the stunning success of Showbiz Christchurch’s recent productions, it is no longer extraordinary to see three tiers of musical theatre fans rise to their feet in a standing ovation.”
Ruth Agnew, What’s Up Christchurch
Showbiz rocked the first part of the year with the NZ theatre company season of the Queen & Ben Elton musical We Will Rock You. The timing for this show couldn’t have been better, hot on the heels of the multi-award-winning film Bohemian Rhapsody.
Despite opening shortly after the tragic events of 15 March, and dealing with upgraded security measures at the theatre, the rock concert nature of the show drew a new audience of theatregoers who wouldn’t have otherwise come to see musical theatre. We were also able to offer First Responders from the Civil Defence, NZ Police and Medical Staff the opportunity to enjoy a night off and see the show.
The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber in Concert
“Showbiz Christchurch is bringing Broadway sizzle to Christchurch on a cold weekend.”
Kate Divett, Backstage Christchurch
The mid-year concert was a roaring success due to the creativity and commitment of the creative and production team, the talent of the performers, and the enormous popularity of Andrew Lloyd Webber. This was the first time in recent years that Showbiz has worked alongside the CSO which helped increase the reputation of the concert. It is a combination we will be working with again in 2020.
“Miss Saigon is one of the iconic shows of its generation and this production goes right to the heart of it..”
Patrick Shepherd, The Press
Ten years after our premiere, the creative team breathed new life into the beautiful yet tragic story of Miss Saigon.
It’s a show not without its challenges. Miss Saigon required a strong cast of Asian performers which allowed us to cast the net wider and engage more deeply with the local and international Asian communities. We even had reviewers and patrons come from Australia specially to see the show, such is its popularity amongst the Filipino community.
Miss Saigon also provided opportunities to tell the stories of those most connected with the show including our local Vietnamese community, NZ Vietnam Vets, and Hagar NZ who are involved in supporting the victims of human trafficking.
The principal cast and heads of departments hosted a backstage Touch Tour for audience members with visual impairments. This was organised by our Marketing Manager and Blind & Low Vision NZ (formally Blind Foundation). It was a huge success, audience members came specially for it, some from as far away as Blenheim. They were able to touch pieces of costume and props, walk on the set, and meet the cast before they attended a performance.
Miss Saigon may not have been the sell-out show we hoped for, but those who attended were not disappointed. Miss Saigon raised Showbiz’s standing as a world-class producer of musical theatre.
Show Companies – Cast, Crew and Production Teams
Showbiz has over the past years built up an astounding number of skilled volunteers and theatre practitioners in all areas of our productions. I want to specially acknowledge their work, particularly the teams of volunteers – there would be no shows for you to enjoy without them! We appreciate their time, skills and knowledge. The Showbiz Board and Management team look forward to having them involved in the 2020 season and beyond.
Markham Lee, Past President
As mentioned earlier, Markham Lee resigned as Board President in October. Markham has been President on and off since 1990 but has been an active member since 1973. As President he has lead us to new heights with his drive, support and passion for theatre, putting in long hours and dedication. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Markham. I know that he will continue to be a supportive member, on and off the stage, with his family. His son, Matthew, has already appeared on stage in a Showbiz production.
Michael Bayly resigned in August as GM and moved into a new position with Cassels & Sons Brewing in September. Michael joined us in 2015 after Phantom and has worked hard to successfully raise the profile of Showbiz. His love for theatre, along with his passion and drive, saw us through some of our most successful seasons. We thank Michael, and we wish him all the best in his new role.
This brings me to the next piece of excellent news, the appointment of Paul Christ as our new General Manager. Paul has a wealth of international experience in the musical theatre industry having supervised, conducted and directed for Disney Theatrical Production, Cameron Mackintosh and Vienna State Opera. He comes to us from the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra after completing his contract as Operations Manager. We are fortunate to have him leading the Management Team from 8th January 2020.
A recent article printed in the Star about these changes included this quote from Paul:
“Showbiz offers the perfect opportunity to draw on my professional musical theatre experience along with my work in the commercial and not for profit arts sectors. I am thrilled to join the Showbiz team and work alongside the Christchurch Operatic Inc. Board, to ensure the organisation continues to consistently produce shows to the highest international standards and offer opportunities for local performers, musicians and stage crew to engage in a passion for performing.
I am looking forward to not only growing the overall commercial performance and success of the organisation but building on Showbiz’s reputation as an industry leader and continuing to offer the community of Christchurch a world-class musical theatre experience.”
My Fair Lady: 3-18 April
What an exciting line up for 2020 we have for you to participate in!
Opening on 3rd April is the beautiful classic My Fair Lady, with a strong cast in place and under the direction of the dynamic team of Stephen Robertson, Richard Marrett and Glen Harris.
A magnificent set designed by Harold Moot is currently under construction. The costumes, created initially by Stephen for another production, are being refurbished at Showbiz and will undoubtedly prove to be a hit.
When My Fair Lady was first performed in Christchurch in 1962, it set the record at the Theatre Royal, running for 171 performances to an audience of 200,000.
The 60th Anniversary of My Fair Lady was celebrated in 2016 with a production directed by Julie Andrews. A Broadway revival followed in 2018 and received a Tony Awards nomination, and won three awards for “Outstanding Revival of a Musical”.
We are delighted to bring a stunning new production of this “musical of all musicals” back to Christchurch in 2020.
Chess in Concert: 19-21 June
Written by ABBA songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, with lyrics by Tim Rice, Chess in Concert brings all the intrigue, drama and romance of the musical together in concert with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra for a three performance season.
In a celebration of immerging new talent, we have appointed Jeremy Hinman who will make his Showbiz directorial debut. Ravil Atlas returns in the role of Musical Director. They will be supported by the same strong production team that brought to the stage the successful 2018 and 2019 concerts.
Buddy –The Buddy Holly Story: 11-26 September
It’s only been eight years since we staged Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story in the Aurora Centre at Burnside High School shortly after the earthquakes. We always thought this show was well worth a more significant season, so we are excited to be restaging it at Isaac Theatre Royal.
This hugely successful rock musical will have the audience out of their seats and grooving in the aisles.
We welcome Sarah Brodie back as Director and have Richard Marrett leading the band as he did in the 2012 season.
This annual season of informal open mic concerts staged at the NASDA theatre continues to be well-loved by audiences for its intimate and supportive nature. It remains a popular way for Showbiz to support new talent to perform before a friendly audience, and for seasoned performers to try new material. Peter Hewson has taken over as MC from Michael Bayly, and the concerts continue to be one of the most delightful and inexpensive ways to sample a wide range of show music and new talent.
A huge thanks to NASDA for their contribution and on-going support for Way Off Broadway.
Led in 2019 by Kate Taylor, Vocal Studio continues as another vehicle for nurturing singing talent. We thank Kate for the time and music skills she brings to the classes. These are always well attended and we will be continuing them for 2020.
With our 2020 Season already underway, we also have begun exciting new plans for 2021 and beyond. The Board have been focusing on the Future Shows Programme for the next two years, and already have firm plans in place as well as concepts for the latter part of the programme. So watch this space!
As Showbiz does not receive any central government arts funding and relies heavily on ticket revenue to fund the production of our shows, we immensely value our partnership with core sponsor Saunders & Co who have agreed to continue as season sponsor for 2020.
Without the support of Saunders & Co, the ticket-buying public and funders like the Christchurch Musical Theatre Trust, Christchurch City Council and Mainland Foundation, Showbiz would not be in a position to offer world-class Broadway-style musical theatre to local audiences. We thank you wholeheartedly for your continued support.
In turn, it is essential Showbiz actively participates in supporting local musical theatre talent, and contributes to the development of a vibrant performing arts community, both locally and nationally.
In 2020 we will seek to grow our relationships with other arts-related organisations including:
- the Isaac Theatre Royal, Ticketek NZ, 4th Wall Theatre Services, The Light Site, Bounce NZ and Scenic Solutions who are cornerstone partners in delivering our 2020 season;
- NASDA and The Court Theatre, whose contribution to the NZ performing arts is unparalleled;
- Arts Access Aotearoa, so we may continue to work towards making our productions more accessible for all musical theatre-lovers.
I’ve been working in the Showbiz office most days since taking on the President’s role, and so I get to see the hard work and dedication that Wendy Riley (Marketing Manager), Sandi White (Admin Manager) and Johnny Morris (Production Manager) put into making our organisation work smoothly. Their knowledge has been a great support to me in this new role. Plus it’s also been a treat to work in an office and not standing behind a chair with scissors in hand (or a wig).
I must also acknowledge the excellent support of both Sue Beardsley and the Board. Sue has been in most days supporting me with preparing budgets and various other tasks, and the Board have been most supportive in their availability to handle the different tasks that need attention. A big thank you to everyone!
That wraps up another show-stopping year! On behalf of Showbiz Christchurch, I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.
President, Showbiz Christchurch
What is the relevance of My Fair Lady to a modern audience?
My Fair Lady deals with a lot of universal themes – education, class structure, inequality of sexes. I think those are all very important issues that unfortunately are still relevant. The play is set in 1912, but even now in society women are marginalised and denied opportunities. I think it is inspiring to see how, through hard work and determination, Eliza can rise above her station despite everyone’s expectations.
In the film My Fair Lady it’s all happily ever after but the original George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion is much more ambiguous – which way does this production lean?
Without giving too much away, I believe that our production is very conscious about giving Eliza the justice she is entitled to.
So is this a production for the post #MeToo age? Does that involve any text changes?
There are no changes to the original text, and I don’t believe there needs to be. The show is about a woman trying to break through a patriarchal and largely misogynistic society. It shows us a strong woman who is struggling to retain her own identity as she is surrounded by men telling her she must be different – and that’s where I think a misstep with the ending can make all the difference. I hope to portray an Eliza that demands respect and equality and refuses to settle for anything less, and I believe the text supports that.
In what other ways does the production take a fresh look at Eliza the would-be flower-shop owner/entrepreneur?
Eliza has always been a well-written and extremely strong character, so we have a very good foundation to start with. Something we’ve been conscious of is not indulging in romantic notions about her feelings towards Henry Higgins. I think people expect that romance element in a classical musical, but even when My Fair Lady was written in 1956 the form of the Broadway musical had begun to change. If you read the original script vs the published script, you see that the writers were constantly removing lines and lyrics that were too overtly romantic. The only love story in this show is Eliza’s love of learning.
George Bernard Shaw put it best in his epilogue to the original Pygmalion; “People in all directions have assumed, for no other reason than that [Eliza] became the heroine of a romance, that she must have married the hero of it. This is unbearable…the true sequel is patent to anyone with a sense of human nature in general, and of female instinct in particular.”
For any young Elizas in the audience, what do you hope they will get from the production?
This is a glorious role to play, and it’s one I’ve been dreaming about doing since I was a little girl. Even if you can’t put your finger on why, you know Eliza is different from your typical musical heroine. She isn’t driven by the love of a man; she doesn’t fall in love after one heartfelt glance and duet; she talks back; she doesn’t accept things just because she is told that’s the way they should be; she wants more; through modern eyes, she is a feminist – and she succeeds not by being ‘one of the boys’ but by embracing her femininity and softer side. It’s a very beautiful transition. I think that will be something that speaks to a lot of people in general, but hopefully a lot of young girls that will imagine themselves playing the role one day.
What’s one thing people probably don’t know about Eliza?
It’s not addressed really in the play because we jump in when Eliza meets Higgins, but I think it’s important to think about what Eliza has been through just to get to where she is at the start of the play. Her father is an abusive drunk, she never knew her mother and she can’t have had a happy childhood. But, she affords a place to live on her own, she is entrepreneurial and earns money selling flowers. The majority of poor women at that time would be earning their living on the streets in a much cruder way, and one of their only amusements would be over-indulging in liquor. Only about one in twenty females could read and only one in forty could write. Eliza proudly says that no one has ever seen a sign of liquor on her, and upon their first meeting she asks to read what Higgins has written about her (which showcases her literacy). Eliza is a success story before the musical even begins!
There are still plenty of fabulous costumes, though, right?
Oh, of course! Hats, hats and more hats. Those costumes from the original movie are so iconic, and Stephen Robertson has done a brilliant job interpreting them in his own way. At my first costume fitting I could look at my costume rack and I knew exactly which dresses would be worn in each scene. They synced up exactly with the images of Audrey Hepburn I had in my head. They’re truly stunning.
And are you enjoying singing the wonderful songs?
I sang “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” in my talent show when I was about ten years old, and the fact that I now get to sing that song on the stunning stage of the Isaac Theatre with a full, lush orchestra is just mind-blowing.
Songs are written in a way that match the voice of the character that is singing them. So as Eliza’s voice changes from Cockney to Standard British, I get to run the gamut of singing very character-driven, brash songs to these flowing, lyrical soprano pieces. It’s really extraordinary, and such fun to tackle.
How did you come to move from California to Christchurch?
I originally moved to Wellington on a working holiday visa. I stayed there for a couple years, and moved to Christchurch when I was cast in Legally Blonde at The Court Theatre. The talent level in Christchurch, of the performers and the production teams, was so high that I knew I wanted to make the move here permanent.
What have been some highlights of your theatrical career?
I got to spend several summers in Edinburgh performing in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We would do about twelve shows in rep, and any show you weren’t performing in you would be working on in some capacity. It was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, and absolutely the most rewarding. Those summers instilled in me my work ethic and passion for theatre. The feeling of being on High Street surrounded by swarms of people just percolating with excitement about theatre is unrivaled.
What’s your go-to spot in Christchurch?
I would say my ideal evening would be dinner at Sakimoto (in Cathedral Junction), dessert at Rollickin Gelato and drinks at The Last Word (both on New Regent Street). And you know what, all of those, along with Casa Publica and Crowne Plaza (favourites with the Showbiz cast and crew) are very close to the Isaac Theatre Royal so maybe I’ve just made your pre and post-show plans for when you come to see My Fair Lady!
What’s your favourite way to spend a Sunday afternoon?
My favourite Sunday would be my partner and I taking a walk down by the river and following it into town and grabbing lunch and seeing a movie. Very relaxing, lots of fresh air and sunshine.
Who’s your personal hero?
My parents. They are both performers, and about a decade ago they moved to the Czech Republic to pursue some really cool theatrical opportunities. They absolutely made a name for themselves there and seeing them take such a big leap is partly what inspired me to move to New Zealand.
What’s your favourite guilty pleasure?
I grew up in Southern California, so where I come from it’s normal to love Disneyland as much as I do. But I’ve come to realize that my level of fandom is a bit more unusual this far abroad, so I’ve learned to keep some of my stronger feelings to myself. But I will definitely watch clips on YouTube of parades or firework shows from Disneyland. It just makes me feel like I’m at home and fills up my heart.
I can’t leave the house without …
My headphones. I don’t have a car, so I walk quite a lot or take the bus. I love having that time to listen to podcasts or discover new musicals. Or sometimes I’ve recorded myself saying my lines, so I can listen back to them and mumble along like a crazy person.
What would be your dream role or dream collaboration (with director, writer, etc)
Oh no, this is way too hard! I could come up with a million examples of roles I’d love to play (“Ulla” in The Producers, “Peggy” in 42nd Street, “Cinderella” in Cinderella), but the truth is that I’ve fallen in love a little bit with every character I’ve had the chance to play and I anticipate that will continue to happen.
That is how Sarah Buchanan describes taking on the role of Showbiz Christchurch president following the resignation of Markham Lee about three weeks ago.
Having a strong association with the company since 1989, Mrs Buchanan said taking on the role is an exciting new change.
Mr Lee has served as president of Showbiz on and off since 1990 with his association with Showbiz beginning in 1973 at age 11 when he performed in Oliver!
But it isn’t the only major change to the strong musical theatre company – which has been operating since 1938.
Paul Christ will take over as general manager in January following Michael Bayly finishing in the role in mid-September.
Mr Bayly, who served as general manager since May 2015, has gone onto become the national on-premise manager at Cassels Brewing Co.
Mr Christ has a wealth of experience in musical theatre having supervised, conducted and directed productions for Disney Theatrical Productions, Cameron Mackintosh and Vienna State Opera.
He said Showbiz offers the perfect opportunity to draw on his professional musical theatre experience along with his work in commercial and not-for-profit art sectors.
“I have travelled extensively for a large part of my career . . . it was time to come home and reconnect with family and put to use that industry experience to the advantage of the New Zealand performing arts sector.”
Mrs Buchanan has a long-standing relationship with Showbiz having served as vice-president for the past five years and been on the board since 2010.
She said her role as president will be made easy due to having a “marvellous” team and board she has been able to delegate tasks to take the pressure off.
“We are really lucky we have all these exciting shows coming through from the West End and we are able to stage them here which is fantastic,” Mrs Buchanan said.
In September, Showbiz announced a dazzling season to be staged at the Isaac Theatre Royal next year starting off with My Fair Lady from April 3.
In June, the music of Chess will be staged in concert with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.
The final show of the year to be staged will be Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story featuring the music of American musician and singer-songwriter Buddy Holly.
Mrs Buchanan said the talent in the city is phenomenal and Showbiz has fantastic creatives who know how to put on a show.
She has led an exciting career both on and off the stage including touring as a personal dresser with English singer Elaine Paige twice.
Although she has taken on a major role at the company, Mrs Buchanan’s days in the spotlight are far from over.
She will play the Queen of Transylvania and perform in the ensemble as part of My Fair Lady
Written by Georgia O’Connor-Harding
The Miss Saigon musical staged by Showbiz Christchurch at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch opened last Friday (September 27) to a captivated audience.
Judging by the number of people up on their feet in [a] standing ovation at the end of the show, it was a huge success. Even during the intermission, the buzz and lots of smiling faces indicated the audience was suitably impressed by what they had seen so far.
The musical, which was written in tribute to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil of Les Misérables fame has been toasted globally. I have previously watched three productions of Miss Saigon in Sydney and could confidently say that this time, again, the story was well told and would have a strong season in Christchurch.
The story of the lead up to the fall of Saigon draws out and gets the audiences involved in the drama of the lives of people affected by the American war. It centres on [the] romance of a young innocent Vietnamese girl (Kim) and an American GI (Chris), which turns into a tragedy when they got separated when Saigon falls. Unbeknown to Chris, he fathered a son with Kim. Their reunion years later was heart-wrenching with Kim then meeting the wife of Chris (Ellen), then deciding how her son could have a better life.
Overall the cast and the ensemble delivered through the haunting and challenging songs, the convincing acting, the music, and the crisp and well synchronised group moves.
They had been aided by the simple but effective set and props, effects, lighting, costumes and make-up. Notably, the helicopter scenes and the gates cleverly shifting, shutting out the anguished crowd wanting to get out, were so realistic that the audience felt they were part of the scenes.
Marcus Rivera, who played The Engineer, was the standout performer. I have watched him twice in that role and I would say that he again had gone a notch higher in his latest portrayal.
He commanded the stage in “The Heat is On in Saigon” and “If You Want to Die in Bed” and mesmerising in “The American Dream” amidst the backdrop of scantily-clad showgirls and male dancers. He personified an unsavoury and disreputable pimp, with his confident singing not missing a beat with the orchestra’s accompaniment.
But don’t just take my word for it. Patrick Shepherd who did the review for Stuff.Co.NZ also felt that: “the show’s success rests on the three main leads and especially the engineer.
Marcus Rivera was excellent as the sleazy, self-serving manipulator making a buck amid the chaos. …. Rivera relished this role, singing with an easy confidence and plenty of cheeky sauce.”
Backstage Christchurch reviewer Kate Divett also said: “Marcus Rivera (The Engineer) is sassy and clever as the opportunistic club owner – his moment in “The American Dream” was memorable.”
Tina Bergantinos Panlilio, a Filipino-New Zealand singer and musical theatre actress who played the role as Kim and Jack Fraser as Chris, get equal votes from me in their level of performance and contribution to the success of the show. Both have strong voices and convincingly conveyed the deep emotions they were feeling. If I were to pick only one song by each of them to put on the weighing scale, it would be Panlilio’s rendition of “I’d Give My Life for You” and Fraser’s “Why God Why”.
Daniel Aguilar, another Fil-Aussie singer and stage actor, who was a late addition following an adjustment of the cast, did the role of Thuy superbly. He has played the same role years ago and his confidence from that stint showed.
James Foster‘s acting and vocals, in the role of John, get a big tick, too. His exchange with Chris as a concerned colleague and friend in “The Telephone Song” and leading the all men choir in the Opening of Act II – “Bui Doi” especially touched and drew much appreciation from the audience.
Hannah Austin played the role of Chris’ wife Ellen in a touching way. Her rendition of “I Still Believe” with Kim as thousands of miles separated them and “Now That I’ve Seen Her” expressed a torn yet hopeful heart.
Sion Choi (Gigi), who made her musical theatre debut, is a talent to watch out for. As she gains more experience, she would be able to show off more of her vocals and exude more confidence onstage.
This Miss Saigon production is a stunning theatrical spectacle and amazing musical theatre. I tip my hat to the Director, Stephen Robertson; the Musical Director, Richard Marrett and Showbiz Christchurch for a job well done.
Miss Saigon runs through to October 12 at the Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch.
Violi Calvert is a producer/broadcaster of Radio Tagumpay, Triple H 100.1FM and winner of the Parliament of New South Wales Multicultural and Indigenous Media Award for Coverage of Community Affairs (2015).
By Emma Dyer
Miss Saigon starts in 1975 at the very end of American involvement in the Vietnam conflict, the Fall of Saigon. If, like me, you go to see Miss Saigon with a preconceived idea of the show, prepare to have your expectations delightfully challenged. I had read and heard a lot about both the show itself and the history that inspired it. There are certainly some aspects of this, originally groundbreaking show, that can now be seen as problematic. However, Showbiz Christchurch’s production of it firmly addresses issues that a decade ago, when they last performed it, would not have been considered. One of the most valuable contributions to this show I’ve seen is the care and effort taken to talk with real people, refugees and veterans, who will see their own history somewhat reflected in this show. Context really is what makes Miss Saigon more than just a show, women like Kim still exist, and people continue to be displaced by war and injustice. Hagar New Zealand is an organisation that supports people who have suffered these traumas. After watching the show it was easy to see why Showbiz Christchurch have chosen to support the excellent work that Hagar does.
The three key roles are Kim (Tina Bergantinos-Panlilio), The Engineer (Marcus Rivera), and Chris (Jack Fraser). The amazing voices of these three lead performers propel this tragic story across the Isaac Theatre Royal. It is hard not to be drawn in. Without spoiling the plot for those who like to be surprised, the story centres around a young Vietnamese woman, Kim, who endures many of the different hardships refugees still suffer today. Orphaned and having fled her village to the big city of Saigon, she is desperate, and enters into work as a ‘bar girl’ in Saigon at “Dreamland”. On her first night as a bar girl, she meets a young American man, Chris. This meeting is to change their already chaotic lives forever.
One of the aspects Tina Bergantinos-Panlilio especially brings to this role is her ability to convey both innocence and strength at the same time. Her portrayal of Kim gives a completely believable voice to thousands of authentic Vietnamese stories. Having had the privilege to hear some of the stories told to Showbiz Christchurch, by now local Vietnamese women, I can say that her Kim does them justice.
Even a sad story needs comedy for balance, in this case, it often comes from the sleazy and shady character who owns Dreamland, “The Engineer”. It’s a tribute to Marcus Rivera that he can play a character who quite often behaves as in a morally reprehensible way but still comes across as likeable, even relatable. A line from the song “Backstage at Dreamland” sums up The Engineer perfectly, “shut up and put your hot pants on”. The fact that it barely raises an eyebrow among the girls he employs ought to make you thankful to live here in our usually more enlightened society.
Chris is best summed up as what happens when young men are sent abroad into a war of questionable morality. In casting Jack Fraser Showbiz Christchurch have hit perfection, he melts into the role and adds the humanity that could otherwise be missing from this tired and warworn soldier. That’s not to mention his always fantastic voice, every word sung is perfectly clear and filled with emotion and meaning.
The music in Miss Saigon is as epic as you’d expect from the talented duo who also created the musical Les Misérables. Something you won’t see from your seat in the theatre, but is of particular note, is that the score is so complex and detailed as to require not one but two percussionists to produce the wide range of distinctive musical elements that make this show feel so atmospheric. One of the best parts of the whole show combines both sound and sight. This occurs in the first act as the story transitions in time from 1975 to 1978, the orchestra masterfully provides the soundtrack to a regime change, while the communist army marches across stage, faceless. It’s hard not to be awestruck by this.
The set and costumes for a show are always one of my highlights. I like to be dazzled. The costumes for Miss Saigon are beautiful and cunningly designed to be as tasteful as possible, given the constraints of characters who sometimes have to wear “hot pants”. But it was Harold Moot’s set that most caught my imagination. There were many amazing pieces but perhaps the most interesting was an enormous American flag made from flashing lights, straight out of Las Vegas. Head of Lighting Darren McKane told me after the show that each of those hundreds of bulbs was a delicate (and hot) incandescent bulb that had been carefully saved from the last production of Miss Saigon a decade ago. Go and watch the show, if only to marvel at the effort involved in just this one feat of set construction.
Miss Saigon is one of the iconic shows of its generation and this production goes right to the heart of it.
Those who love the musical will not be disappointed and those who don’t know it, well, this is a great opportunity to do so.
This realistic and gritty rendition has all the familiar ingredients the audience hangs out for, from the appearance of Kim’s cute son to the visual spectacle of the helicopter.
As always, the Showbiz company worked hard and gave it their all, but the show’s success rests on the three main leads and especially the engineer.
Marcus Rivera was excellent as the sleazy, self-serving manipulator making a buck amid the chaos. Rivera made the transitions of the character credible with the punchy The Heat is On in Saigon and If You Want to Die In Bed, the menacing The Morning of the Dragon and a tantalisingly ironic The American Dream. Rivera relished this role, singing with an easy confidence and plenty of cheeky sauce.
As the thwarted couple, Tina Bergantinos-Panlilio (Kim) and Jack Fraser (Chris) dug deep in delivering two very powerful performances. I particularly enjoyed I’d Give My Life for You (Kim) and Why God Why? (Chris) and the tenderness they both showed in The Last Night of the World and Sun and Moon. Throughout they were superb and their intensity never let up.
The scantily clad girls were called on to do some fairly brazen things which they did, bravely and unselfconsciously. While the cast definitely looked the part and were robust when aggression was needed, on occasion they didn’t sound quite so secure with occasional weaknesses showing up in exposed passages, the wedding ceremony (Dju Vui Vai) a case in point which came across a tad strained.
The male chorus in Bui Doi, however, was as stirring a rendition as you could hope to hear. It also saw James Foster (John) at his dramatic best, hectoring from behind a lectern while heart-wrenching images played out on the screen behind him. Hannah Austin (Ellen) shone in an impassioned account of Now That I’ve Seen Her and her duet with Kim (I Still Believe) was similarly strong. Daniel Aguilar did well as the aggrieved Thuy, suitably officious and volatile.
The band was solid, a nice touch having the live sax player in the club but I did feel some of the ethnic samples were overly prominent in the mix at times. Sets were deceptively simple but very effective, the lighting effects bringing warmth to the sun, an eerie menace to the advancing mob and gravitas to Ho Chi Minh’s statue. The flags, political imagery and garish lights in The American Dream were also neatly offset by the monotone flats and hints of bamboo.
The cute “aw” moment of Tam’s reveal usually gets more of a reaction but curiously didn’t. However, look out for Thuy’s ghost in the second half – it is surprisingly chilling.
An Eventful Trip Around South Vietnam
From an interview with Aircraft Engineer, Corporal Colin Creighton, No. 41 Squadron, RNZAF
The New Zealand Government was a reluctant participant in the Vietnam War, and it chose not to commit its air combat squadrons to the conflict. Instead, individual RNZAF pilots were seconded to other air forces. Sixteen helicopter pilots served with the Royal Australian Air Force in South Vietnam and flew troops, supply and gunship missions in support of ground troops. Fourteen fixed-wing aircraft pilots served with the United States Air Force as forward air controllers. RNZAF personnel also contributed to a Combined Services Medical Team.
The RNZAF contributed No. 40 Squadron to airlift NZ troops into South Vietnam on Hercules transporters, and No.41 Squadron flying Bristol Freighters on re-supply missions from Singapore to New Zealand military units and medical teams in South Vietnam. [i]
41 Squadron flights to support the medical team at Qui Nhon and the New Zealand Embassy in Saigon continued after the withdrawal of New Zealand military forces in 1971. At the end of March 1975, a Bristol Freighter was sent from Singapore to Qui Nhon to airlift out the five-member volunteer medical team. The last No. 41 Squadron flight out of the country departed on 21 April carrying 38 embassy staff and refugees.[ii]
Mainlander Colin Creighton, was an aircraft engineer corporal based out of Singapore with No. 41 Squadron RNZAF from 1971 to 1973:
“From Singapore, we covered the entire Southeast Asian Basin looking after all the New Zealand interests in the area, including Vietnam. I was up there from 1971 until halfway through 1973 when I returned to New Zealand. The squadron stayed up there until 1978 before it came home, it’d been up there for a little over 30 years non-stop.”
In 1971 41 Squadron transported five RNZAF helicopter pilots from Hobsonville to fly in Singapore to join the rotary-wing flight of No. 41 Transport Squadron. Three RNZAF Iroquois helicopters were also sent to Singapore in broken-down form by Hercules on September 25th and 26th. Colin was one of the ground crew who travelled with the pilots.[iii]
“Even back then Bristols were big ugly old things. Most of the helicopters could fly faster than we could. But they would get in and out of short strips and cart a five-tonne load, which is quite remarkable for their size and considering that they were built in 1945. They even took part in the Berlin airlift in the late 1940s. They are a well-proven old aircraft.
“I also knew the Iroquois very well, we had those on strength in Singapore. I spent a lot of time in the Malay jungle working with the helicopters up there on exercises, living in tents or in the jungle while you were fixing it.”
One of Colin’s ex RNZAF comrades, who served in Electrical/Avionics from January ‘67 to April ’87, recalled how one of his first jobs after completing his electrical/mechanics course in late 1968 was to “empty the bogger” of a Bristol after a Singapore to Whenuapai flight, “not a nice job”. “However, much more fun leaving one behind in Bangkok with Fuzz Freeman, Colin Creighton and Keith Reilly for a single man’s tour of Thailand in 1973.”[iv]
“40,000 Rivets Flying in Formation”
A typical 41 Squadron fortnightly resupply run was flight No. 5912 on 4th December 1972. The Bristol was loaded up at Tengah airbase in Singapore with supplies and crew, including two flight officers, a mechanical/aviation electronics operator, five service crew including one Flight Sergeant, two Corporals – one of which was Colin Creighton – and two ‘baggies’ or General Service Hands. The first stop was Butterworth in Malaya, then on to Saigon before they headed north to Qui Nhơn where the New Zealand Surgical Team was based. They returned to Saigon via the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVNAF) base at Nha Trang, then headed south to Cần Thơ where there was the US and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) base. Their last leg was back over the South China Sea to Butterworth and finally back to base at Tengah. It was a three-day round trip. [v]
“I remember the Freighter as difficult aircraft to fly well … lacking pressurization, air conditioning, weather radar, retractable undercarriage or state of the art avionics. We cruised at 135 knots TAS, below 10,000 feet, sweating like pigs on the ground and freezing at cruise altitude.” wrote Flt Lt Peter Tremayne, who completed 28 flights with 41 Sqn RNZAF into or through Vietnam from 1965–1968 and 1975, and seven flights into Vietnam with 40 Sqn RNZAF from 1969–1971. The Bristol was often referred to as “40,000 rivets flying in formation”.
An Eventful Trip Around the Regions
“They [the Bristol] had three crew, and when we went on an away trip from Singapore we carried a staff of four servicing crew as well. This is the way I got thrown in the deep end several times. Being a single man, no married man wanted to go up to Vietnam, they would say “you’re single, you can go” and well I didn’t mind. I was young and silly in those days. I was 21 coming up 22 when I went to Singapore, and I was coming up 24 when I came home. I did another six months at Wigram, and then I got out of the Air Force.
“Generally, we’d leave out of Singapore. First, we would head to Malaya to stop off at a couple of army and airforce bases there. From there we’d head on to Bangkok where we dropped stuff off at the New Zealand embassy. Then occasionally we’d fly right up to Chiang Mai. From there we’d fly across the country, down to the base of Thailand again, to the area where the Bridge over the River Kwai film was set.
“We left Thailand and flew to overnight outside Phnom Penh in Cambodia, then fly the short hop into Saigon, landing there at about three in the afternoon. After we got everything sorted out, we went into town and were dropped off at our hotel by an army driver. The hotel was almost completely booked out by American troops on R&R, so we had a good night there. We weren’t allowed out of the hotel, but that didn’t stop us going to the local bar down the road. We just didn’t want to get caught by the local cops because they’d shoot on sight as the city was under curfew, so we had to be a bit careful.
“We got picked up in the morning and taken back out to the Saigon airfield [Tan Son Nhut Air Base] where we were dropped off at the big US Navy mess [US Army, Navy, Airforce and Marine corps were stationed there], which held about 300 people having breakfast. Everything was on display, including ice cream and jelly, and it only cost twenty-five cents.
“Six of us sat down to have breakfast when an almighty bang went off behind us. A soldier over the other side of the room jumped up and yelled: “get out of the room, there’s incoming!” Three hundred odd people just disappeared, leaving us Kiwis sitting there thinking “what the hell’s going on?” We thought we’d just finish our breakfasts and as we got stuck in another bang went off. This one was much closer and it made the fried eggs on my plate flip up and land on the table! Well, we thought “OK, what do we do now?” There was no-one else around, so I got up and went and helped myself to more fried egg, sat down and we all finished our breakfast!
“After breakfast we went outside, there was nobody around, so we jumped in the Land Rover and drove around the corner to the passenger terminal where we were to meet the aircrew. From there we could see everything that was going on on the airfield. The rockets started coming in right about then, in groups of three or four, and there were about a hundred during the morning, finishing at 11 am. Just as we would think “thank god, it’s all over,” the next lot started coming in so we had to stay put. All the windows in the passenger terminal were perspex and they were shaking in and out by about 150mm with each big bang.
“When we went outside there were pieces of metal lying around the building. We had to do a good clean around the area, pick up the shrapnel and make sure none was trapped in the aircraft, and there were no holes in it. The shrapnel was still blue with heat when we picked it up. When we finally got out of there, as we taxied out we could still see the smoke from rockets going off in the distance.”
“From Saigon, we went up to near Cam Ranh Bay [Vietnam], which was a big naval base, then inland from that was an American airfield and we landed there. As we taxied in we could see there was an aircraft with a group of Viet Cong prisoners getting ready to be taken out. We went around the corner and parked, and as we were changing over our cargo, a machine gun on the hillside opened up – a big 12.7 mm Chinese or Russian machine gun.
“It was spraying bullets around – it wasn’t personal at that point – and I got the task of sitting on top of our aircraft and shooting back. After about three magazine-fulls the machine gun stopped, a gunship had come in from one side of the hillside and levelled all the trees with its mini Gatling guns. During that time I heard one round go past my ear with a hell of a bang, that’s when you know its getting personal!”
Stuck in the Middle – the Risk of Friendly Fire
“We very hastily got out of there and flew back to Saigon, with just one more stop to go. We changed over freight and passengers and heading back down south. We flew at about 11,000 feet over the ground, so we’re out of the way of machine gunfire. As we were heading south, I looked up through the observation dome in the back, and I could see three contrails about 30,000 feet up. I said to the pilot over the intercom “be aware that we’re flying under a B-52 flight.” And he said, “don’t look down then will you.” Which I did and here are three big long, thick strips of jungle erupting underneath us. Each B52 aircraft was carrying 120 – 500 pounders, they’re big bombs, One of those would level about six houses and we went diagonally straight through the middle of it. We didn’t see them until they’d blow up underneath us, but we could feel the impulse of them as we flew over top!”
The Yanks weren’t too Impressed
“We got down to our last point, which was just a dirt landing strip. As we came in over the end of the runway, there was an almighty bang from under the freighter as we went over the fence line. We taxied in, I jumped out, and everybody came out and went looking around the aircraft expecting to see a big hole in it, but there was nothing. However, underneath the plane there were four aerials with a big lead between them, one had come adrift and slapped down under the belly of the aircraft. The Americans had put a pole up, with what looked like a big soccer ball on top, like a homing beacon to guide aircraft onto the runway. They’d put it up the day before, we took it off the next day, the Yanks weren’t too impressed!”
The Fall of Saigon – NZ Moves out
At the beginning of April 1975, New Zealand Embassy officials cabled Wellington and reported that the situation in Saigon was deteriorating rapidly. Norman Farrell, the New Zealand Ambassador, recommended the immediate evacuation of non-official New Zealand citizens. The civilian medical team had already been evacuated from Qui Nhon at the end of March.
Over the next two weeks the Singapore-based 41 Squadron RNZAF, which sent a detachment to Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport, made a series of flights to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate New Zealand citizens and various South Vietnamese nationals granted ‘unofficial’ refugee status. Some of these refugees, dependents of New Zealanders living and working in South Vietnam, were evacuated without the approval of their government. The last of these flights, on 21 April 1975, carried Ambassador Farrell and most of the remaining staff of the New Zealand Embassy. [vi]
“The enemy was coming in over one side of the airfield as our aircraft got out the other side. They had the New Zealand High Commissioner and his staff and equipment onboard these two aircraft, and they just got out of there by the skin of their teeth. This was our New Zealand High Commission that had been based in Saigon. These planes were loaded up with his staff, all their official documents and secret gear, some of their Vietnamese staff and anything else they needed to rescue. They were on the two aircraft with their aircrew and servicing crew on board. They operated out of there for about a week before that final day carting stuff out. But the very last flight out was the High Commissioner and his staff, and they were just getting out of there by the skin of their teeth. The old aircraft [Bristol Freighter] stood proud in the time it was up there.”