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.”
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.
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.
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.
The late seventies were a time of iconic energy that refused to be contained – John Travolta brought a new level of style to the white flared disco suit while Diana Ross’ retro wardrobe choices set the tone for the era.
The seventies represented a vibrant era of psychedelic colours, bellbottoms, Donna Summer hairstyles, liberation and love; culture at its boldest and brightest.
As an inspiring tribute to these iconic times, Showbiz Christchurch is hosting a ‘70s Night on 22 September to coincide with its highly anticipated season of Sister Act, which is set in 1977.
The show tells the story of wannabe disco diva Deloris Van Cartier, on the run from her gangster boyfriend. She hides in the one place the cops are sure she won’t be a found: a convent!
Disguised as a nun, she finds herself at odds with both the rigid lifestyle and the uptight Mother Superior. Using her unique disco talents, Deloris inspires the nuns to create a contemporary choir, and they become the hit of the community.
Word of their success reaches her ex-boyfriend, who tracks her down to the convent. A battle ensues between the mob and Deloris’s newly found sisterhood of feisty nuns.
Filled with powerful gospel music, outrageous dancing and a truly moving story, Sister Act is a sparkling tribute to the universal power of friendship.
Seventies lovers are invited to dress up in their favourite outfit that pays homage to this era and come along to see the show (standard ticket prices apply). The night will be themed with a ‘70s disco vibe, spot prizes and a grand prize of luxury Christchurch hotel accommodation and 2 x Premium Tickets for the first Showbiz show of 2018 for the best costume are up for grabs.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert rolls into town on 24 March for what will be the first production in Showbiz Christchurch’s 2017 season.
Utilising over 700 costumes, wigs and headdresses from the UK touring show, Showbiz’s production will be the first New Zealand theatre company staging of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – The Musical. The show opens at the Isaac Theatre Royal on 24 March until 8 April.
Translating the iconic movie to a stage musical setting required significant changes by the authors of the film, Stephen Elliot and Allan Scott, and the musical’s writer and first director, Simon Phillips. The musical has evolved considerably since the first production left Australia eight years ago, there are now several stage versions, all different yet all preserving the audience focus on the show’s three unique characters and their personal and physical journey. The show’s enormous success has seen versions staged from South Korea to Sao Paulo and in just about every language including French, Portuguese, Spanish, Greek and Swedish. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is without doubt Australia’s most successful theatrical export.
The Showbiz version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert directed by Stephen Robertson will be a new interpretation of the show using the costumes and script that recently toured the UK and was last staged in Auckland.
The title role of Priscilla is not played by an actor but is instead a bus which is being built in Christchurch by Scenic Solutions – along with a myriad of other set pieces designed by Harold Moot, including a nightclub, a casino and two outback pubs. Priscilla is set to be a visual feast on stage, with another Christchurch business, Lightsite, designing the lighting effects which will transport the audience from an inner city Sydney flat into the wide open spaces of the Australian outback.
Robertson has cast Cameron Douglas in the principal role of transsexual Bernadette, the oldest in the trio. Douglas has enjoyed a busy career since graduating NASDA in 2002, including performing in over 20 musicals and as the lead singer and guitarist in NZ’s premiere skiffle rock and roll band, The Goldonies.
The two other lead roles will feature Isaac Pawson (Tick/Mitzi) and Tom Worthington (Adam/Felicia), both graduates of the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA) who are carving out careers in musical theatre.
Providing many of the pumping disco hits that Priscilla has become synonymous for are the three flying Divas: Emily Burns, Naomi Ferguson and Jane Leonard accompanied by a rocking live band lead by New Zealand’s leading musical theatre maestro, Richard Marrett.
Also joining the cast at the end of February will be Auckland actor Melinda Joe who will play Cynthia, a woman with some unique talents!
Garry McQuinn of RGM Productions, the shows lead producer, is immensely proud of this version of Priscilla which will be staged by Showbiz. “The show is in better shape in every way – including dramaturgically, scale, production-wise, book and music – than the version we took from Sydney in 2008,” says McQuinn. “It’s a production I’m proud of in every respect.”
At the heart of the story is a message of tolerance, diversity and anti-bigotry. Its producers are committed to seeing the bus journey continue for as long as possible – not only on the world’s largest stages but in regional theatres as well. “I am really delighted that Christchurch will host the first season of the show produced by a New Zealand theatre company,” says Showbiz Christchurch President, Di Brodie.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
24 March – 8th April 2017
The Showbiz Christchurch season will be the NZ Theatre company premiere of this mega musical. A brand new bus is being built in Christchurch, and a spectacular array of 500 costumes, and 200 headdresses has been sourced from an international production to make this an incredibly spectacular musical.
Director/Choreographer: Stephen Robertson
Musical Director: Richard Marrett
March 24th – 8 April 2017
Isaac Theatre Royal
Intensive music/production rehearsals from late January 2017
Audition Dates and Details:
Vocal auditions: Sunday 4 Dec, 10.30am-4 pm
- Cast size –19/ 20 on stage performers
- 1 x Male lead 40s/ 50s strong singer/ mover – lean build
- 1 x Male lead 20’s / 30s strong singer/ mover – lean build
- 1 x Male lead early/ mid 20s strong singer/ mover – good looking, athletic build
- 1 x Male lead 40s/ 50s character actor/ singer
- 3 x Female supporting leads – Very strong singers, Pop Diva style, good movers 18 – 35.
- 2 x Female supporting roles – 30s
- Male ensemble/ Cameo’s– Strong movers – athletic/ lean builds, with singing ability. Age 16 – 30
Please note that this show has no female dancer/ singer ensemble.
All auditions will be held at Showbiz Studios – 369 St Asaph Street
Please park on the street as there is limited off street parking.
Contact Showbiz Christchurch for audition bookings and enquiries on (03) 377 7954
between 9am-3pm, Mon-Thu.