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It’s getting hot in here! The Court Theatre


A Christchurch institution for 50 years, The Court Theatre continues presenting world-class entertainment this May with the classic Kiwi comedy Ladies Night.

 

 

The story follows Barry and his friends, who are down on their luck after getting kicked out of a nightclub on a Saturday night. When they find out male strippers are performing at their local pub, living the good life, they decide they can do it too, with hilarious results.

What starts as a drunken joke, rapidly becomes a challenge they can’t back out of…an all-male strip show!

Featuring a stellar cast and with group discounts on drinks and tickets, get your party crowd together for a night out to this raucous home-grown treasure.

Running at The Court Theatre from May 1 to June 5 2021. Book your tickets via the website.


 

The show has gone on for 50 years


Back in 1971 when The Court Theatre was founded in Christchurch, other professional theatres were also springing up all over the country for the first time. Yet from that era, The Court is the only one to survive, and will celebrate its 50th anniversary on April 21.

 

ENTRANCE TO THE COURT THEATRE AT THE ARTS CENTRE

 

A new book – The History of The Court Theatre by Felicity Price (with Derek Hargreaves) has been written to mark the 50th anniversary.

The pair say they wanted to write the book because, “The Court gets under your skin – the drama onstage and off, the love and respect with which it is held by so many in Christchurch and above all, the people who work, act, create and volunteer there.”

Mayor Lianne Dalziel echoes Felicity Price’s sentiments saying, “From small beginnings 50 years ago, The Court Theatre has grown to become a treasured institution in Christchurch.”

Founders Yvette Bromley and Mervyn Thompson took a leap of faith back in 1971. Their new enterprise was indeed small and humble without even a permanent theatre to call home.

Over the first 10 months of its existence The Court Theatre operated from three locations.

JERSEY BOYS

The first was the Stone Chamber of the Canterbury Provincial Council Chambers where the debut production The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was staged. The peripatetic theatre then moved to the Durham Street Art Gallery, to the Beggs Theatrette and then to relative stability at the Orange Hall.

It was not until 1976 that The Court Theatre moved to the Arts Centre, its home until 2011 and the venue where many people will have had their first experience of the magic of a Court Theatre performance.

A cast of hundreds has nurtured and developed the theatre over its long history. Of course, the founders themselves and later artistic directors and chief executives Elric Hooper and Stuart Alderton (1980s – 2000), Ross Gumbley and Philip Aldridge (2006 – 2018) and currently Barbara George and Dan Pengelly.

ELRIC HOOPER

These double-acts have married art and commerce to work together to run a highly successful theatre operation.

What else is behind The Court’s success and longevity when so many others have fallen by the wayside?

The answer is that the programme has been varied, the standards always high and above all the theatre and its artistic directors have been astute in knowing what the audience wants. The latter was a consistent theme during Elric Hooper’s 20 year tenure.

 

THE MIKADO

He declared from the outset that his intent was to balance the theatre’s repertoire with “three main thrusts – the classic, the contemporary and the indigenous.”

Come 2011 the Christchurch earthquakes saw The Court out of its Arts Centre home and looking for a new space, which was found in Addington. Fondly known as The Shed, this is where the theatre is today.

But the story of The Court has another act to play out – its move into a new $39 million purpose-built theatre in the central city, opposite Tūranga, on the corner of Gloucester and Colombo streets. Due to open in late 2023, that will be The Court’s home for the next 50 years.

Over the weekend of April 23 – 25, The Court Theatre is celebrating 50 years of treading the boards with a number of special events for past company, volunteers and the public.
A black-tie gala with dinner and spectacular entertainment is planned for April 24. Tickets are available at The Court Theatre.

 


 

A fairy tale Christmas: Isaac Theatre Royal


Grab your godmother and touch up your tiara – Cinderella is coming to town! Magical transformations, heaps of hilarity, sparkling song and spectacular scenery is set to fill the stage of the Isaac Theatre Royal for nine shows this festive season.

 

From December 15 to 20, the fairy godmother of all pantomimes, Cinderella, will deliver a new imagination of the enchanting rags-to-riches fairy tale – a timely gift for those who’ve missed out on live theatrical entertainment for much of the year.

GMG Productions, the team behind hit international productions of Disney’s The Lion King, CATS, Singin’ in the Rain and more, is assembling New Zealand’s top talent to stage this timeless tale.

New Zealand theatre royalty and star of the Hobbit trilogy, Mark Hadlow (The Hobbit series, Meet the Feebles) will play The Baron, father to Cinderella and her supercilious step-sisters.

Channelling their inner mean girl, Broadway and West End favourite Hayden Tee (Les Misérables, Matilda), will pair up with The Voice Australia finalist Caleb Jago Ward (We Will Rock You, Jesus Christ Superstar, The 10 Tenors) as the wickedly nasty Step Sisters.

TV personality and well known What Now? host Erin Wells is preparing to slide into her glass slippers and dazzle audiences as Cinderella. After a public search, her Prince Charming has been announced as London-based Kiwi performer, J. R. Ballantyne.

Musical direction will be under the baton of innovative maestro Andy Manning, while the cast will be under the spell of director and ingenious improviser Gregory Cooper whose writing and directing credits include That Bloody Woman, MAMIL and Rumpelstiltskin.

The Isaac Theatre Royal is working harder than Cinders herself to make sure the theatre is spick and span for audiences expected to fill the auditorium.

“After the year we’ve had, it will be wonderful to see so many smiling faces in the theatre experiencing pantomime on our stage for the first time,” says Bob Mangan, Isaac Theatre Royal CEO.

Buy tickets online.

isaactheatreroyal.co.nz/

 


 

The (Jersey) Boys are back in town: The Court Theatre


Get ready for the show of the summer as international hit Jersey Boys makes its Canterbury debut!

 

 

Running at The Court Theatre from November 21, Jersey Boys is the Tony-Award winning smash musical that tells the rags-to-riches story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, offering one hell of a night out at the theatre.

“We are extremely lucky to be able to bring this production to Christchurch audiences,” says director Stephen Robertson.

“It’s going to be spectacular.”

From humble beginnings on the streets of New Jersey, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons became one of the biggest bands in the world – but almost lost it all.

Jersey Boys chronicals the band’s story with wit and punch, set against a sensational musical playbook.

Including musical hits Sherry and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, the actor playing Frankie Valli has a huge challenge to take on, emulating his infamously high falsetto voice.

Luckily, The Court have been able to secure international star Kristian Lavercombe!

Holding the world-record for the most performances in The Rocky Horror Show, Kristian is thrilled to be back home in Aotearoa for Jersey Boys.

“I love musicals that show a grittier side of life and Frankie Valli’s story is an absolute rollercoaster,” says Kristian.

“It’s a true story that’s told warts and all. Combine that with some of the most iconic music of the 20th century and it’s a win-win situation!”

Running from November 21, book now at the Court Theatre’s website.


 

Courting change in the central city


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.


 

The musical of all musicals!


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.

 

Kira Josephson as Eliza Doolittle. Photography: Danielle Colvin

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.”

Roy Snow as Henry Higgins.

 

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.


 

Amazing Grace


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.

For tickets, visit www.topdogtheatre.com (gate sales available).


 

New name in Showbiz


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.

 

Photographed by Thomas Hamill

 

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.


 

Thrilling theatrical magic


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.

For bookings phone 0800 333 100 or visit www.courttheatre.org.nz.


 

Skills on stage


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.