It’s been 27 years since legendary Queen front-man Freddie Mercury passed away from an AIDS related illness yet his music remains as popular as ever.
Anyone who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s will remember Mercury for his flamboyance and enormous popularity, and thanks to the recent success of the multi award winning biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, new generations of music lovers are discovering the powerful and uplifting songs of Queen.
Even though it’s been over two decades since the original band members wrote and performed together, Queen remains as popular as ever due to their “dramatic, anthemic and inspiring songs which never get old no matter how many times you’ve heard them”, wrote entertainment reporter Emily Brow.
Writing on the news website Unilad she quotes NZ music professor and Queen fan Nick Braae: “Queen frequently sing about themes that have a universal quality; searching for love, family and relationship challenges, growing up, understanding one’s identity – none of which are confined to a particular historical time.”
Unsurpassed for their unique lyrics, dramatic and innovative style, it’s no surprise that the music of Queen underpins a unique musical theatre show which makes its NZ theatre company premiere in Christchurch on 29 March 2019.
Written by comedy genius Ben Elton (Blackadder, The Young Ones) and Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor, We Will Rock You (WWRY) features 24 of Queen’s biggest hits re-imagined and woven into the story of a dystopian world where individuality is extinct and live music is banned. Born into this world are Galileo and Scaramouche, two outcasts who band together with a rebel gang of Bohemians to rediscover rock music and bring down the all-powerful GlobalSoft company and its tyrannical boss, The Killer Queen.
The story may sound as far-fetched as most of Queen’s lyrics but the musical’s worldwide popularity is undeniable. Since its West End debut in 2002, it has toured internationally amassing audience numbers of over 16 million.
The set, props and costumes for this Showbiz Christchurch production have come from Queen Theatrical and feature over 150 costume pieces designed by BAFTA and Olivier award-winning costume designer Tim Goodchild. Taking influence from Adam Ant, Kiss, Boy George, Madonna, the Bay City Rollers and other ‘80s musical icons, Goodchild has created a wardrobe of eclectic designs that are evocative of a Vivienne Westwood couture collection.
The set, built in the UK by leading designers Stufish Entertainment, will be brought to life on the Isaac Theatre Royal stage by director Stephen Robertson, lighting designer Grant Robertson (The Light Site), AV designer Dave Spark (Pixel Productions), sound designer Glen Ruske (BounceNZ), and David Bosworth (4th Wall Theatre Services).
Caleb Jago-Ward has returned home to take on the lead role of Galileo after his show-stealing performance in The Court Theatre’s recent production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Caleb sprang to attention on the The Voice Australia as a member of Team Delta. It was his performance of the Queen song ‘Somebody to Love’ that got all the judges on their feet and dancing during a blind audition.
Caleb will be joined on stage by Jane Leonard (Scaramouche), Naomi Ferguson (Killer Queen), Jack Fraser (Khashoggi), Aaron Boyce (Buddy), Catherine Hay (Oz), Tom Hart (Brit), an eight member rock band led by musical director Richard Marrett, and an ensemble of 26 singers and dancers, supported by six backing vocalists. Behind-the-scenes are hundreds of volunteers and theatre professionals who provide the crew, technical, costume, front of house, and management expertise needed to bring a show of this size to the Isaac Theatre Royal stage. “It’s our way to share our love of Queen,” says Showbiz president Markham Lee.
For the last two years Showbiz have partnered with Christchurch Pride to support each other’s events and shows. “This year – with We Will Rock You – it is appropriate that we have widened that partnership to include the New Zealand Aids Foundation,” says Showbiz marketing manager Wendy Riley.
Showbiz will be supporting the ‘Choice’ campaign to end HIV by donating to NZAF all profits from a WWRY ticketed backstage tour, collecting donations at performances, and making a donation on behalf of the WWRY company at the end of the season.
“Freddie Mercury was such an icon and an important part of starting conversations around HIV with the wider public,” says Jason Myers, CEO of the New Zealand Aids Foundation. “We’re very glad to have the support of Showbiz in raising awareness of, and funds toward, our goal of no new HIV transmissions in Aotearoa by 2025.”
The launch of the Showbiz Christchurch 2019 season brings together three exciting new productions; a new ticketing structure which significantly increases the availability of entry level Showbiz tickets; and the continuation of the successful partnership with Christchurch law firm Saunders & Co.
The 2019 Saunders and Co Season begins with the New Zealand theatre company premiere of We Will Rock You, the musical by Queen and Ben Elton. The show features more than 24 of the biggest hits written by Queen and its legendary frontman, the late Freddie Mercury, set in a dystopian future world controlled by all-powerful global company controlled by the Killer Queen, where rock music is banned. Two young outsiders and a handful of rock rebels called the Bohemians band together and embark on the search to find the unlimited power of freedom, love and rock music!
Over 16 million theatregoers in 28 countries have rocked out to this unique musical based on the songs of Queen since it opened in 2002. The Showbiz production will be directed by Stephen Robertson with choreography by Gemma Kearney. Musical direction is by Richard Marrett and Matthew Everingham.
The mid-year concert season builds on the success of Broadway Hitmen in 2018 which featured some of the most popular tunes by musical hit maker Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber takes the concert to a new level with fully staged and choreographed production numbers from blockbuster shows like The Phantom of the Opera, CATS, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita and more. Devised by Lloyd Webber, this will be Christchurch’s only chance to be part of an exclusive weekend concert season as the concert rights will not be available after 2019.
Ravil Atlas will be returning in the 2019 concert, this time in the role of Artistic Director.
The 2019 Saunders and Co Season finishes with one of the most daring theatrical spectacles of all time. Nominated for an incredible number of Olivier, Tony and Drama Desk Awards, Miss Saigon is the second massively successful musical from the creators of Les Misérables.
Based on the story of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, Miss Saigon is an epic sung-through pop musical that is universal in its emotional power set amongst the turmoil of the Vietnam War.
Showbiz first staged the New Zealand premiere of Miss Saigon in 2009 to sold-out houses. New Zealand’s foremost directing duo Robertson and Marrett will come together again to bring Miss Saigon to new audiences.
Building on successful strategies developed in 2018 for increasing accessibility to Showbiz productions, the launch of the 2019 Saunders & Co Season on 30 November 2018 will see a new ticket pricing structure introduced which will double the availability of the lowest priced Showbiz tickets.
“Lowering ticket pricing where it counts most is a great way Showbiz, as a community theatre company, can help lower the barriers to audiences for our shows,” says General Manager Michael Bayly.
The two entry priced seating categories, B and C Reserve, have been merged together to create a new B Reserve but all at the lower C Reserve price. This has increased the number of the most affordable seats in the 2019 Showbiz Christchurch Saunders & Co season by almost 100%.
2018 Season Sponsors Saunders and Co are excited to continue to partner with Showbiz Christchurch and endorse these new initiatives. This partnership enables quality innovative productions to continue to be staged by Showbiz for local Cantabrian audiences at the Isaac Theatre Royal.
2019 Season discounts are available for all Premium and A Reserve seating purchased prior to 31 January 2019.
Les Misérables stands apart from its contemporaries as the musical that defines all others of its generation and this production would rank as the best of the three I have seen.
The audience knew it intimately, applauding pretty much every major song, rising to its feet for a final standing ovation.
On every level, this is a very strong production, from the excellent leading roles, through strong supports and ensemble cast, to a polished band and realistic costumes.
I loved the imposing set, with its effective use of downlights and spots, the backlit louvre shutters adding warmth but also looming shadows. The sewer scene was particularly eerie. Okay, there were a couple of missed mic cues, fluffed lyrics and slow changes but, overall, I’m sure Showbiz will be happy with this as a first night.
You haven’t got a show if Valjean and Javert aren’t top-notch and Daniel Belle (Jean Valjean) and James Foster (Javert) are simply superb.
Belle brings all the physicality and presence to the role, as well as a voice that has emotional depth across a wide range, Bring Him Home and its reprise being the epitome of his stamina and control.
Belle has that magnetism and intensity that made all his songs compelling. The acerbic complement to that was Foster’s truly icy Javert, becoming visibly more conflicted and tormented. Stars was magnificent and his death a remarkably convincing piece of theatre magic.
Comic relief was provided by the sleazy antics of Ben Freeth and Rebecca Malcolm as the Thénardiers (Master of the House), gleefully sordid and a definite crowd-pleaser, along with their gaudy and raucous “lovely ladies”.
Kira Josephson was a suitably fragile Fantine, delivering a heartfelt I Dreamed a Dream, while Monique Clementson (Eponine) was a real revelation, standing out as a real rough diamond with raw emotion and tenderness.
The unrequited love element in the love-triangle between her, Fergus Inder (Marius) and Jacqueline Doherty (Cosette) cut deep, Clementson and Inder working Eponine’s death scene perfectly.
Inder gave a moving account of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables but omitting the actual empty chairs and tables from the scene lessened the impact. I also felt that Doherty needed to be more prominent, being a bit understated at times, but she navigated In My Life skilfully.
As the brooding and hot-blooded Enjolras, Jack Fraser sang with passion and conviction as he amassed his men. Duncan Price was a cheeky Gavroche and Arawyn Allan-Griffiths and Isla Palmer did very well as the young Eponine and Cosette, Castle on a Cloud simply lovely.
If you love Les Mis, see it again – if you’ve never seen it, you won’t be disappointed.
The season continues until October 6 – it may be a while before Les Mis comes this way again, and when it does it would be going some to better this outstanding production.
If you already have your tickets for Showbiz Christchurch’s production of Les Misérables, then you are fortunate. If not, what are you thinking? Hurry while they are available. Les Mis, as it’s affectionately called, has run continuously in London since 1985 and toured globally. It is more than a musical, it’s a cultural phenomenon. Which it almost has no right to be.
Victor Hugo’s 1463 page epic (first published in 1862), spanning almost twenty years, depicts the struggles of the French poor against a brutal justice system, grinding poverty and prejudice. Hardly uplifting stuff. Add to that the doomed rebellion and the relentless hounding of noble pauper Jean Valjean by officer Javert and, on paper, it makes one wonder how the musical ever got off the ground.
But it works. It gets under your skin. The music is heart-stirring, the story grand and sweeping. There are characters to love, to hate, to pity and to laugh at. It has love, pain, despair, redemption, the whole roller coaster of human emotion condensed into two and a half hours. The musical is long, I admit, but the pace is unremitting, aided by a revolving stage that keeps the action ever flowing.
This is the story of Jean Valjean, a man released after 19 years hard labour for stealing bread, who reconstructs himself as a respectable town mayor and factory owner before inadvertently causing the downfall of the wretched Fantine. As atonement, he raises Fantine’s daughter Cosette as his own. Cosette falls in love with a young Revolutionary, whom Valjean protects for Cosette’s sake. Throughout it all Valjean is hunted by the morally inflexible policeman Javert.
Valjean carries the weight of the story on his shoulders and you need an incredible talent to carry the musical. Showbiz Christchurch has found that in Daniel Belle, a remarkably talented singer and performer. Belle brings a steady inner strength to his Valjean, a pride in his bearing throughout his journey from embittered convict to compassionate father. Belle’s singing is stunning, particularly in ‘Bring Him Home’, a song that rises to a breathtaking crescendo that has the audience whooping and cheering.
Javert is, by contrast, a man who doesn’t believe in redemption in this life. The law is black and white to Javert: only brutal justice can provoke good behaviour. It can be easy to slip into a wooden portrayal of this unyielding man, but James Foster plays Javert with personality and humanity. He is superb as Javert on the bridge, grappling with the knowledge that his world has utterly unravelled.
Fantine is the woman who is trying to support her daughter, broken down by an uncaring society, until, destitute and ill, she hits back. Saved from arrest by Valjean, she begs him to care for her Cosette. Kira Josephson plays a perfect Fantine. Her powerful, emotive voice holds the audience spellbound. Her eyes betray the unforgiving life she has suffered, her voice trembles with her pain.
Monique Clementson is a heartbreaking Eponine, the woman who hides her true feelings for Marius under a tomboyish mask. Her heartfelt rendition of ‘On My Own’ brings me to tears and the audience to a thunderous applause.
Jacqueline Doherty plays the adult Cosette for the naive sheltered girl she is. She and Fergus Inder’s idealistic and frankly oblivious student Marius make it believable that they could have fallen in love so quickly. Their courtship scene is played with great innocence against the brutality outside the gates, though I stifle a laugh when Marius seems to show superhuman strength by bending the iron bars as he squeezed through. Why not have made the gaps wider?
Ben Freeth and Rebecca Malcolm deserve special recognition for their portrayal of Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, a pair representing the more grotesque, grasping side of human nature. They bring an element of humour to a dark story without dipping too far into caricature.
Young locals Duncan Price and Isla Palmer are tonight’s Gavroche and Little Cosette. Both only nine years old, they have demanding roles yet seem to fill the stage with their presence: Palmer as the wide-eyed, sweet-voiced Cosette and Price as the brave and cheeky urchin Gavroche.
Without the stunning ensemble, Les Misérables is only a shell of a show. These dynamic performers clearly invest all of themselves into their characters, whether students, tavern-goers, prostitutes or prisoners. They fill the stage, each a unique presence, faces animated with emotion: a delight to watch. Their exceptional voices soar and are superbly complemented by the excellent live orchestra under the direction of Richard Marrett.
The costumes are impeccable. Diane Brodie QSM has outdone herself with the level of detail and professionalism that has gone into every piece, whether simple nightgown or military uniform. The lighting design is likewise excellent; moody and evocative, particularly in the sewer scene. I do find it too dark at times – some greater variation would take it from excellent to perfect.
As my companion and I walk out of the theatre – after a tumultuous applause and well deserved standing ovation – I hear someone behind me remark “What is it about this story that English-speakers love so much?” I would have to argue that it’s less the 19th Century Paris setting and more the eternal themes of striving against injustice, the idealism of youth, the plight of the poor and the redemptive power of love, combined with some of the most powerful and memorable songs ever written, that you can’t help but keep singing to yourself long after the show is over.
We know you have been wanting to know so here it is… the performance schedule for the actors playing young Cosette, Eponine and Gavroche in the 2018 Showbiz Christchurch Saunders & Co Season of Les Misèrables
Please note: Showbiz Christchurch reserves the right to amend this performance schedule should circumstances dictate a change.
Showbiz Christchurch has taken on their biggest challenge yet, bringing the epic Les Miserables to the Isaac Theatre Royal. Their bold move has paid off, according to self-proclaimed Les Miserables fan Georgia Kate Heard, who felt our local talent brought a Broadway standard performance to a Christchurch stage. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to “hear the people sing”!
Les Miserables is a musical that needs no introduction.
This couldn’t have been more evident than when the curtain lifted on The Isaac Theatre Royal stage revealing the iconic image of a man passionately waving the red flag of revolution, bathed in the colours of the French flag. That single image of a man, accompanied by the rousing, full bodied sound of a live orchestra, was a promise to the audience. A promise that the Les Miserables we know and love is going to be honoured, celebrated and given the professional treatment, that a musical of this magnitude deserves.
This stirring opening tableau was so instantly recognisable it felt like rushing to embrace a long lost and dearly loved relative. This iconic stage picture was enough to elicit spontaneous, excited audience cheers, before the show had really begun!
I have never experienced such tangible audience anticipation in a New Zealand theatre-going experience. In my time seeing musical theatre on Broadway, I regularly encountered impassioned American punters applauding as the curtain lifted on a popular musical. The Broadway crowd were often hooting and hollering for the celebrity that they were eagerly awaiting. As this more reserved Christchurch audience began cheering, it struck me that we too were eagerly anticipating a celebrity, the celebrity being the musical giant that is Les Miserables!
I will openly proclaim that Les Miserables is my favourite musical of all time. Therefore my expectations and demands on what I needed from this production were sky high. To my relief and astonishment Showbiz Christchurch more than delivered on their promise; they exceeded my highest expectations!
Showbiz Christchurch are going from strength to strength. Showbiz has become synonymous with world class musical theatre, right here in Christchurch. This epic tale of a Parisian revolutionary, reborn in musical form to become one of London’s longest running and most popular shows has been translated into 21 languages and toured 42 countries, and now the talented thespians and singers of Otautahi have transported the magic and passion to the Isaac Theatre Royal. The Showbiz team proved once and for all they are producing shows of an international standard.
Showbiz Christchurch’s Les Miserables is simply superb. The dynamic duo of Director Stephen Robertson and musical director Richard Marrett are as iconic in staging musical theatre as the popular musicals themselves. Robertson has directed Les Miserables three times for Showbiz Christchurch and this feels like the finely tuned, assured accomplishment of a man who lives and breathes musical theatre. The sound that Marrett achieves with both the orchestra and the performers is second to none. The orchestra sound like a perfectly choreographed dance, that is a show within itself. The sound achieved on stage, in particular the male chorus, is breathtaking. The powerful and passionate, sound of the male ensemble on more than one occasion literally made my bottom jaw drop, and there is no greater compliment from me.
In such a slick, polished production, where every element hit the right note, its incredibly hard to single out individual performances and accomplishments. But for me there were some standouts who cannot go unmentioned.
Ben Freeth initially felt like unusual casting for the role of Thenadier, the crooked and devilish inn keeper, or master of the house. However Ben completely won myself and the audience over, with his corrupt, contorted characterisation. I couldn’t take my eyes off his full body commitment to this character, where every fibre in Ben’s body, right down to his fingers were fizzing with the twisted energy of this watchable villain.
Kira Josephson’s moving portrayal of the smaller, but deeply memorable role of the devoted mother Fantine, is stunning. Kira’s performance of “I dreamed a Dream” completely embodied the overwhelming theme of suffering and sacrifice. If you didn’t feel something while watching her pour her heart into that part, I suggest you might be emotionally moribund!
Daniel Belle as the protagonist Valjean largely carries the weight of the show’s success on his back. Daniel is a gift to Christchurch audiences and his portrayal of this iconic character is not to be missed. What Daniel achieves with this hugely vocally demanding roll, is nothing short of a tour de force of singing! During Daniel’s delicate falsetto notes in the haunting melodies of “Bring Him Home”, you could have heard a pin drop.
Marius the romantic male lead, played by Fergus Inder was everything you crave from this role; tender, dreamy, every note nailed, emotionally rich and handsome to boot.
Jack Fraser as Enjolras packed a hugely powerful punch. Jack’s impeccable diction and clear vibrant tone cut through the smoke-haze filled air like vocal bullets.
James Foster (Javert) received a huge applause after every song, and deservedly so. His rich and centred tones were a steady, regimental metronome for the show. He played the role with sincerity and layers of depth that are often missed in this part.
I never like to single out favourites, but nine year old Duncan Price, all but stole the spotlight in his scenes, playing the cheeky, endearing Gavroche! I can guarantee that on this opening night, a star was born! Jack tread the boards of that stage with the confidence, courage and conviction of an experienced man, well beyond his years. I was completely blown away by Jack’s natural acting ability and comic timing. This young man is one to watch!
Allan Lees Oam’s set is a wonder to behold, and Grant Robertson’s atmospheric lighting, compliments it perfectly.
Les Miserables is a timeless tale, with classic themes of redemption, greed, betrayal, camaraderie, enduring love, and sacrifice. There is something for everyone in this show. It has no musical theatre fluff; all the fat has been trimmed and all that’s left is a piece of prime theatre to experience.
The opening night received a full standing ovation, with many, including myself and even the discerning elderly gentlemen in front of me, wiping away tears from their eyes.
“To love another person is to see the face of god”. I can’t think of a more relevant message, in any time, than love and acceptance of our fellow man. This show is a hugely impactful glimpse into the human experience and a glorious production that deserves no empty chairs!
Great drama never gets old
The 2018 Showbiz season comes to an epic conclusion in September with Les Misérables. Winner of over 100 international awards and seen by over 65 million people worldwide, Les Misérables is a grand and uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit. This modern classic is based on Victor Hugo’s novel and features one of the most memorable scores of all time proving that great drama never gets old.
Directed by Stephen Robertson, with musical direction by Richard Marrett, this is a new production of Alan Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Les Misérables. It will feature the set from the 2001 Showbiz production – including the famous revolve – all of which has undergone major refurbishment.
This will be Robertson’s third time directing a Showbiz production of ‘Les Mis’, and each time he manages to breathe new life, and reach new heights, with the show he has come to love and know so well.
“Les Mis is big and majestic and directed like musket shot to your heart” said Christchurch Star reviewer Barry Grant of the 2001 production. The 1994 production was no less spectacular and holds the record as the largest musical ever staged by Showbiz, with the season of 33,500 seats sold out before opening night. It is the third longest running musical performed in the history of the Isaac Theatre Royal behind the J.C. Williamson production of My Fair Lady in 1962 and the 1975 production of Jesus Christ Superstar starring Jon English.
In this new production Sydney born tenor Daniel Belle will be performing the principal role of Jean Valjean, the man at the heart of the story.
In nineteenth century France, Valjean is released from 19 years of unjust imprisonment and finds nothing in store for him but mistrust and mistreatment. He breaks his parole in the hope of starting a new life, initiating a lifelong struggle for redemption relentlessly pursued by police inspector Javert.
Belle has performed the role ‘hundreds of times’ in the Australian National production of Les Misérables, and in the Asian tour performing in Manila, Singapore and Dubai.
In June he performed at the Isaac Theatre Royal as part of the internationally acclaimed vocal group The Ten Tenors, which he joined in 2012 after completing studies at The Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the Australian Institute of Music. Performing in the Ten Tenors Double Platinum tour, Daniel has sung throughout Australia, Europe and The United States to critical acclaim.
Performing alongside Belle are seasoned Showbiz performers: James Foster (Javert), Kira Josephson (Fantine), Fergus Inder (Marius), Jacqueline Doherty (Cosette), Jack Fraser (Enjolras), Ben Freeth (Monsieur Thénardier) and Monique Clementson (Eponine). Making her Showbiz debut is Nelson performer Rebecca Malcolm in the role of Madame Thénardier.
98 children auditioned for the roles of young Cosette, young Eponine and Gavroche who will be played by five alternating performers.
Eight year old Duncan Price and 11 year old Ethan Carranceja (Southern Ballet) will perform in the role of Gavroche. Nine year old Lavinia Sutherland and eight year old Isla Palmer (Anna Lee School of Dance) will alternate the role of young Cosette. All are new Showbiz performers with previous performance training and/or experience. The role of young Eponine is currently still being cast.
The ensemble consists of: Mitchell Anderson, Samuel Baird, Katie Beer, Liam Braithwaite, William Burns, Sam Burt, Philippa Chilvers, Roz Ellis, Paul Fidow, Jack Hanrahan, Catherine Hay, Simon Heeringa, Anna Henderson, Bryony Jamison, Andrea Koorey, Jack Marshall, Tara Martin, Laurel Rose, James Shera, Claire Steel, Chris Symon, Lorraine Turner, Chris Walker, Matilda Wickbom & Elliot Wood.
The Saunders & Co Season
Showbiz Christchurch production of
Opens 14 September 2018
Isaac Theatre Royal
A musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg
Based on a novel by Victor Hugo
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
Original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel
Additional material by James Fenton
Adapted and originally directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird
Orchestrations by John Cameron
Original London Production by Cameron Mackintosh and The Royal Shakespeare Company
Licensed exclusively by Music Theatre International (Australasia) and Cameron Mackintosh Ltd.
All performance materials supplied by Hal Leonard Australia.
Tickets available online through Ticketek or by phoning: 0800 842 538
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.
“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 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.
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.
Reviewed by Matt Markham
Editor, Ashburton Guardian
As someone who has never cared much for the Wizard of Oz, the prospect of a stage show based entirely on the untold story of the witches of the same imaginary land left me feeling a little apprehensive.
The process of munchkins, men made from both tin and straw and an afraid lion all mixed in together with a girl in red slippers never really piqued my attention growing up and so I headed to the Isaac Theatre Royal on Saturday night for the second showing of Showbiz Christchurch’s latest production, Wicked with some strongly mixed emotions.
Knowing there was some incredibly talented Mid Canterbury faces in the cast had eased my apprehension somewhat and within two minutes of the curtain rising I found myself captivated, intrigued and sitting on the edge of my seat enjoying every moment.
The world-renowned show, that has been a hit across the globe for a decade now tells the untold story of an unlikely but profound friendship between two girls who first meet as sorcery students at Shiz University: the blonde and very popular Glinda and a misunderstood green girl named Elphaba.
Following an encounter with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, their friendship reaches a crossroads and their lives take very different paths. Glinda’s unflinching desire for popularity sees her seduced by power while Elphaba’s determination to remain true to herself, and to those around her, has unexpected and shocking consequences for her future.
Their extraordinary adventures in Oz sees them fulfil their destinies as Glinda The Good and the Wicked Witch of the West.
Nothing is left unturned here by a star-studded line up of directors and their staff, from the programmes sold at the front door, to the shoes worn by those on stage, everything beams professionalism and brilliance and the entire production team from the set design, choreography, costumes and music were fully deserving of every plaudit thrown their way.
As luck would have it, former Ashburton lass, and NASDA graduate Jane Leonard was on one of her alternate nights of filling the lead role of the green-skinned Elphaba, playing alongside Wellington’s Ellie Neal who fulfilled the role of Glinda.
The pair were, quite simply a match made in heaven. They bounced off each other with the right amount of enthusiasm and humility that you’d expect from such a high-end show and were the deserving shining lights of the night.
It is hard to imagine the show without these two playing their respective roles.
I sympathise with Leonard’s character somewhat, because I too am green. Green-eyed with envy at the incredible talent this former Ashburton girl possesses.
She commanded the stage, her presence unwavering and demanding and her vocal performance was nigh on perfect.
The show’s most well-known song, Defying Gravity is somewhat of a double-edged sword in the fact that it is such a tune that it’s hard not to enjoy, but equally as difficult vocally and requires some skill to perform.
Leonard’s effort, was quite simply put, perfection wrapped up in green and black. So much so there was the sense of a standing ovation as the curtain fell down on the first act with her powerful tones ringing through the ears of the packed house.
The ovation didn’t come then, but it did as she made her curtain call with the large Ashburton contingent in the crowd making sure that others there new just how proud they were of her effort.
Leonard wasn’t the only local on stage though.
The experienced Greta Casey-Solly made an appearance as an interestingly attired mid-wife and her own usual manner exuded confidence and power while young rising star Jack Hanrahan was a prominent figure in the ensemble showing up numerous times with his usual amount of flair and skill.
The only gripe I can muster, and it is a very minimal one, is that at times the abrupt loudness of the very brilliant band drowned out some soloists, and understand their lyrics became a little more difficult than it should have.
This was more an issue in the opening act and only for certain performers (not Leonard) but seemed to have been ironed out by the time the curtain rose again for the second act.
So, take it from this former Oz-Doubter, that Wicked is a show not to be missed.
At around $60 a ticket, it’s well worth the trip up the road for a night of good, quality entertainment and one I’ve got no hesitation in recommending to anyone.
If you’ve ever been to a Showbiz Christchurch performance and been blown away by the on-stage performance, you’re seeing just a small fraction of the local talent that culminates in an end product of this calibre.
The 80-year-old community theatrical society stages three productions each year. The Saunders & Co 2018 season commences at the Isaac Theatre Royal with Wicked from 6-21 April; followed by Broadway Hitmen, a concert of Cole Porter and Andrew Lloyd Webber hits, from 13-15 July; and is completed by Les Misérables opening on 14 September.
Up to 100 people can be involved behind the scenes in just one show, volunteers who put hundreds of unpaid hours into their roles.
In Wicked’s on stage performance, you will see two leads (played by four actors on alternate nights), six principal roles, 16 ensemble cast and 15 dancers, with 16 backing vocalists and 18 orchestral performers in the pit. Backstage however, 100 equally important parts make it all come together.
Vicki Morris-Williamson has been volunteering for Showbiz Christchurch for 19 years and is part of a team responsible for ensuring hats and costumes are made show ready and fit the brief of Director Stephen Robertson.
Successful Broadway shows like Wicked, complete national and international tours before the rights to stage them are given to community theatre groups. Showbiz Christchurch is the first in New Zealand to get these rights to stage Wicked.
“The Showbiz Christchurch performance is a whole new production,” Vicki says.
“Stephen creates the best shows he can and is completely invested in bringing something special to the stage. He visualises exactly what he wants down to the smallest detail. We then start with the bones of the costumes, adding and improving everything, making it our own unique show.”
Vicki is currently living in a sea of green, as she works diligently to overhaul hats that came from an international production and create new ones, for the Emerald City townsfolk in Wicked. Just about every member of the cast is on stage for this scene and every costume has a hat. That’s 35 hats, each representing Vicki’s work to realise Stephen’s vision for it.
Vicki wears many hats herself in the months that go into each performance. She is involved in costuming, pre-setting (planning set positioning), pack in (putting props up in the theatre), then the in-theatre rehearsals, before the run of shows.
“I warn my hubby heading into show season, that he won’t see me for three months,” she laughs. But working around a full-time job, it’s not an exaggeration.
It’s a family affair for her though. Vicki’s son James (then 12) joined her in her first production, in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Her daughter Jenna – a professional dancer from the New Zealand School of Dance – made her Showbiz Christchurch debut at 19 and will be performing in Wicked when it starts in April.