The man behind the musical

Former owner of popular Christchurch restaurant Santorini, and writer of the musical Breaking Plates, Costa Kerdemelidis talks to Metropol deputy editor Daniella Judge.

Costa Kerdemelidis slipped into the world as his mother was exiting a taxi. That was the start of a life filled with drama, his family’s past marked by both conflict and reunion.

Amidst the turmoil of World War II, his relatives were separated, with some imprisoned in Siberia in 1936 before the war, and the others exiled, along with all the Greeks living in Crimea, to Kazakhstan as enemies of the state.
Miraculously they were all reunited in Kazakhstan following that tumultuous period, and managed to escape to Greece. Then, just before Costa was born, Greece became locked in a violent civil war, resulting in thousands of deaths, and many Greeks abandoning their country.

In an era when most nations were solely accommodating young male migrants, Costa’s grandmother was determined to keep her family united. New Zealand was one of the few countries welcoming entire families.
The Kerdemelidis family, all 16 of them, packed up and immigrated, living together for many years, as they put down new roots.

Costa settled well into New Zealand life becoming dux of Linwood High School, then studying chemical engineering. He worked initially as a chemical engineer, and then as a lecturer at Christchurch’s University of Canterbury.

While looking for a change, he and a friend decided to start up a restaurant. “I thought to myself, I can play music and my mother can cook,” he recalls. Mykonos was an instant success, and Costa would often play his bouzouki through the night. Mykonos was sold and Costa and his family decided to live in Greece. New Zealand retained a place in his heart, and in 1993 Costa returned to Christchurch, starting the restaurant Santorini. A vibrant spot pre-quake, it was renowned for its great food, music, dancing, and singing, and quickly became the “party capital” of Christchurch.

“Lots of immigrant families came to the restaurant, and I heard many
interesting stories.”

Unfortunately, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake decimated Santorini’s, forcing its closure and demolition.
With one chapter ending, Costa suddenly had the time to dedicate to his true passions, music, and storytelling.

His musical, Breaking Plates, debuted earlier this year. The musical is based on Costa’s experiences and events during the Canterbury earthquakes. Initially envisioned as a television series, Costa realised that he wanted to showcase “Greek music with English lyrics to the world”.

The name Breaking Plates represents a mix of Greek tradition and a nod to the earthquake’s tectonic plates. Costa worked on the script for more than 10 years, and in the last seven with the help of director and singer Ravil Atlas, and musical directer Deen Colson.

The narrative revolves around Yorgo, a father of four, who finds himself dealing not only with the shifting tectonic plates of the earth, but also with an evolving world that he is unwilling to accept. “I am ecstatic with how it turned out.”

Now, Costa and his wife Despina run The Classic Villa, an iconic boutique hotel that is easily recognisable as the bright pink building on Worcester Street.

He also supports the Canterbury Musical Theatre Charitable Trust, to encourage young people to engage in music.
A remarkable individual who has faced numerous challenges, Costa has overcome them all, and is now celebrating the musical as “the highlight” of his life.


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