“Wicked a show not to be missed” says Reviewer

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.



Disco-dancing nuns ‘will leave you dazed’

Star Theatre/Arts reviewer Georgia O’Connor-Harding

Diva fever has struck town. And what is there not to worship about disco-dancing nuns crossed with soulful toe-tapping beats bound to take you to cloud nine?

Go-go boots, disco balls and shimmering lights are in the house, as Showbiz Christchurch stages its groovy new production of Sister Act.

This show is a visual spectacle, and when those nuns get down to boogie in their sparkling get-ups under gleaming stages lights, it will leave you dazed – seriously, this show is bright.

But there is a heart-warming substance behind all those sparkles which stars a vocally powerful cast led by the bold Monique Clementson.

As many will know already, the story is set around a hopeful diva who finds herself in a convent as part of a witness protection programme after she accidentally sees her dangerous boyfriend kill a member of his crew.

Yet this tale will have you beaming from ear-to-ear as one line wonder, Deloris Van Cartier (Clementson), transforms a tone-deaf choir of nuns into a heavenly-sounding ensemble.

The nuns made the show, especially in large ensemble numbers Take Me to Heaven and Raise Your Voice.

The fact their dancing was ever so slightly out of sync at times was actually what made them compelling to watch. To me it emphasised real people learning the joys of dance and breaking away from everyday, conventional life.

A highlight is when Nickie Wellbourn, as the no-nonsense Sister Mary Lazarus, raps – no surprise that received a big applause.

The choreography was clever, especially the dynamic performance of When I Find My Baby, featuring gangsters and edgy dancers, Ella Wilson and Jenna Morris-Williamson, as hookers.

Clementson did a marvellous job of the Philadelphia accent, which was no easy feat.

While it sounded as though the microphones needed to be turned up slightly in the opening number, Clementson is a strong performer and her charismatic stage presence made it easy to see why she was chosen for the sassy role of Deloris.

You cannot forget the slick-moving sets, which add to the visual finesse of the show.

Glitzy night clubs transforming into beautiful neo-Gothic style churches portray the theme of the show beautifully and deserved to be applauded.

There is nothing like watching an unlikely friendship between a diva and a group of nuns blossom, and it was beautiful to watch the nuns put their lives on the line to save Deloris from murder.

But humour and happy tunes are the bread and butter of this upbeat show and will have audiences bopping all the way home.

Sister Act entertaining and engaging

Stuff Review by Tony Ryan 10:57, 11 September 2017

Although Sister Act is little more than undemanding candyfloss, Sara Brodie’s production for Showbiz Christchurch highlights its humanity and pathos so effectively that its gentle humour and uplifting vitality made it a night of truly delectable entertainment.

What could easily have been the all-too-usual big brash Broadway approach, emerged as entertaining, engaging and even, at times, genuinely moving. The show is superbly cast, from Monique Clementson’s impressively portrayed Deloris Van Cartier, to the consistently believable and focused performances of the entire ensemble.
Clementson’s transition from brazen gangster’s moll, to sisterly affinity with her cloistered companions, is effective and convincing, while never compromising the character’s essential audacity. And her accomplished singing demonstrates strength throughout a considerable range without ever becoming overbearing.

The chorus of nuns is, perhaps, the real star of Sister Act and Sara Brodie has encouraged each individual to develop a distinct personality. Much of the entertainment value of the show comes from the incongruity of nuns singing and dancing in disco style, and their two ensemble numbers which conclude Act 1 brought the curtain down to a well-deserved, vociferous audience response.

The added incongruity of gangsters singing and dancing contributes further comedy, which made the outstandingly performed Lady in the Long Black Dress (Chris Symon, Blair McHugh, Rychalo Thompson) a real highlight.

All the solo contributions were excellent with no weak link, but I must mention Nick Purdie’s (Curtis Jackson) singing of When I Find my Baby, which was the point at which the show (and consequently the audience) really came to life – imaginatively staged, and impressively sung. For me, this was also the musical highlight of Alan Menken’s score which, while consistently persuasive, otherwise lacks any other really memorable songs.

The sound was not always ideally balanced from my seat, and the instrumental accompaniment sounded rather synthetic at times, but, although Menken’s original songs certainly make the show an effective stage musical (unlike some Broadway adaptations of Hollywood), anyone familiar with the original 1992 movie might miss the great, regenerated popular standards that it featured.

Set (John Harding), costumes (Lesley Burkes Harding) and lighting (Grant Robertson) played a significant part in the show’s effectiveness with some creative visual effects that completed a highly enjoyable night of musical theatre.

Sister Act ‘near close to perfect’

by Tearaway Reviewer Aaron Dahmen

Sassy, stunning and beautiful – the final production of the 2017 Showbiz Christchurch season was near close to perfect.

Opening to an energetic crowd at the Isaac Theatre Royal, Sister Act – A Divine Musical Comedy had the audience in stitches from the off.

The story follows exploits of a 1970’s wannabe disco diva as she escapes from her gangster boyfriend. Having witnessed him commit a murder, she is put in protective custody in the one place the cops are sure she won’t be found: a convent.

Directed and choreographed by New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate Sara Brodie, with a gospel and disco soundtrack written by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken, this is a performance for the ages.

Using her unique disco moves and singing talent, diva Deloris inspires the nuns to create a contemporary choir, becoming an immediate hit with the community. Word of their success travels fast though and reaches her ex-boyfriend Curtis, who arrives with his gang to settle the score.

With pitch perfect renditions of the greatest Broadway hits, each song was met with an equally powerful audience response. Simply put: they loved it.

Sister Act ‘Sparkles With Infectious Energy’

Theatreview reviewer Grant Hindin Miller

Deloris Van Cartier, a black Philadelphian night-club singer, auditions for Curtis, her gangster boyfriend – she wants to sing in his club. After the audition she happens upon Curtis shooting and killing a ‘squealer’. Terrified, she runs to the Police (an old high-school friend) to report the murder. Agreeing to take the stand against Curtis, the Police ‘hide’ her (‘incognegro’) in a Convent: the one place Curtis and his thugs won’t look.

This is a ‘fish out of water’ tale – a streetwise Filly girl in a Convent so moribund it’s about to be sold to developers. Deloris is forced into a habit and has to drop a few ‘habits’ along the way. Adjustments need to be made by both sides but, given our newcomer’s pushy personality, mostly by the nuns and their stuffy Mother Superior. Because of her musical prowess Deloris, renamed Sister Mary Clarence, helps out with the choir. With her injection of new swing and ‘boogie’, which the nuns imbibe like fish gasping for oxygen, the church attracts new patrons. Monsignor O’Hara knows a good thing when he sees one and invites the Pope to their new revivalist home.

Gangster Curtis and his boys, however, are always in the background and the inevitable showdown looms.

This is slick, colourful, polished entertainment with evocative backdrops, brilliant live musical accompaniments, attractive choreography, dazzling costumes, and topped off by committed performances from a gigantic cast. With Sister Act, Showbiz Christchurch triumphs once more with a full razzamatazz theatrical extravaganza.

You hope for a show where everyone is doing their best and here it is. Not surprisingly every member of the cast deserves the thunderous applause which, on opening night, extends to a number of curtain-calls.

Monique Clementson, as Deloris, owns the demanding lead role. How she sleeps after the adrenaline of that performance, or how she wakes, doesn’t bear thinking. Once she hits that stage she leaves nothing behind – she brings swagger, comedy, high energy, a commanding stage presence, powerful singing, a changing emotional barometer, and she wins us all over.

There are so many stand-out performers: Sarah Greenwood Buchanan as Mother Superior, Hannah Falconer as Sister Mary Robert, Kate Taylor as Sister Mary Patrick, Ian Lester as Monsignor O’Hara, and Matt McMenamin as Eddie, the sympathetic policeman. And all these actors can really sing! The audience adores the song by the three heavies: Blair McHugh, Rychalo Thompson, and Chris Symon. On all fronts the singing is powerful, confident, and the choir rousing – at times even ‘heavenly’.

Matthew Everingham has done a perfect job as Musical Director. The band is tight, the accompaniments hit the right spot and the players sound like they love what they’re doing which is exactly what you want. The music, with its delicious echoes of cheesy disco and Pink Panther themes, is absolutely fabulous. I note that Matthew tutors at NASDA and that Monique Clementson and Matt McMenamin graduated from NASDA (as did and many others on stage). NASDA is creating a rich theatrical provenance for Christchurch and Showbiz Christchurch is to be applauded for recognising and showcasing that talent.

With a few deep bellied chuckles, the story pokes fun at fusty religious tradition – even the Pope makes a gleaming-white rockstar appearance. It may be a man’s world but you can be assured that sisterhood will win in the end.

Sister Act sparkles with infectious energy and body rocking music. The storyline will warm the cockles of your heart and the staging and artistic commitment of every player is a better tonic than vitamins. This is a glam show that shouldn’t be missed. A great night of musical theatre.

Sister Act is ‘fabulous, baby’

By Backstage Reviewer Kate Divett

“Clementson offers sass, vulnerability and humour to create a character the audience connects with. Her vocals are rich, soulful and powerful.”

Other performances are solid and in safe hands. Sarah Greenwood Buchanan is outstanding as the Mother Superior, her song Haven’t Got A Prayer is marvellous. Nick Purdie (Curtis Jackson) offers his smooth voice to the truly vile gangster role.  Chris Symon (TJ) holds back his stunning voice to provide terrific comic relief, and is joined by fellow ‘thugs’ Blair McHugh (Joey) and Rychalo Thompson (Pablo) to woo the nuns in Lady in the Long Black Dress. Matthew McMenamin (Eddie Souther) is well cast as the nice guy who gets the girl in the end. Ian Lester (Monsignor O’Hara) is at his best when in full-blown preacher-mode.

“And then there are the nuns. A terrific gathering of incredibly talented women.”

“…. the sum of this production’s various parts is entertaining and leaves you with a sense that you’ve just been through a disco workout. Sister Act is indeed a fun way to end the Showbiz Christchurch season.”


Reviews: An Evening of Rodgers & Hammerstein Classics

Audience wowed by an Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics
By What’s Up Reviewer Jenny Sew Hoy Agnew

One of the advantages a local production has over an international touring show is the partisan audience of family and friends of the performers.

Showbiz’s audience for An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics was no different.

Richard Rodgers’ familiar music, coupled with Oscar Hammerstein’s witty lyrics, was presented delightfully and wowed the crowd.

All around me I could hear snatches of words or humming of the tunes.

My companion had to nudge me at times to shut me up!

These songs were definitely the best from the Golden Age of musical theatre.

The addition of the entire NASDA student body gave a youthful aspect to the established Showbiz chorus and swelled the numbers to 120.

To be able to provide solo spots to individuals from this chorus is a wonderful example of the talent we were so lucky to hear.

Jane Leonard showed again both her acting and her singing abilities, especially in “Mr Snow” from Carousel. Nigel Withington wrung good advice from “Climb every mountain”, usually Mother Abbess’s solo in The Sound of Music.

Nick Hollamby joined Jane Leonard to exhort each other not to show their partiality, worrying that “People will say we’re in love”, from Oklahoma!

Not every song was rip-roaring and pacey like the finale. The tragic “We kiss in a shadow” from The King and I, was a truly moving duet by Celine Rosa Tan and Nigel Withington.

It was a pleasure to be able to hear the words of the lyrics.

The soloists’ clear diction enabled us to appreciate the stories told by the songs.

The always splendid Richard Marrett energetically conducted the 30 piece Broadway-style orchestra.

The CSO was acknowledged for its fine contribution to the evening.

The percussionists always seemed on the move.

How fortunate Christchurch is to have musicians of such calibre!

See original review

Star Review: Classic songs come to life onstage
By Star.kiwi reporter

So many performances these days seem to be getting bigger, flashier, more colourful, more dramatic, more incredible.

If that’s what your after, The Showbiz Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics would not be for you.

Yet there is something magical about going back to the simplicity of music.

And this was music beautifully presented and flawlessly performed, with a full orchestra, incredible soloists and a chorus of 120 voices.

It was an old fashioned style performance – the full orchestra dominated the stage, conductor front and centre in immaculately shined shoes. The chorus stood in rows, 120 white faces, while the soloists came and went in suit jackets and fairytale gowns.

The soloists were incredible, each bringing strong voices and powerful performances.

Read full review

Backstage: Review – An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein
By Kate Divett

“As hokey pokey is to icecream, the performance is a smorgasbord of hits from the Golden Age of musical theatre – the best songs from the great musicals that paved the way for the shows of today. The affect of this is much like eating all the hokey-pokey bits in one go – everything is the best, which is definitely a guilty pleasure and perhaps a little overwhelming.”

“Richard Marrett’s assembly of a 120-strong chorus provided the grunt and depth of sound that is often not possible in smaller stage productions, which was a delight whenever their curtain was lifted. Highlights included a rollicking and intricately arranged Do-Re-Mi, and the men sounded magnificent in There is Nothing Like a Dame. It was marvellous to have the orchestra join the vocal performers on stage, which allowed us to collectively appreciate their work and talent during instrumental interludes.”

“All in all, An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics is everything it should be – a retrospective savouring of musically and lyrically decadent show-tunes, brought back to life in a way that ends up being both sickly-sweet and yet delightfully indulgent. A guilty pleasure indeed.”

> Read full review

Reviews: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Christchurch talent coup in entertaining ‘Desert Queen’ fabulousness

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

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

Priscilla shakes her groove thang

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read full review: Backstage Christchurch review by Margaret Agnew

A stunning array of costumes that just keep on coming

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

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

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

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

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

Read full review: The Press review by Charlie Gates

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

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

Read full review: Theatreview by Erin Harrington

Evita: Engaging, Accessible, Dazzling

Evita: 15 Sept 15 – 1 Oct 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Grant Hindin Miller, Theatreview, 16 September 2016

Evita Review: The Press

Evita: 15 Sept 15 – 1 Oct 2016

Evita: 15 Sept 15 – 1 Oct 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Christopher Moore, The Press, 16 September 2016

Hairspray Review: Gloriously uplifting, crispy paced and bright musical

Hairspray: 8-18 June 2016



This gloriously uplifting, crisply paced and bright musical is a triumph that bounces with vim and energy.

Christchurch theatre company Showbiz’s production of hit Broadway musical Hairspray is sweet without being sickly and righteous without being worthy.

The show, adapted from the 1988 John Waters film, is set in early 1960s Baltimore and tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a young woman with dreams of appearing on the local television pop programme The Corny Collins Show. When she is rejected for not fitting in with the channel’s “white bread” conformist image, she is introduced to her city’s African American community and starts a campaign to racially integrate The Corny Collins Show.

This is Showbiz’s fourth major production since its return in April last year from an earthquake-induced hiatus. And it is their best show since the comeback.

Hairspray is a brightly coloured confection that pulls in songs inspired by Phil Spector’s early 1960s bubble gum pop, rhythm and blues, Motown and even a bit of Elvis Presley. The vocal performances are clear and powerful, with layered harmonies that lift the songs to an exhilarating level.

he production design also draws on kitsch 1950s stylings, with the jaunty angles and candy coloured sets feeling like something out of a Friz Freleng or Ren and Stimpy cartoon. The vibrant and gloriously sequinned costumes also keep this spirit alive.

But these retro references never descend into fusty nostalgia, the whole show has a bright, optimistic and contemporary energy.

This production also enjoys a very strong cast, with standout performances from Antony Saywell, cross-dressing as formidable mother figure Edna Turnblad, Lucy Porter in the lead role of her daughter Tracy Turnblad, Ailis Oliver-Kerby as her geeky friend Penny Pingleton and Lou Days as the big-voiced diva Motormouth Maybelle.

Hairspray pulls off the difficult feat of incorporating film director John Waters’ camp, kitsch and outsider aesthetic into a bright and bouncy Broadway musical. And it pulls it off with energising vigour, deftly linking a coming-of-age story with the broader national narrative of the civil rights movement in 1960s America.

If this is what a reborn Showbiz can achieve after just a year back on its feet, I look forward to what it will achieve in the future.

Review by Charlie Gates, The Press, 9 June 2016