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
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.
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.”
[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No._41_Squadron_RNZAF. Accessed 1 August 2019.
[iii] The Auckland Star Sep 1971 https://www.flickr.com/photos/gcdnz/32583591944
[iv] Bobajob, ex RNZAF Electrical/Avionics, Jan67 to Apr87. Accessed 31/7/1019
[v] Scotty’s List (Version 3) All Flights into Vietnam by 41 Squadron RNZAF 1 December 1962 – 21 April 1975 – Issued Oct 2017. Accessed 1 August 2019.
With special thanks to Colin Creighton for sharing his memories.
They’re called Bui-Doi
The dust of life
Conceived in Hell
And born in strife
They are the living reminder
Of all the good we failed to do
We can’t forget
Must not forget
That they are all our children, too
Miss Saigon 
Mỹ lai ‘Amerasians’
The children of American GIs and Vietnamese women
“Wisps of blonde can be seen bobbing and darting among the rivers of black haired women and children in the street markets.
“Round blue eyes peer out of thatched huts. Along dusty paths, some of the faces that beam up at strangers are black, others are fair-skinned.
“Contrary to some expectations, most of the mixed children have been accepted and cherished by their Vietnamese mothers and grandmothers, and many also by aunts and cousins and others in remote branches of their extended families.
“Relatively few have been totally abandoned to orphanages, and only a small number are available for adoption.
“The trouble comes outside the protective circle of the family, for when those youngsters step into the streets, enter the schools and seek new friendships, they are often met by teasing and ridicule from both adults and children.” 
New York Times reporter David Shipler wrote this from Saigon in 1974, the year following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on 27 January 1974, heralding the suspension of all U.S. combat activities. The Vietnam War, as it was known in the US, had become a political hot potato. American people were protesting. Troop morale was generally low. Drug use was prevalent. In Vietnam, “drugs were more plentiful than cigarettes or chewing gum” and attempts to suppress use was “almost completely ineffective” and would come only with the withdrawal of the American troops, a US congressional report concluded in 1971. 
The standard length of service in Vietnam was one year. The best morale-builder of all was that soldiers could actually count the days ‘til they returned home.
Bụi đời– the dust of life
Left behind after the removal of the US troops were one million orphans who had grown up to have families – and lose them – during the war. Included were those known as Bui Doi – the dust of life. Some 8000 of these were the offspring of American GIs and Vietnamese mothers. Many were harassed, many were left to run the streets. These children were generally rejected by Vietnamese society, yet for years, Vietnam would not let them out, and America would not let them in.
“They are of mixed race in an essentially homogeneous society, without a father in a patriarchal society, reminders of what is seen as lack of morality on the part of Vietnamese women and of a time in Vietnamese history that is not exactly viewed with joy and happiness.” 
Estimates vary as to exactly how many ‘Amerasian’ children there were in Vietnam. “The US Government has alluded to about 8,000, while the Vietnamese say there are in excess of 10,000, maybe up to 15,000,” said human rights lawyer Sanford Mevorah in 1985. At the time, only 131 had made it to the US.
“The US and Vietnam had agreed that the children, born of American servicemen and Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War, were a US responsibility, but the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries meant there was no machinery to bring them to the US.” 
Colour Makes a Difference
The illegitimate ‘negro-fathered’ children were doubly disadvantaged. New Zealand paediatrician Dr. Margaret Neave worked for the Save The Children Fund with the NZ surgical team in Vietnam, based at the Qui Nhon hospital in South Vietnam.
When asked about their future, she spoke plainly:
“Their future? None I can see.
“At the moment, most are protected in orphanages. But later on . . . well, they won’t get jobs. Discrimination, you know.
“The Vietnamese are disgusted by them.”
Dr. Neave estimated there were “some thousands” of these children throughout Vietnam – most of them left behind in moves to adopt orphans. She did not criticise the Vietnamese attitude towards these children, and said, “You need a few generations of food in your belly to afford generosity.” 
One former Vũng Tàu bar girl had three half-black children by three different GIs. The soldiers have all gone home, but she has “no regrets” she said, “Because at the time I
like to have money.”
“It was a happy life. A house to live in, you like with one American, that American gave you money and bought you things. With all that money it is you who made the decision to work that way or not. And if you happen to have a baby because you’re not careful, that’s your bad luck”. 
Generally speaking, the different children, the half-white as well as the half-black, were “doomed to ostracism.”
“But, of course, it is worse for the Afro-Asian children. Like many other people, the Vietnamese are very conscious of colour,” Mcrovah said in a 1985 interview, appealing to the United Nations for help to break the political impasse that existed preventing ‘Amerasian’ children from being brought to the United States from Vietnam.
“They consider dark skin undesirable, associating it with the Moi, or savages, the tribal people who occupy their mountainous rain-forest country. To them, light skin colour – as long as it is without the taint of foreignness – is highly prized.”
It wasn’t just the Americans who had left their mark on a generation of Vietnamese children.
“In 1954, when the French military forces withdrew in defeat from Indo-China, they left behind an estimated 10,000 illegitimate Eurasian children and a scattering of Afro-Asians in Vietnam alone.
“By the end of 1967, nearly 4000 of these children were repatriated to France under that Government’s policy of recognising citizenship regardless of legitimacy”.
“Saigon’s streets, as well as the streets of Da Nang, Tuy Hoa, Bien Hoa, Vung Tau, and other cities occupied by foreign troops in Vietnam, are crowded with homeless children who beg, shine shoes, pimp, sell themselves, wait around for a chance to steal.
“These boys and girls have nothing, and nobody cares. Cuts, scratches, and abrasions on their dirty bodies become infected and scarred. Their flimsy cotton shirts and shorts go from dirty to filthy, and then rot into tatters until the children beg or steal money to replace them.”
“Every war produces illegitimate children, but under some conditions, the children are fairly easily absorbed into their society. How many illegitimate children were born in Europe during World War II will never be known, because, except for the half-Negro children, the youngsters’ parentage has gone generally unremarked.
”As the illegitimate boys of Vietnam have little choice but to beg or steal, so the girls mostly become prostitutes.” 
 Miss Saigon music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr, adapted from the original French lyrics by Alain Boublil.
 The GIs’ children grow up (1974, September 11). The Canberra Times (ACT: 1926 – 1995), p. 15. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
 McDonald, Ian. “Over half of American Army have tried drugs.” Times, 29 Apr. 1971, p. 1. The Times Digital Archive, Accessed 27 July 2019.
 UNITED NATIONS Help urged for Vietnam’s ‘children of the dust’ (1985, November 8). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), p. 5. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
 “All Children Must Have A Future“” The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982) 9 August 1972: 6. Web. 28 Jul 2019.
 The GIs’ children grow up (1974, September 11). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), p. 15. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
 The forgotten waifs of the war in Vietnam (1969, December 17). The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), p. 68. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
The jarring reality of life as a bar girl during the Vietnam war
The French had designed Saigon to accommodate 300,000 people. By 1972 there were over three million people in the twenty-one square miles of Saigon proper, and another million on the outskirts. It had become the most densely populated city in the world. South Vietnam had transformed from 90% rural to 60% urban. “The French left three permanent features; boulevards, bread and brothels,” wrote Anthony Carthew for the Canberra Times in 1966.
During the American Vietnam war, the bars in central Saigon were the haunt for thieves, confidence men, beggars and gangs of children who’d rob soldiers as they left. Brawling was common.
“Le Thi Xuan, at 16, has already had considerable experience peddling cigarettes and prophylactics at the entrances to bars where Americans congregate, and she is just beginning to work as a bar hostess, Xuan asserts in her rapid pidgin English, ‘Someday of the war in Vietnam I get American husband, go States. I got American boy-friend work ship … all time go Manila come back Vietnam. He make beaucoup [big] money. He talk maybe pretty soon we marry, go States.’
“For all Xuan’s confident assertion, there is apprehension in her voice. She knows it is unlikely she’ll marry an American. She’s much more likely to bear an illegitimate child who will inherit her kind of life.”
“In order to enter the society of bar hostesses, she lies about her age. The police make a half-hearted attempt to see that the hostesses are at least 18, but abuses of age limits and activities far outstrip enforcement.” 
Many of Saigon’s bar girls came from villages in the Mekong Delta – the vast maze of rivers, swamps and islands at the southern tip of Vietnam. Others were war widows with young families to support.
“One feels sorry, of course, for these men, many of whom die from wounds because their slender bodies have so little resistance to infection and shock. But their widows are in need of a deeper sympathy. In some cases, Vietnamese-fashion, they have to support the entire family, ranging from grandparents to obscure, penniless cousins. When her man is killed, a Vietnamese wife is paid one year’s salary by the army – about $220 (£110) for private. After that – nothing.
“If she is pretty she can become a bar girl and hope; to make enough money to open a little street stall in the market, which is every bar girl’s ambition. If she is not pretty, and does not have the education which would win her one of the few jobs open to women, she has no alternative but to become a prostitute.” 
All were ostracised from ordinary Vietnamese society. Yet their weekly earnings were reported to be more than that of South Vietnamese cabinet ministers.  “A prostitute earned as much as $180 per month. The average government civil servant earned roughly $30 a month, and even cabinet ministers and Assembly members had fixed salaries of $120.” 
Australian troops were considered much tighter with his money than their American counterparts. They were nicknamed ‘Cheap Charlies’ by the bar girls who had a little ditty they used to sing to the tune of ‘This Old Man’:
Uc Dai Lot. Cheap Charlie
He no buy me Saigon Tea .
Saigon Tea cost many, many P [piastres, the local almost worthless Vietnamese currency]
Uc Dai Lai, he Cheap Charlie.
Uc-da-loi, Cheap Charlie,
He no give me MPC, [Military Pay Certificate]
MPC costs many many P,
Uc-da-loi he Cheap Charlie.
Uc-da-loi, Cheap Charlie
He no go to bed with me,
Bed with me costs many many P
Uc-da-loi he Cheap Charlie.
Uc-da-loi, Cheap Charlie,
Make me give him one for free,
Mamma-san go crook at me,
Uc-da-loi, he Cheap Charlie.
Uc-da-loi, Cheap Charlie,
He give baby-san to me,
Baby-san costs many many P,
Uc-da-loi, he Cheap Charlie.
Uc-da-loi, Cheap Charlie,
He go home across the sea,
He leave baby-san with me,
Uc-da-loi he Cheap Charlie
Saigon Tea bars were usually narrow places, with a bar and stools along one side and small padded booths on the other. The manager was called ‘Papa -san’ and he looked after the cash register. Middle-aged women, called ‘Mama- san’, kept the girls moving.
Once inside, the customer would sit at the bar and order a drink, paying around $2. The local brew, Ba Muoi Ba (33), was best avoided. It was low quality, unfit for human consumption according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and rumoured to contain formaldehyde – but it was cheap! 
About 20 seconds after sitting down at the bar, a girl would sidle up and introduce herself to the GI. The dialogue was unromantic and, to the uninitiated, incomprehensible:
“Hey, you. You No 1 (the best). Come here, sit down’, the bar girl begins as she spies a GI.
“How long you come Vietnam? How long you stay? Where you work? Work Bien Hoa, huh? You kill beaucoup VC (Big Vietcong) you No 1. You buy me one Saigon tea? I love you too much.”
If he showed interest, she would ask him to buy her a glass of Saigon tea, a one-ounce glass of almost colourless liquid costing $2 and tasting faintly of mint.
“With it comes a paper tab in two parts. The girl tears off her half of the tab, for which she will later collect $1.”
“By the time the customer has bought two glasses of Saigon tea, and had two drinks himself, he can be persuaded to sit in one of the padded booths. Once there, he is kissed, cuddled, tickled and petted — and encouraged to buy Saigon-tea — until he either regains his senses or runs out of money. Generally, these two things happen to him at the same time.”
“A tea-bar girl is slim, dark and fascinating. Her age is between 17 and 30. Working eight hours, she can earn up to $40 a day. Often her earnings provide food and lodging for her large refugee family who would otherwise be destitute.”
Deluxe class joy-girls
Some bar girls will promise anything to sell another glass of Saigon-tea with no intention of giving the customer anything other than attentive company and superficial affection. Others, however, are prepared to go further. “They’ll bat their dark eyes like a schoolgirl and ask the GI: ‘How much you pay?’” 
From dingy back street bars to the ‘the de luxe class joy-girls’ on the verandah of the Continental Palace, ‘a relic of the French Colonial days’, bar-girls were everywhere.  There were between 100,000 and 300,000 girls who were prostitutes, bar girls and temporary wives of GIs, heavily dependent on the American presence. 
“The dignity of Vietnamese women has also suffered tremendously during these five, six years since the arrival of the American troops. The women who have been driven from the countryside because of the heavy bombing have to flock into the towns, can’t find any jobs, and so have to prostitute themselves. It’s the only way left to them—they are sold as sex objects. The families with daughters who have gone to that point suffer. Even the husbands have to shut their eyes when their wives have to prostitute themselves in order to feed the children. And it’s moral torture for the husbands”, said Madame Van of the People’s Liberation Government. 
With the wartime boom in prostitution, the courts no longer committed a girl solely for being a prostitute, as “that would be like trying to stop a tidal wave”, said Sister Mary, an Irish nun who ran a centre for delinquent girls in Vinh Long, South Vietnam, 50 miles southwest of Saigon. Girls from ages 10 to 18 were admitted to the centre founded in 1958 by the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem (1954-63) after a crackdown on vice. The girls had often been involved in more serious crimes, such as kidnapping other girls. Sister Mary pointed out some of the girls and spoke matter-of-factly:
“There’s Lisa, she’s 10. She was working in a brothel in Saigon. She still has marks on her body.”
“That is Rose — she used to steal 10,000 piastres ($A40) a day.”
“She [16-year-old Margaret] was kidnapped, drugged, and put to work in a Saigon bar”.
The Economics of War
When the Americans withdrew from 1974, a significant source of income left with them. The new government found themselves responsible for “an unknown number of prostitutes, drug addicts and other social misfits whose existence had until then depended on the corruption generated by rich foreigners.” 
The Communist government claimed 350,000 prostitutes were left behind and set about a programme of ‘re-education’ establishing the ‘Centre of Rehabilitation for the Dignity of Women’ in Saigon. Between 1975 and 1985, over 14,000 women in the newly named Ho Chi Minh City were sent to these centres.
Sister Françoise, a French Roman Catholic nun and government advisor, spoke of the prostitutes as generally simple peasant women driven into the trade by the economics of war. The majority were common women forced to migrate into the city either because of the fighting or bombing or through the Strategic Hamlet Program, the plan by the governments of South Vietnam and the US to combat the communist insurgency. 
Like the American resort at Vũng Tàu where ‘boom boom girls’ serviced the needs of GIs on leave, the French, after 100 years of occupation, also had some experience in this area:
“After a 56 day siege beginning March 13, 1954… French colonialism died in Indochina after almost 100 years, in one of the 20th century’s crucial battles.
“There were women then, too, inside the French encampment. … There were also two ‘bordels mobiles de campagne’, French mobile field brothels, with 18 Algerian and Vietnamese girls. When the siege ended, the puritan Vietminh sent the Vietnamese girls and their madame for ‘re-education’, as happened to Saigon bar girls after 1975. Yet now, my hotel, like others in Dien Bien Phu, had its own willing courtesans in a large annex marked ‘Thai massage’. Puritanism has gone the way of state central planning as the free market flourishes. So much for ‘re-education’,” wrote James Pringle for Reuters in 2004. 
“In the French as well as in the American period, the ‘Flower Boats’ or sampans plied their trade. They were frequently family operations, with the daughter(s) working as prostitute(s) while the brothers pimped on dry land. Some of the larger junks, however, were professionally run, often by the Saigon underworld. Prior to 1975, statistics from the Ministry of Society of the Saigon government reported about 200,000 professional prostitutes. In Saigon alone in 1968, there were about 10,000 professional prostitutes. By 1974, the figure had reached 100,000.” 
Sightseeing and ‘sweet nothings’
When the American military withdrew from South Vietnam and Thailand, the extensive sex industry created for the rest and recreation of the troops had to find new markets. The Asian sex industry turned to other countries to find ways to continue to profit from the estimated 100,000 prostitutes who had been recruited to meet military needs. One route to profit was though sexual tourism. 
By the end of the 20th century Vietnam’s southwestern neighbour, the impoverished, corrupt and lawless Cambodia, had become the centre of the child sex trade – a favourite destination for sex tourists.
Poor Vietnamese parents caught up in the country’s thirst for consumer goods, sold their children for as little as £200, condemning them to torture, humiliation and disease in neighbouring Cambodia. They were joining the children from India, Thailand and the Philippines working as prostitutes in Asians squalid brothels.
“When I first met one of these children, 12-year-old Dah Vit, it was clear she had been tortured. Cigarette burns scarred her rest and hands. We were sitting in the back room of a brothel a few miles outside of Phnom pen, the Cambodian capital.
“‘She’s a virgin, fresh, no diseases’, the mother-san, the brothel’s madam, told me.
“Dah Vit’s mother, Trang, believe she had sent the Dah Vit and her other two daughters into the restaurant trade ‘for three months’. The money they would earn would help the whole family.”
“When they come home we will all be better off. Maybe, one day, we will even have a television,” Trang told reporter Nick Daniel in 1996. 
Ten years later, Deborah Orr reported in The Independent that Vietnam had become a primary source and destination country for forced labour and sexual exploitation.
“Criminal gangs operating in Vietnam are known to recruit children promising jobs or marriages abroad, or to purchase them from guardians eager to be rid of them.”
Hagar New Zealand is a charitable organisation which supports the recovery of women and children who have survived severe human rights abuse in Vietnam, Cambodia and Afghanistan. They said of Vietnam:
“Vietnam remains a significant target for traffickers. Vulnerable women, men, and children are at risk of sex trafficking and forced labour. Women are trafficked as brides to neighbouring countries, as well as further afield, with incidents of trafficking that reach as far as Europe.” 
The willingness for families to pimp their own daughters and for women to seek out prostitution as a career has been attributed both to greed and capitalism on the one hand, and poverty and war on the other. Combined with the ancient ethnic value called ‘phuc duc’ or merit-virtue- which can be created by women and handed on to future generations – and filial responsibility, these may help explain why prostitution was so prevalent during the Vietnam War.
The Tale of Kieu, a significant work of Vietnamese literature, is a poem which recounts the life, trials and tribulations of Thúy Kiều, a beautiful and talented yet tragic young woman, whose story is used to illustrate phuc duc. Like Kim in Miss Saigon and tens of thousands of other Vietnamese bar and ‘boom boom’ girls during the Vietnam War, she sacrificed herself to save her family.
Within the span of hundred years of human existence,
what a bitter struggle is waged between genius and destiny!
How many harrowing events have occurred while mulberries cover the conquered sea!
Rich in beauty, unlucky in life!
Strange indeed, but little wonder,
since casting hatred upon rosy cheeks is a habit of the Blue Sky.
 The forgotten waifs of the war in Vietnam (1969, December 17). The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), p. 68. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
 Weary Vietnam no future (1966, February 23). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), p. 20. Retrieved August 3, 2019.
 ”Clean-Up Drive in Central Saigon Shifting ‘Tea’ Girls to Outskirts.” International Herald Tribune [European Edition], 14 Mar. 1972, p. 5. International Herald Tribune Historical Archive 1887-2013,
 http://www.sexquest.com/ccies-kinsey/vn.php.html Accessed 30 August 2019.
 The delights of Vung Tau (1972, March 9). Woroni (Canberra, ACT : 1950 – 2007), p. 7. Retrieved July 28, 2019.
 Tea for two in Saigon (1969, October 20). Papua New Guinea Post-Courier (Port Moresby : 1969 – 1981), p. 12. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
 GI JOE LOSES HIS HUMOUR Vietnam- the very unfunny war (1966, November 3). The Canberra Times (ACT: 1926 – 1995), p. 27. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
 “Vietnam: the empty promises.” The Listener, 6 Feb. 1975, p. 162+. The Listener Historical Archive, 1929-1991, Accessed 27 July 2019.
 South Vietnam (1970, May 5). Tharunka (Kensington, NSW : 1953 – 2010), p. 10. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
 Steinberg, Marsha. “Women of the South.” The Second Wave: A Magazine of the New Feminism, vol. 2, no. 2, 1972, p. 9+. Women’s Studies Archive. Accessed 28 July 2019.
 Indo-China’s first year of peace (1976, May 18). Papua New Guinea Post-Courier (Port Moresby : 1969 – 1981), p. 5. Retrieved July 28, 2019.
 “Prostitutes Rehabilitated.” International Herald Tribune [European Edition], 29 Jan. 1976, p. 2. International. Herald Tribune Historical Archive 1887-2013. Accessed 6 July 2019.
Becker, Elizabeth. “French Nun Helping Vietnam to Rehabilitate Prostitutes.” International Herald Tribune [European Edition], 29 Nov. 1976, p. 4. International Herald Tribune Historical Archive 1887-2013, Accessed 28 July 2019.
 Pringle, James. “Au Revoir, Dien Bien Phu.” International Herald Tribune [European Edition], 1 Apr. 2004, p. 9. International Herald Tribune Historical Archive 1887-2013. Accessed 29 July 2019.
 http://www.sexquest.com/ccies-kinsey/vn.php.html Accessed 30 August 2019.
 ‘Terror and Coercion: The Female Sexual Slave Trade‘ 1979. 1979. TS Grassroots Feminist Organizations, Part 1: Boston Area Second Wave Organizations, 1968-1998: Women Against Violence Against Women Records, 1972-1985. Northeastern University. Women’s Studies Archive. Accessed 27 July 2019.
 Daniel, Nick. “Children sold into sex slavery on Street of Flowers.” Sunday Telegraph, 1 Dec. 1996, p. 26. The Telegraph Historical Archive. Accessed 27 July 2019.
 Orr, Deborah. “The cruel hypocrisy that demonises the world’s most vulnerable people.” Independent, 19 Aug. 2006, p. 11. The Independent Digital Archive. Accessed 27 July 2019.
 https://hagar.org.nz/vietnam/. Accessed 28 July 2019
 From Lê Xuân Thuy’s (1968) Kim Vân Kiều, second edition, page 19
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 opening night of Showbiz Christchurch’s current production, Les Misérables, as per their usual practice was a treat for the senses. Stunning scenery combined with gorgeous costumes and excellent hair and make-up within the beautiful surrounds of the Isaac Theatre Royal. The singing and live orchestral accompaniment really makes you feel immersed in the story in a way that watching a movie just can’t rival. There is magic when you attend a live musical theatre performance, it heightens the enjoyment when you know that you are experiencing an incredibly well rehearsed but ultimately unique performance.
If like me you haven’t seen Les Misérables before you may have arrived at the incorrect conclusion that it was largely a tragedy. It is not. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of drama, injustice, and sadness in this scathing commentary on 18th century French society. However there are also plenty of hilarious pratfalls, raunchy gags, and utterly amusing scenes in the show. For those of you that have seen Les Misérables go see it again. This complex tale of love, redemption, sacrifice, and heroism has so much depth that there will always be new layers to unwrap. Les Misérables is a 38 year old musical, based on the 1862 Victor Hugo book of the same name, and among other social injustice issues it perfectly captures the themes of the contemporary #metoo movement. The perfectly performed song “At the End of the Day” is the best example of this. An ensemble piece which explores general aspects of poverty, but then zeros in on women in the workplace. It talks of women in subordinate roles, who can’t afford to lose their jobs, and are at the mercy of a male superior who can fire them without a second thought if his lecherous advances are refused. Sound familiar?
Onto comedic relief, which is largely provided by the two very talented performers playing despicable but somehow likeable inn-keeper Monsieur Thénardier (Ben Freeth) and his wife Madame Thénardier (Rebecca Malcolm). Blackmailing, rotten souled, scoundrels through and through they mistreat and swindle all they come in contact with, but are still relatable. The brilliant acting of the pair, but especially by Ben Freeth, kept the audience riveted on their every devious and usually suggestive or inappropriate move.
Acts of heroism, redemption, and sacrifice are also abundant, even in the face of overwhelming misery. This is a story about doing the right thing, even when you don’t have to, even when it would be easy to find justification for doing otherwise. Several times we witness on stage the characters choosing to sacrifice their comfort and personal feelings. The Ten Tenors performer Daniel Belle is a powerhouse as he plays Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who ultimately devotes his life to making good. Solo mother Fantine, is hauntingly played by Kira Josephson (she was Elphaba’s wheelchair bound sister in Showbiz’s production of Wicked earlier this year) gave literally everything she had to give her young daughter Cosette a good life. You’d have to have a pretty hard heart not to feel her pain, as she is thrown in the path of the comically made-up ladies of the night, during the sarcastically sung “Lovely Ladies”.
Javert, the apparent villain of the show, is played by James Foster and he delivers a solid performance. This is a character with obviously conflicting emotions who believes himself in the right by virtue of his role as enforcer of the law. It is hard to condemn him for doing what he truly believes to be the right thing, even if his actions feel wrong to modern ideals. One of the things I most enjoyed about the show was how nuanced the story is, there is no definite answer of what is right or wrong. It makes for some seriously suspenseful scenes!
The opening night child performers (they alternate through the season) in the roles of Eponine, Gavroche, and Cosette were each spot on in their own way. The challenging solo of “Castle on A Cloud” was performed by Isla Palmer as Cosette and gave me goosebumps. Her voice was positively angelic. An optimistic sounding song, heartbreaking in the context of her miserable situation, this young lady performed with a perfect wistfulness. Gavroche actor Duncan Price on the other hand delivered a comic performance worthy of an actor three times his age. These young actors have a great future in the theatre ahead of them.
There were numerous other outstanding performers incl Eddie Redmayne look-alike Fergus Inder playing young idealistic Marius. Adult Cosette is excellently played by Jacqueline Doherty, and it is a joy to see adult Eponine so sympathetically played by Monique Clementson. Jack Fraser as Enjolras as he once again acts the revolutionary (he was Che in last year’s Showbiz production of Evita).
Aside from excellent singing, dancing, and acting the spectacle was completed by a massive portion of the stage rotating at perfectly timed intervals, adding an extra layer of urgency and perspective to many of the scenes. The set design is incredibly realistic and elaborate, a highlight for me was the barricade made of chairs, tables, doors etc that all perfectly fit together to look like the unstable jumble of a real improvised urban barricade but was instead a carefully crafted set strong enough to hold a troop of performers as they clambered all over it.
The orchestra may have been hidden in the pit, largely invisible to the eye, but it sure made its presence felt. Knowing that the singers are being accompanied live by musicians of the highest quality makes you feel rather proud of our city that we can summon up such talented individuals night after night. The depth of sound that they achieve is really immersive too and adds to the feeling of being directly involved in the story unfolding on stage.
It is plain to see that the work of so many people has not been wasted on this epic musical. Everyone involved with Showbiz Christchurch, at all levels, has clearly put their utmost dedication into this production of Les Misérables and it really has paid off. I suspect that most of Christchurch will want to see this show before it finishes in early October. This is definitely a FOMO-worthy event so buy yourself some tickets now, because this show is three hours (incl intermission) of action packed adventure-drama-comedy you won’t want to miss.
All photos by Danielle Colvin Photography
Showbiz Christchurch President Markham Lee is pleased to announce the appointment of Tim Scandrett to the Board of Christchurch Operatic Inc.
Tim fills one of the two external directors’ positions on the Board of Showbiz. Those positons were created a number of years ago so that the Board of Showbiz could appoint from outside the organisation to complement the skill base of the Board or management.
“We have kept this position vacant for around a year whilst we found the right person to fill our needs,” said Markham. “Tim ticks all the boxes and then some. It is not usual for this position to be filled by someone with industry knowledge, but to have someone who also brings such industry experience is fantastic.”
Tim has a long association with the arts in Christchurch. He has been a performer, a producer and event manager for many shows and events throughout the city, and has run a successful event management company which worked with many leading stakeholders in the Christchurch entertainment industry.
He is also Chair of the Board of the Christchurch City Council venue management company Vbase, a board member of ChristchurchNZ, and a second term City Councillor for the Cashmere Ward.
“I’ve always had a passion for the arts, and regard Showbiz Christchurch as the leading light in the Christchurch Performing Arts arena,” says Scandrett.
Showbiz Christchurch, founded in 1938, is a not-for-profit organisation incorporated society, with an elected board, small management team and a community of more than 1000 members and regular volunteers. As well as providing education and development for the performance community, Showbiz Christchurch is one of the leading producers of world class musical theatre in New Zealand and is a driving force for the industry throughout New Zealand.
The organisation is a significant contributor to the vibrant arts environment in Christchurch and a partners with the Christchurch City Council providing arts and entertainment programmes to meet their community arts and culture objectives. Showbiz is the primary annual hirer of the Isaac Theatre Royal and is the major client of several of the cities key theatrical technical supply companies.