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.
Craig Given has never had the desire to soak up the spotlight and perform on stage.
Instead you will find the percussionist hidden away in the dark orchestra pit of a theatre juggling a spectrum of quirky instruments.
“We have got to blend into the background, we have to be invisible, which is quite impossible when you are waving you arms all over the place,” he said.
Next month, Given, 39, will take on what is both a percussionist’s dream and nightmare, playing nearly 60 instruments in Wicked, Showbiz Christchurch’s first production of the year.
Wicked is one of the largest grossing musicals in Broadway history and tells the back story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Although Given has been playing percussion for Showbiz for more than 20 years, he said Wicked is one of the highlights of his musical career.
“There is so much diversity in the music . . . it ebbs and flows. There is African influences, orchestral and jazz – all sorts of different stylistic pieces,” he said. Finding the instruments required to create the thematic music has been as much of a challenge as playing it.
For many of the instruments, Given has either had to track them down from overseas or build them himself.
“I have had to make a few instruments; there is one called a bird-flapper, which is sections of balsa wood glued together which represents the sounds of birds flapping,” he said.
Other unique instruments which did not exist or had to be tracked down overseas included a bell plate, trine, talking drum, nut-shaker and wand.
Given said some of the music ranges from very earthy to high, sparkly sounds.
One of the strangest instruments used to represent a character in the show is the waterphone, which is often used in horror films.
“It is a bizarre instrument – you have probably heard nothing else like it,” Given said.
He has been looking for the instruments and preparing for the show since December.
Given said while living in New Zealand means performers are exposed to a bunch of shows, it is also difficult because the country is isolated.
“I’ve talked to guys overseas in Broadway and doing productions in America and got a lot of photos and videos from them to help research and fabricate the instruments,” he said.
As for playing the music, Given said the most difficult part is the choreography of getting from one instrument to the next.
“If you have a moment of inattention, you will get yourself into all sorts of trouble,” he said.
Given said he is looking forward to passing his knowledge about the instruments onto other percussionists as the show is performed by companies around New Zealand.
We know you have been wanting to know so here it is… the Wicked Leads’ performance schedule.
Heather Lee Wilcock (Elphaba) & Rebekah Head (Galinda)
- Friday, 6 April, 7.30pm
- Sunday, 8 April, 4.00pm
- Wednesday, 11 April, 7.30pm
- Friday, 13 April, 7.30pm
- Saturday, 14 April, 7.30pm
- Tuesday, 17 April, 7.30pm
- Thursday, 19 April, 7.30pm
- Saturday, 21 April, 2.00pm
Jane Leonard (Elphaba) & Ellie Neal (Galinda)
- Saturday, 7 April, 7.30pm
- Tuesday, 10 April, 7.30pm
- Thursday, 12 April, 7.30pm
- Saturday, 14 April, 2.00pm
- Sunday, 15 April, 4.00pm
- Wednesday, 18 April, 7.30pm
- Friday, 20 April, 7.30pm
- Saturday, 21 April, 7.30pm
Please note: Showbiz Christchurch reserves the right to amend the Leads’ performance schedule should circumstances dictate a change.
There is no more exciting way for one of Christchurch’s oldest musical theatre societies to commence its 80th year than by staging one of the most popular Broadway shows of all time. Showbiz Christchurch commences The Saunders & Co 2018 season at the Isaac Theatre Royal on 6 April with the New Zealand theatre company premiere of Wicked.
“Every time we ask our patrons which shows they would like to see, Wicked always comes out on top,” says Showbiz Christchurch General Manager, Michael Bayly.
Wicked tells the untold story of an unlikely but profound friendship between two witches who first meet as sorcery students at Shiz University: the blonde and popular Glinda, originally played by Kristen Chenowith, and a misunderstood green girl named Elphaba, played by Idina Menzel in the Broadway Production.
Showbiz auditions for the lead roles began in September, with full company auditions following in October. “They proved to be extremely popular,” says Bayly, attracting over 163 performers from throughout Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland, as well as performers based in Melbourne and London.
Competition was intense for the coveted roles of Elphaba and Glinda. “Due to the demands of these lead roles, the audition panel selected two performers for each,” Bayly said. “It is with great pleasure we can now announce that Elphaba will be played on alternate performances by Jane Leonard and Heather Lee Wilcock, and Glinda will be played by Rebekah Head and Ellie Neal.
Christchurch based performer Jane Leonard is already a favourite with Showbiz audiences. She played Meg Giry in The Phantom of the Opera (2015); the mistress in Evita (2016); a diva in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and a featured soloist in An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics (2017).
“When I received the phone call telling me I had landed the role of Elphaba I had just woken up, so it was very much a case of ‘pinch me, I think I’m still dreaming’,” explains Leonard. “Elphaba is one of those roles that in a beautiful way confirms and solidifies your abilities and hard work as an actor, and for that I am grateful.”
Heather Lee Wilcock is an Auckland based performer and who won the NAPTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her portrayal of Tracy Turnblad in the North Shore Music Theatre production of Hairspray. Wilcock has twice played the lead role in Evita.
Another performer figuratively pinching herself is Ellie Neal, who saw the touring Australian production in 2013 and has dreamed of performing one of the lead roles ever since.
Neal is a graduate of Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School and the Lee Strasberg Film and Theatre Institute. She played the lead in The Court Theatre’s 2016 production of Legally Blonde and runs her own theatre company, Vision Theatre NZ in Wellington. Wicked will also be her first production with Showbiz.
Now based in Auckland, former Christchurch performer Rebekah Head will also play Glinda. Since graduating from NASDA in 2014, Head has been busy performing throughout New Zealand with NZ Playhouse, Whoa! Studio, Auckland Fringe and The Court Theatre. Wicked will be her first production for Showbiz.
Head sums up her delight at landing the role of Glinda by quoting a song from the show: “I couldn’t be happier!” She adds “I’m also super excited to be playing a role that was originated by an actress who is under five feet, just like me.”
The Showbiz production will be directed by New Zealand musical theatre heavyweights Stephen Robertson and Richard Marrett, and choreographed by Robertson and Glen Harris.
The remaining principal roles, ensemble, dancers and backing vocalists will be announced on Tuesday 7th November.