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.