Amanda Atlas. Photo by Wendy Riley

Review by Kate Divett, Backstage Christchurch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by John Foster

Review by Patrick Shepherd, stuff.co.nz

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

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

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

Photo by John Foster

Photo by John Foster

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

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

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

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

Photo by John Foster

Photo by John Foster

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

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

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

The show runs until 16 June.

Photo by Wendy Riley

By Emma Dyer

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

James Foster and Charlotte Taylor. Photo by Wendy Riley

James Foster and Charlotte Taylor. Photo by Wendy Riley

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

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

Photo by Wendy Riley

Photo by Wendy Riley

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

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

Amanda Atlas. Photo by Wendy Riley

Amanda Atlas. Photo by Wendy Riley

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

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

Photo by Wendy Riley

Donna Alley and Michael Bayly. Photo by Wendy Riley

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

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

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

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

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

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Photo by Wendy Riley

James Foster and Charlotte Taylor. Photo by Wendy Riley

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

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

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

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Photo by Wendy Riley

Cello soloist Ashley Brown. Photo by Wendy Riley

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

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

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

Photo by Wendy Riley

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

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

An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics, the 2017 mid year concert which wowed audiences.

Broadway Hitmen follows on from the grand success of An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics, the mid-season concert which wowed audiences last year.

The Ryman Healthcare Showbiz Christchurch Orchestra, 16 soloists and a large chorus will fill the Isaac Theatre Royal stage to present a concert of back-to-back hits from two of the biggest names in musical theatre, Cole Porter and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

American born Porter wrote over 800 songs during a career spanning five decades, conquering both Broadway and Hollywood. His soaring melodies, offset with urbane and witty lyrics, gave rise to his signature musical genre known as ‘the Cole Porter song’. Iconic musicals like Anything Goes, Can Can and Kiss Me Kate remain stage and screen classics, finding new audiences with every decade. Many of his greatest songs have been covered by modern stars like Michael Bublé, Robbie Williams and Lady Gaga.

British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber is arguably the best known name in modern musical theatre. In 2017 he became the first composer to have four musicals playing simultaneously on Broadway since 1953. Webber has written some of the world’s most loved and successful musicals including Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, CATS and Sunset Boulevard.

Broadway Hitmen Musical Director Ravil Atlas is a seasoned Broadway performer and teacher.

“This is more than just a ‘stand up and sing’ concert,” says Musical Director Ravil Atlas. “Each of the 26 songs presented has been cherry picked and represents the best and most popular songs from two of the greatest Broadway melodists.”

Atlas, who originally comes from California, has had a distinguished and varied career in opera, musical theatre and concerts for over 25 years. He has starred as the leading tenor in more than 70 professional opera productions in six countries, performed the role of Piangi in the Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera in San Francisco, starred as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables and has taught many other professional singers and actors at the highest level. In 2017 he appeared as a mentor in TVNZ’s The Naked Choir.

Stage Director Nickie Wellbourn has a performance and directing career spanning decades.

Stage Director Nickie Wellbourn is charged with bringing the songs to life on stage. “Each song performed in Broadway Hitmen will have its own on-stage storytelling,” says Wellbourn. “I’ll also be including a few surprises to build on the ‘wow’ moments from the 2017 concert.”

One surprise which can be revealed is the inclusion of former Christchurch actor/singer Nic Kyle, who is now based in Vancouver. Kyle will be singing ‘Gethsemene’ from Jesus Christ Superstar, which he performed to critical acclaim whilst touring Australasia with world famous musical theatre diva Elaine Page in 2012.

Kyle was described in a Stage Whispers review as “a musical theatre artist with an amazing voice who wowed the audience. His songs were received by rapturous applause which rivaled the star performer, and the show would be worth seeing for his performance.”

The tour with Paige opened doors for Kyle on the West End, where he performed for four years and was nominated for Best Actor (BroadwayWorld) for his role in Savage (The Arts Theatre).

Kyle grew up in Ilam, attended Christ’s College, and graduated from the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Arts (NASDA).  In 2009 he performed the lead role with Showbiz Christchurch in the New Zealand premiere of Miss Saigon before landing the touring gig as Paige’s sole supporting act.

Former Christchurch actor/singer Nic Kyle will reprise his critically acclaimed performance of Gethsemane from Jesus Christ Superstar.

Kyle will be joined on stage in Broadway Hitmen by 15 other soloists, a 30 strong orchestra and a chorus of more than 50 to present all the songs from two of the greatest popular melodists in one concert.

“I was introduced to the songs of Cole Porter by my mother when I was a child and I have loved them ever since. They were her favourites and now they are mine,” says Wellbourn. “I hope to see an audience full of people sharing the music they love with younger members of their family.”

The repertoire will take the audience from the birth of Broadway with Cole Porter’s witty and suave Broadway standards from the 1930s, through the Lloyd Webber blockbusters. “It starts with 1930s nostalgia and ends with Broadway on steroids,” says Atlas. “It’s all your old friends together in one concert from two writers who gave the world popular melody.”

And for those who don’t think they know any Porter or Webber songs, Atlas and Wellbourn reassure “there are plenty of songs you will recognise and don’t realise that you already knew!”

Broadway Hitmen will be at the Isaac Theatre Royal for four performances from 13-15 July 2018.

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