Design work is underway for the new central city home of The Court Theatre, signalling welcome progress for an anchor project outlined in the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan.
Local Athfield Architects have been chosen by Christchurch City Council and The Court Theatre to undertake the project and have revealed they’ll be consulting with UK-based Haworth Tompkins which specialises in theatre design.
The new theatre will occupy the site on the corner of Gloucester and Colombo Streets – opposite both Tūranga library and Te Pae convention centre.
The theatre will form a part of the performing arts precinct outlined in the recovery plan, along with the Isaac Theatre Royal, the Town Hall, and The Piano event facility.
The building is expected to house a 360-seat auditorium, a 150 seat black box theatre, two rehearsal rooms, one or two education suites, administration, and excellent hospitality through its bars, coffee shop and eating areas.
Court Theatre Chief Executive Barbara George says the new theatre will provide facilities for local and touring performance artists and musicians, “and will play a critical role in attracting people to the city centre, generating economic activity and investment”.
The Court Theatre is New Zealand’s largest professional theatre company, and has been operating from an old grain storehouse in Addington since the 2011 earthquakes ended its tenure at the Christchurch Arts Centre
Construction is expected to commence on or before June 2021, with completion expected by late 2023.
Showbiz Christchurch is set to raise the curtain on its first show for 2020, a stunning new production of the stage show described as the “musical of all musicals” My Fair Lady.
Based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, My Fair Lady is that rare musical by which all others are measured.
Pompous linguistics professor Henry Higgins wagers he can transform Eliza Doolittle (played originally by Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn), a street-smart girl from the East End gutters, into a proper Edwardian society lady.
But as audiences get to meet the feisty, independent and entrepreneurial Eliza, the question becomes ‘who is really undergoing the transformation here?’
My Fair Lady is set in 1912, and as Marketing Manager Wendy Riley explains, it was a time of massive social and class upheaval in England.
“There was the first national coal mining strike that year, followed by strikes from the dockworkers and tailors. Scabs were taking work from families already impoverished by the strikes, while many of the upper and lower classes, keen to get away from it all, boarded the Titanic for her maiden voyage to New York.”
It was also a time of change for women.
The Suffragettes were throwing themselves before carriages and chaining themselves to railings, determined to cast off the shackles of post-Victorianism and its attitude towards women.
When thinking of a young woman such as Eliza Doolittle trying to forge a life for herself in those somewhat turbulent times, it’s easy to understand why she was determined to have her own flower shop and thereby move out of lower-class squalor.
It also explains why Eliza’s story has been retold so many times in films like Pretty Woman, Educating Rita, Weird Science, Mannequin, She’s All That, and even crossing into Science Fiction in the 2014 film Ex Machina. Eliza’s story is timeless.
Christchurch-based, international performer Kira Josephson (Wicked, Les Misérables) has always dreamed of playing Eliza, a show she knew as a child growing up in Laguna Beach, California.
Kira feels the show has strong relevance to today’s young people because of its emphasis on class distinctions and education.
Higgins gives Eliza the tools to improve herself and her situation.
Eliza uses education to find herself. “It’s really a story about carving your own way – not being judged, not being taken at face value, but figuring out the tools for you to get people to understand who you are. The show isn’t about Eliza changing – she’s the same person – but what’s beautiful about it is that, by the end, it’s Higgins we see change, but it’s too little, too late.”
Working with musical director Richard Marrett has been a brilliant experience for Kira.
“His ear is incredible – not like anybody else’s. The score is amazing – it’s lush and wonderful. They just don’t write harmonies like that anymore. We have a huge ensemble and, already, everyone sounds just fabulous.”
Directed by Stephen Robertson, the principal cast of My Fair Lady features Roy Snow (Shortland Street, Outrageous Fortune, Go Girls) as Henry Higgins, Peter Hind as Colonel Pickering, and James Foster and Ian Lester as Freddy Eynsford-Hill and Alfred Doolittle respectively.
Newly appointed General Manager of Showbiz Christchurch, Paul Christ, says it is an honour to revive a show of such notable and critical success.
“My Fair Lady has stood the test of time. Its original productions broke all previous sales records and set the standard by which future musicals are modelled.”
Catch My Fair Lady from 3 to 18 April at the Isaac Theatre Royal.
To find out how to go in the draw for a sumptuous high tea for two at Crowne Plaza Christchurch and tickets for My Fair Lady, turn to page 58.
It was always in his mind to cast an actress as young as possible in the role of Juliet because Shakespeare’s Juliet, of Romeo and Juliet, was a 13-year-old girl. Derek Doddington, Founder and Director of Top Dog Theatre, stands firmly by his ground-breaking decision. “With casting such a young cast, I’ll either fall on my sword or it will be the biggest triumph,” Derek says, with an irrepressible twinkle in his eye.
** Metropol has two double passes to give away. To enter, head to our Facebook page and follow the instructions. Competition will be drawn on Tuesday 11 February.**
Thirteen-year-old Grace Opie, who plays Juliet in Top Dog’s Summer Shakespeare Festival, confesses she’s a bit obsessed with Shakespeare and has loved Romeo and Juliet “for ages”.
Grace studied the play last year at her school, Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery and feels she has come into the show with a pretty good understanding of the story.
“But speaking the lines is very different to reading them and studying the context of the play.”
Grace says the portraying of Romeo and Juliet as the Bard of Avon intended them to be, makes the show feel a lot more realistic, as many of the decisions they make are impulsive and don’t end well.
“It also explains how they fell in love almost immediately and how strong their emotions became that eventually led them to making decisions without much thought.”
Grace has attended Original Scripts Theatre School since the age of six and says she has had great experiences there and with other theatre companies.
Summer Shakespeare is her first experience of outdoor theatre and it’s been a positive one.
“I’ve really enjoyed rehearsing outside at Mona Vale. I’ve loved the process and people, seeing everything come together and working with such an experienced team as Top Dog. Everyone has been really nice and supportive.”
Grace says she loves to perform and would like to explore as many different genres as she can in the future. “But definitely more Shakespeare!”
Romeo is played by 17-year-old Rhys Murdoch and Mercutio by 18-year-old Felix Elliott, completing the teen cast of lead roles that Derek had long envisioned.
“I’ve seen performances where the actress playing Juliet’s obviously too old – I recall one where they gave her a doll to make her look 13!”
Derek has switched the gender of a few characters in the play in order to keep a good balance of male and female actors on stage – hence there’s now a Mother Superior and Benvolia instead of Friar Laurence and Benvolio.
The original music score is composed by Harry Lawrence, and the wardrobe department is under the expert hands of Caitlin Maclennan and Polly Mortimer.
“There’s rich comedy, beautiful live music, singing and dancing, and our costume people have done a brilliant job,” Derek says, “Romeo and Juliet is the ultimate love story. Pack a picnic, bring your deck-chairs, sit back and just enjoy being part of it all.”
Romeo and Juliet is showing from Wednesday 12 February to Saturday 22 February at The Mound Lawn, Mona Vale, 6pm nightly and 2pm Saturday matinees.
He’s lived and breathed musical theatre for most of his working life. But for Paul Christ, the opportunity to come to Christchurch and take the reins of our local operatic society was a dream come true.
What drew you to the General Manager role with Showbiz Christchurch?
I have spent a huge amount of my life in musical theatre; you could say it’s in my DNA!
I’ve always felt at home in Christchurch and I’m really excited by the city’s rebuild, so when the opportunity arose to become a part of the musical theatre community at Showbiz Christchurch, I grabbed it with both hands.
Can you tell us about your background in musical theatre?
I first became involved in music as a conductor in the classical symphonic world.
My first professional musical was actually My Fair Lady (the first show of the 2020 Saunders & Co Season playing from 3-18 April) and for 15 years I was Musical Director and Supervisor for numerous West End shows, including Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, The Phantom of the Opera, The Producers and Mary Poppins.
I was the Musical Director for Elaine Paige in The King & I at the London Palladium, and Disney’s worldwide Musical Supervisor for the Broadway production of Disney’s Beauty & The Beast, before moving to Vienna to work.
What are you looking forward to the most going forward?
I’ve been very fortunate to travel throughout my career and see what musicals are being produced around the world, so I’m incredibly excited about what could be coming our way!
There are some exceptional shows coming out of Broadway and the West End; we’re in talks to bring that excitement to Christchurch and make more world-class theatre, utilising world-class local talent.
How exciting is the 2020 Showbiz Christchurch line-up?
It’s really exciting! These are exceptional shows and each one has some personal connection.
My Fair Lady set a Broadway record when it opened in 1956 and its revivals have all been huge hits.
Chess in Concert in association with the CSO (19-21 June), is re-visiting the work of the ABBA boys, with international hits like I Know Him So Well and One Night in Bangkok.
Buddy Holly had so many number one hits that anyone can come to Buddy (11-26 September) and have a sing along and a good time, which is a theme of all the shows – everyone can enjoy them.
It’s a fantastical lead up to Christmas as the curtain rises on The Court Theatre’s spectacular summer season of The Wind in the Willows, which was last performed there in 1995.
Director Ross Gumbley says audiences can expect thrilling theatrical magic, whether they’ve seen the show before or not.
“Our approach is not to try and recreate something from the past, but how we can best tell this story now and really keep the core of The Wind in the Willows,” explains Gumbley of the exciting new concept.
“Our idea is that the animals in the story have found this old abandoned theatre and they’re putting on the play!”
Costume Designer Stephen Robertson describes it as a period piece with a twist. “From a costume point of view, it’s really big.
There’s probably going to be 150 costumes – and each costume has about six to nine pieces!”
Audiences will love the onstage antics of 22 stars, costumed as rabbits, squirrels and other woodland creatures getting up to all kinds of theatrical mayhem.
The main cast includes Cameron Rhodes as Toad; Eilish Moran as Mole; Gregory Cooper as Ratty; Tom Trevella as Badger and Andrew Todd as Albert.
“It’s wonderful for families, but it’s not purely a kid’s show,” Robertson says, “The Wind in the Willows is one of those timeless pieces like Mary Poppins – it’ll always be with us.”
The Wind in the Willows is playing at The Court Theatre from 23 November.
Local Year 13 student Sarah Lawrence will be heading to London to tread the boards at the famous London Globe theatre next year.
One of four students from Christchurch (two are from Cashmere High and one from Catholic Cathedral College), she will be joining 24 of the most talented young actors from around the country, as members of the Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand Young Shakespeare Company.
During their two weeks in London, they will watch professional performances and also have 12 rehearsals, taken by a Globe director, of scenes from one of Shakespeare’s plays which they will then perform on the Globe stage in front of an audience. An additional week is spent in Stratford Upon Avon where they will watch more performances and take part in tours of the village where Shakespeare was born.
A member of the Court Theatre Youth Company and one of 48 students selected for the SGCNZ National Shakespeare Schools Production (NSSP) in September, Sarah has been able to hone her skills and confidence on the stage.
“It was incredible to have the experience of working with nationally and internationally recognised directors at the NSSP, and also so much fun to work with such talented actors and creatives from around New Zealand,” she says. “The experience of playing Lady Macbeth in the Pipitea Marae on the Wellington waterfront then again in the Legislative Council Chamber in Parliament was unforgettable.”
Sarah’s mum Samantha says she is thrilled for her daughter, who has grown as a performer (both as a musician and actor), supported by the opportunities and tutoring at Rangi Ruru.
“Rangi has given Sarah the freedom to involve herself in a wide range of activities available in Christchurch and New Zealand, alongside her academic studies. She’s fortunate to have had a lot of high-level music tuition and tutelage in theatre, and has learnt by performance in front of an audience, rather than through a series of exams. It’s given her confidence to take risks, artistically speaking, and really fly,” she says.
When asked if this talent and drive runs in the family, Sarah immediately mentions her 74-year-old grandfather who was a bass operatic singer but chose not to pursue it professionally.
“He’s amazing,” she says. “He’s been performing in the last few weeks in his hometown in Australia, in a local production of Phantom of the Opera. My mum says she remembers seeing him dressed up as the grandmother in a panto version of Little Red Riding Hood, dancing to the Time Warp. Mum was my age at the time and was ready to be completely embarrassed, but was so proud of him when she saw how talented he was. I love that story,” she says.
Sarah will sit her Year 13 scholarship drama examination soon, under the tuition of Peter Rutherford, the Director of Theatre Arts at Rangi, and has already completed her scholarship music exam under Janet Kingsbury, Rangi Ruru’s Director of Music.
She heads to the UK in July and until then will be completing her school year, at this stage intending to study Law and Arts at Victoria University for the first half of 2020.
Twenty-five years ago, Pasifika play Fresh Off the Boat debuted before New Zealand audiences; now, a new generation can experience this ground-breaking play at The Court Theatre from 19 October to 9 November.
The story follows Charles as he emigrates from Samoa to 1990s Christchurch for a new life in Aotearoa, but he soon finds the fantasy weaved for him comes with a few holes.
Directed by original cast member Tanya Muagututi’a, her two daughters, Talia-Rae and Josephine Mavaega, take on the same roles that Tanya and her sister, Mishelle Muagututi’a, played in the original production!
“It’s special because I’m working with my daughters – and they’re playing the sisters that I played with Mishelle 25 years ago! Who knew that was ever going to happen? When I was in the production, I wasn’t even thinking about children… it’s amazing,” Muagututi’a says.
Completing this family affair is Tanya’s husband, Posenai Mavaega, creating sound design, with her brother-in-law, Tony De Goldi, designing the set.
Written by Oscar Kightley (bro’Town; Sione’s Wedding) and Simon Small, the play’s 1993 roaring success saw it tour New Zealand, followed by Australia and Samoa, with Muagututi’a playing the role of Ula from 1993 – 1995.
The cast also features Sela Faletolu-Fasi, Jake Arona, Roy Snow and Albany Peseta, all of whom performed in the rehearsed reading last year at The Court Theatre as part of New Zealand Theatre Month celebrations.
Following its success, the Artistic team at The Court decided to revive the play for a full season. “Fresh Off the Boat is, historically, an incredibly important Pasifika play,” Artistic Director Ross Gumbley says. “It still works brilliantly and is perhaps even more poignant now than when it was written – as was shown when it was the star piece of writing in our 2018 Indelible Ink season.”
Described as hilarious but also sobering, this Pasifika play tells a story that culturally challenges us as Kiwis, yet is universal; it’s a story about family, culture shock and looking out for each other. With throwbacks to the ‘90s aplenty, audiences will love the comedy but can also expect to be taken on quite an affecting journey.
Roy Snow is about to take to the stage as Mervyn, the palagi boyfriend of Elizabeth in The Court Theatre’s milestone Pasifika play Fresh off the Boat which is showing at The Court Theatre until 9 November. We caught up with Roy about the role and what we can look forward to.
You’ll always be Shortland Street’s Nurse Matt McAllister to me! But you’ve done a huge number of shows and films since – including Go Girls, Much Ado About Nothing and Outrageous Fortune! What attracted you to acting?
Many, many things, all impossible to quantify. That’s what we call, in the business, evading the question. But it’s not that far off the mark. Lots of little things make what I do incredible; playing, pretending, the hum of an audience, amazing creative people, camaraderie and the joy of doing something I’m super passionate about. I’ve stood in the dark wings in that moment before a show kicks off and thought, ‘Wow, not bad Snow, not bad’. All these things are probably a result of, rather than an initial attraction, so I’m going to say, ‘I loved to pretend’.
Can you tell us about your latest, Fresh off the Boat, and what you’ve enjoyed about this play?
Now this is a play! Ground-breaking when it premiered in the ‘90s, it exploded across New Zealand, the Pacific and then the world. What a journey it must have been for Pacific Underground and its vastly talented crew. No history lesson from me, I’m not qualified. But I can speak to the absolute joy this production has been to work on. So much passion, love and history in the room. You have uber talented daughters playing roles their mum, our director, and aunty played in the original production. We’re visited often by members of the Samoan community and laughter and music go hand in hand with the hard work being put in on the ‘boards’. It’s been a privilege just to be in the room.
Why should audiences get in to see this show?
Because so much of this play resonates 25 years after its Christchurch debut. Its themes are timeless: family, dislocation, culture clashes, discovering your freedom, growing up and dealing with everything that entails. Wrap that up in humour, aroha, music and a fair amount of ‘90s pop culture and you’ve got one heck of a play. See it. And… I’m in it.
How much of a different beast is live theatre to a soap opera?
It’s a different beast but mostly due to the technicality of each medium… boring! As an actor you notice the immediacy of theatre. You know or can feel when you’re in the zone on stage whereas screen has a few more ‘filters’ before it reaches your audience. Both are challenging, both are rewarding and once you’re over the initial nerves, a lot of fun.
What have been some of your most memorable roles over the years?
Oliver Twist. I was ten, it was my first musical. My mum played Nancy and was the star. Here I experienced my first moment of theatre magic. Mum had just sung As Long As He Needs Me and was in the throes of being murdered by the villainous Bill Sykes. I stood in the wings, I couldn’t see anything only hear the screams and pitiful pleas as the life was strangled out of my mum. Then nothing, a silence that, in my young brain, went on forever. In the Balclutha Community Hall, 400 people sat in complete silence for, what seemed to me, an eternity. It stuck with me ever since.
What’s the best part about what you get to do?
That I get to do it at all. I’ve been very fortunate and many wonderful people have contributed to the success I’ve had, none more so than my beautiful wife and whānau. I love what I do; that’s the best part.
What do the next 12 months have in store for you?
That would be telling… That’s actor code for ‘no idea’. Not exactly true – I have a few irons in the fire that may include a musical and a touring show up north in 2020, but such is the nature of this ‘bizz’ that nothing is confirmed until I’ve signed on the dotted line. Straight after Fresh off the Boat I’m into A Christmas Carol at The Forge at The Court Theatre, which will take me right up to Christmas. Then, perhaps, a bit of ‘reno’ on my house in Geraldine if my wife has her way… and she will.
Read more about this milestone Pasifika play HERE.
Ross Gumbley and Mark Hadlow last appeared on stage together in The Court Theatre’s 2010 production Gods of Carnage; now they are to be reunited as mismatched flatmates in the quirky Norwegian comedy play Elling.
Hadlow’s Elling is a neurotic budding poet, while Gumbley’s Kjell is a gentle giant who wants nothing more than to have sex. Director Lara Macgregor says that the appeal of Elling comes from seeing two human beings who are struggling with mental health issues trying to survive in a ‘normal living environment’ – and how that challenge brings about a wonderful friendship.
Elling marks Gumbley’s first on-stage performance in almost a decade. Gumbley, who is also The Court’s Artistic Director, says that he and Mark had been looking for a play that could reunite them and when he saw Elling in Australia in 2009, he knew he had found his play. “I thought ‘I’ve never seen a role absolutely begging for Mark Hadlow to play it’.”
Hadlow, one of New Zealand’s most prominent actors, is delighted to be working with Ross again. “We go right back to Flatmates Wanted in the 1980s. It’s wonderful to work with someone you completely trust.” Gumbley says that Elling is lyrical, touching, funny and honest – but also raises questions around underfunding of mental health, which is particularly relevant to New Zealand audiences.
Veteran performers Bruce Phillips, Gregory Cooper and Luanne Gordon round out the cast. Elling – The Court Theatre, 23 February to 16 March 2019.
Elaine Paige, the queen of musical theatre, is heading to our southern city with a show at Christchurch’s Isaac Theatre Royal on Monday 21 January.
The English singer and actress has built a stellar career, with some laudable performances, including the role of Eva Perón in the first production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita in 1978, which made her a household name.
We caught up with Elaine to discuss her illustrious career.
Can you tell us a bit about the concert series and what Christchurch audiences can look forward to?
It’s a concert series that will be celebrating song writers that I love and people I grew up listening to, such as Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and Carly Simon. It’s really celebrating their music and a bit of a soundtrack of all our lives really, from the late 60s to 70s. It’s a show that has something for everybody.
What attracted you to singing and performing?
Academically I was not that interested; I was always much more about the vocational things in life. Singing was something I knew I loved; I was in the school choir, did the end of school productions. Dad asked me if I would like to go to drama school. I’m always grateful he made that suggestion. I’m not altogether sure I would have come to that myself. From a middle class family, we knew nothing about drama schools or anything of that ilk. Pretending to be someone else appealed to me, so I went to drama school and that’s how it all began.
What are some of your career highlights?
Evita will be one of the major highlights. Having the opportunity to originate the role of Eva Peron gave me a career in musical theatre, so that will always be the one that is most special to me. I was able to pick and choose after Evita what roles I wanted to play. I was very fortunate to find myself in a very privileged position that gave me a career and choice.
You’ve performed at some of the biggest venues around the world, what are you looking forward to about performing in New Zealand?
I’ve come ‘Down Under’ to New Zealand and Australia several times during my career, although I haven’t been your way in half a dozen years. So I’m really looking forward to visiting and seeing the changes. Equally it’s like coming home really because New Zealand is so similar to England. That’s what I like about it. People are always very welcoming and in the past have come out to see me, so I’m hoping I can enjoy the same this time around.
What do the next 12 months have in store for you?
I’ve always worked very hard, many hours, done many different things. Next year I’m coming to see you in January, then when I come back to England there’s some television on the cards, a play I might be doing and in the summer I’m looking to do a new album with Cliff Richard. I’ve been having a quiet year this year, jumped off the bandwagon for a bit, smelled the roses and next year is looking to be quite busy.