Kineta Booker

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Review: Showbiz ‘Can’t Stop The Beat!’

Hairspray. Presented by Showbiz Christchurch. Director/Choreographer Leigh Evans. Musical Director Richard Marrett. Isaac Theatre Royal. 8 – 18 June, 2016. Reviewed by Kineta Knight Booker.

Driving music, spectacularly bright and beautiful costumes, high physical and vocal energy, and the nicest smelling theatre in town – Hairspray certainly made its mark last night.

Set in 1962, Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad (Lucy Porter) has the dream of dancing on The Corny Collins Show. Her mother Edna (Antony Saywell) refuses to let her because she doesn’t want her to be laughed at because of her size. But Tracy’s father Wilbur (Warwick Shillito) supports her, she skips school and wins a part on the show. Hairspray is not just about the big musical numbers but addresses important moments in history such as integration, and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

You know a person is absolutely made for a role when they open their mouth and magic comes out, and despite there being an entire cast on stage, they’re the only person you see. Porter was made for the role of Tracy. She’s a vivacious ball of vibrant energy, talent and fun. And Tracy’s kooky sidekick Penny (Ailis Oliver-Kerby) is also a complete joy to watch.

Shillito once again shines on the Showbiz stage in his role as Wilbur who runs the Har-De-Har Hut. Shillito’s energetic stage presence is delightful and lovable.

And then there’s Tracy’s mother… During the show, the gentleman sitting to my right kept saying to his wife, “No… that’s not a man… is it?”, and then following the show, the gentleman sitting to our left said “That wasn’t a bloke, was it?” Saywell, you make an incredibly convincing Edna. You’re dynamic, humorous, and a pleasure to watch in this role made famous by cult actor Divine in the 1988 original movie of Hairspray, and then John Travolta in the massive movie hit of 2007.

Lou Days’ return to the Showbiz Christchurch stage is a very welcome one, with her soulful maturity. Her “bucket list” role of Motormouth Maybelle had some audience members on their feet applauding following her powerhouse rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been. I can’t say I’ve seen something like that happen during a theatre performance before, and it certainly added to the impact of the show.

The set design by Harold Moot was spectacular. It was grand and colourful, and there’s a real treat during the curtain call. And how Diane Brodie manages the hundreds of costumes is a mystery, and her 26-strong team of assistants have got a lot of work on their hands. The happy, bright and beautiful costumes are enviable as the audience watches in their dark clothing.

Hairspray is on for only ten days, and it’s a show you’ll need to see more than once as there is so much happening on stage.

Showbiz, that’s two out of two this year, after the sell-out success of Mamma Mia. One more to go in 2016, and if Evita is anything like these two, it’s going to be a goodie.

 

Review: Educating Rita

Educating Rita. Presented by The Court Theatre. Directed by Yvonne Martin. The Court Theatre. 28 May – 25 June, 2016. Reviewed by Kineta Knight Booker.

Willy Russell’s Educating Rita is a humorous insight into relationships, transformation and choice for both of the characters in this play.

George Henare’s Frank is a grumpy, yet delightful, academic who, initially grudgingly, takes Rita on a literary journey through The Open University. Rather than being at home enjoying a lamb cassoulet, he’s at work earning extra cash to fund his pints at the pub.

And into his life walks Rita. We watch her (Kathleen Burns) grow from a hairdresser who’s enthusiastic about learning (“I want to know everything!”) and loves the book Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, to a woman who’s “dead” passionate about literature and having lively debates with other students. You could almost say it’s the 1980s version of My Fair Lady. Almost.

As the play develops, so too do the characters. Not just how Rita dresses, talks, and behaves, but from an unhappy home life to contentment in her realisation of self. And Frank’s drinking, poetry, mood and private life all receive an overhaul, not always for the better.

At times, the script is extremely wordy, but the repartee between the two is so natural, it’s like the audience is eavesdropping on a conversation and relationship between a tutor and his student.

The direction, and the active stage made the funny, lively script even more fascinating. Light was used effectively to depict changes in time and the cast did well to remember all the different scenes, costume changes, and props, as they were aplenty. The set is an absolute marvel with its accurate representation of a literature tutor’s office – full of books, papers, ‘stuff’, and with or without the stashed liquor.

Burns is a stand-out in this role. She’s a true young talent, with an enticing, energetic presence. And Henare is charming, sincere, and witty, and together they breathe contemporary life into this 1980 Russell play.

Backstage: Podcast – Singer and Actor Naomi Ferguson

Backstage Podcast’s latest guest is currently playing Blanche DuBois in Repertory‘s production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Perhaps better known for her singing, Naomi Ferguson‘s portrayal of Blanche shows she also knows how to act. And she acts very well indeed.

Here is the full interview with Naomi on Backstage Podcast:

Backstage Podcast is easy to download. On your iPhone just press the purple ‘podcasts’ app and search for Backstage Podcast NZ; you can download Podbean on your android (Backstage Podcast NZ); or iTunes Backstage Podcast NZ.

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. Presented by Repertory. Directed by Dan Bain. Elmwood Auditorium. 11 – 28 May, 2016. Reviewed by Kineta Knight Booker.

I wanted to call my first-born Tennessee, and seeing A Streetcar Named Desire reminded me exactly why I wanted to honour him with that name. Tennessee Williams’ passion for the spoken and written word, his eloquence as a talented playwright, the deep stories he found himself writing: all these things are within the script of Streetcar, and it’s no wonder the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948.

It’s a story centred around Blanche DuBois (Naomi Ferguson), who moves to New Orleans to be with her sister Stella (Margot Gray) and Stella’s husband Stanley (Sebastian Boyle). Stella is in a loving but violent relationship, and Blanche and Stanley staunchly dislike each other.

I can’t recall a play, directed by Dan Bain, that hasn’t been anything short of amusing. So does he get drama right? In a word – yes.

It wasn’t Bain’s fault that there was constant backstage talking. Not even whispering, talking. And thumping, rustling, crashing and banging. Actually, what was happening in the wings on stage left through the entire play? It was utterly distracting for the audience, and downright rude to the actors onstage.

And it wasn’t Bain’s fault there was a 4.7 magnitude quake in the middle of the performance. In fact, it added to the drama, and Ferguson handled Mother Nature with incredible professionalism.

What Bain can take credit for is casting a fantastic leading four, and their portrayal of the characters.

Blanche appears strong and proper, but is in fact incredibly fragile. Ferguson is outstanding in this role, as we see her character develop through the play. She’s a lovely actress with a powerful stage presence.

The chemistry and combination of Boyle and Gray is very good. It’s clear that Boyle is a strong actor, but perhaps, at times, a little subtle in his role as the abuser. Gray is stunning. She’s perfect in the role of Stella: lovely, ever-forgiving, ensures everyone is happy, making excuses for the abuse.

And Mitch (Noam Wegner) is awkward, fumbling and loveable. “Poker should not be played in a house with women,” is certainly a line to remember.

The themes of rape and abuse were handled with a filter, with much of it being implied, which worked well.

The only scene that was a let down was unfortunately the opening sequence. The two women who opened the show turned their heads away from the audience, rushed their sentences and ate their words. It almost set the scene for a clumsy play but luckily Ferguson’s entrance changed that.

It’s a tough auditorium to perform in, but the set design did well to make it feel like a theatre. And a nod to the lighting team. It played an important role throughout with its emotiveness, and by creating an atmosphere perfect for this play.

 

 

Review: Risqué school production hits the right notes

Cabaret. Presented by St Andrew’s College. Directed by Laurence Wiseman. Musical director Duncan Ferguson. Choreographer Ginnie Thorner. St Andrew’s College Theatre. 8 – 13 May, 2016. Reviewed by Kineta Knight Booker.

Provocative, risqué, promiscuous, prostitution, drug use… Not common themes for a school production, in fact, some might say completely inappropriate. But the risk St Andrew’s College has taken with Cabaret, albeit shocking, is a good one – because it works.

Cabaret is set in Berlin in the 1930s against a backdrop of the uprising of the Nazi party, centred around a burlesque theatre called the KitKat Klub.

The maturity shown by the whole cast to put on such an adult show is incredible. And the talent is outstanding.

From the outset, the second you walk into the theatre scantily-clad ladies chat-up the audience and show people to their seats. Then the stage comes alive with an incredibly talented young actor playing the Emcee (Cameron McHugh), with his song Willkommen – “We have no troubles here!” he promises, “Here, life is beautiful.” McHugh is confident, funny, has a mature understanding of his character, and holds the show together with perfect comic timing. Either he is a talent far beyond his years, or he had plenty of coaching from director Laurence Wiseman.

On that note, the show is an absolute credit to Wiseman for casting such a talent-filled show, but also for the hard work he’s obviously put into the musical. It shows the strength of not only StAC’s drama and music departments but technical too – the sound and lighting was sublime.

Choreography in this show is beautiful, naughty and actually quite stunning. Ginnie Thorner certainly met the brief. And the company carries out Thorner’s choreography with precision, ease and humour, bringing the stage to life every time they appeared.

The driving force behind this musical is the orchestra, lead by Duncan Ferguson. It’s hard to believe they were all students. Special mention for their Entr’acte – it was a definite audience favourite, and the drummer/percussionist (Patrick Moran) was a delight to watch, perhaps because he was so close to the stage. The orchestra was almost moulded into the set, and it worked well.

Neil MacLeod (Cliff Bradshaw) is another young actor who steals the stage. He’s reminiscent of a young crooner, with the understated personality of Clark Kent. MacLeod has a lovely voice, a wonderful stage presence and excellent, natural, acting skills. As does William Harrington, who plays the Nazi Ernst Ludwig. He maintains a great German accent, is charming, manipulative and scary.

And if you’re looking for some romance, then the relationship between Fräulein Schneider (Celine Bullivant) and Herr Schultz (Grayson Milligan) will melt you. A truly sweet couple, who finds themselves caught up in the middle of the anti-semitism movement.

There were times, however, in the show, that instead of singing, there was shouting. All I’d say is, take it easy as there is a week of shows to get through and your voices are your main tool.

For a school production this show is an absolute stand-out, in fact, I had to keep reminding myself how young the performers were. (And, to be fair, it wasn’t always when something debaucherous was happening, but mostly when the level of talent continually surprised me.)

It’s a shame the show runs for only a week, as I’m certain there are more people who will want to see it than there are seats left to sell.

Backstage: Podcast – The Court Theatre’s Ross Gumbley

The Court Theatre’s artistic director Ross Gumbley was our guest this week on Backstage Podcast.

New Zealand’s largest theatre company has released its Meridian Energy 2016/2017 Season, and there are 23 shows on offer, and Ross has great stories about each of them.

We also chat to Ross about being in the head director’s role at the Court for 10 years, the difference between being an actor and a director, and we pose a question he’s never been asked before. Well worth a listen!

Find out more at www.courttheatre.org.nz

Backstage Podcast is easy to download. On your iPhone just press the purple ‘podcasts’ app and search for Backstage Podcast NZ; you can download Podbean on your android (Backstage Podcast NZ); or iTunes Backstage Podcast NZ.

Review: Aida’s ‘dynamic leading ladies’

Aida. Presented by The North Canterbury Musical Society. Directed by Teresa Dann. Musical director Leanne O’Mahony. Choreographer Jo Allpress-Bartlett. Rangiora Town Hall. 5 – 21 May, 2016. Reviewed by Kineta Knight Booker.

Based on an Italian-language opera of the same name, with a pop rock twist by Elton John and Tim Rice, Aida is a timeless story about a classic love triangle, set against a backdrop of ancient Egypt. The story challenges perceptions of loyalty, betrayal, and forbidden love.

To say this is a good show is an understatement. The driving force behind it is the powerhouse of the two dynamic leading ladies, Chuana McKenzie (Aida) and Catherine Hay (Amneris).

McKenzie has an incredible voice and it’s worth seeing the show just for her; and Hay is a young woman with confidence, sass, and a dynamite voice.

But it’s not just the ladies who hold centre stage comfortably: John Bayne (Radames) who’s at the centre of the triangle, has a strong presence and a certain vulnerability which allows us to see the angst his character is going through. And James Hart (Mereb) is a particularly good talent.

Special mention to the orchestra, lead by Leanne O’Mahony, for its great sound which kept the show moving along nicely. And to Tom Robertson and Matthew Roxburgh who did a superb job on the sound desk. The notes the singers and musicians created were amplified perfectly by the talent from this duo.

The show is a credit to Teresa Dann, in which Aida was her directing debut. Certainly not the easiest show to start with, but there were some lovely moments throughout. However, there were times in the show that there was just too much acting, which was borderline overacting, but that doesn’t take anything away from what was a very good musical.

Backstage: Podcast – Singer Kate Taylor

This week Christchurch entertainer Kate Taylor came into the Backstage Podcast studio to talk about her productive and creative 2016.

This singer, vocal coach, event co-ordinator, #12PianistsProject founder and Christchurch All Girl Big Band co-founder is a human dynamite of energy and talent. She also talks about her upcoming Stevie Wonder Tribute at The Cavell Leitch New Zealand International Jazz and Blues Fest

A podcast not to be missed.

Backstage Podcast is easy to download. On your iPhone just press the purple ‘podcasts’ app and search for Backstage Podcast NZ; you can download Podbean on your android (Backstage Podcast NZ); or iTunes Backstage Podcast NZ.

 

Backstage: Podcast – Composer and Conductor Luke Di Somma

Backstage Podcast is hosted by Kineta Knight Booker whose passion for the arts (and the people who work in it), is much like Lachy Wiggle’s love of sleeping (or if you’re an old school Wiggle fan – Jeff’s penchant for drifting off to dreamland). And, having worked in entertainment herself, she has a large list of people to have a coffee with – so why not turn that chat into a podcast!

The great thing about Backstage is it’s not a normal interview. First of all, it’s about 30 minutes long, rather than the quick five minutes you’d get on radio. And we don’t just talk about what they’re up to – we talk about them. There’s no surface scratching here!

Kineta’s first ever guest is Kiwi born/NYC trained/London based, professional composer, lyricist and conductor Luke Di Somma. Fresh from conducting the CSO’s Mad Men and Dangerous Women, and with his play That Bloody Woman just announced as being part of The Court Theatre’s 2016/2017 season, we took a moment out of his busyness to have a chat about the arts.

Backstage Podcast is easy to download. On your iPhone just press the purple ‘podcasts’ app and search for Backstage Podcast NZ; you can download Podbean on your android (Backstage Podcast NZ); or iTunes Backstage Podcast NZ.

Review: The Dunstan Creek Séance

The Dunstan Creek Séance. Presented by The Forge at The Court Theatre. Director Daniel Pengelly. Dramaturgy Allison Horsley. 16 April – 7 May, 2016. Reviewed by Kineta Knight Booker.

Complete with a silent protester outside (“Séance = Satan”) and the show’s tagline “Keep telling yourself it isn’t real”, already there was an atmosphere of tension on the cold, dark night even before the show began.

As you walk through the doors, old, spooky photos line the hallway into the theatre. The show is introduced by The Court’s associate director, Daniel Pengelly, as a presentation by Suzanne and Arthur Bishop and a look at their latest book Ghosts of the Goldrush: Hauntings of Central Otago. Pengelly mentions the book is available for purchase at the Box Office after the show which makes you question whether this whole thing is in fact real.

We meet Suzanne and Arthur (Lizzie Tollemache and David Ladderman) who start a lecture like any other – Arthur with his notecards, Suzanne running the slides. However, the presentation takes an unplanned turn.

It’s the first time the notable occultists have appeared in public following the events of the Dunstan Creek séance – an infamous experiment that lost them their jobs after putting a young woman in hospital. With this lecture, the Bishops have returned to explain what really happened at Dunstan Creek, but it seems the presence unleashed is not yet ready to rest.

When lost in the drama of the performance, gripped by the unfolding story, as Suzanne and Arthur go in and out of character between themselves and a couple from the goldrush era (Rose and Ben), it becomes somewhat spooky and downright scary.

With the haunting music, atmospheric lighting (Sean Hawkins), trickery I’m still trying to figure out, and coupled with the paranormal content, this is certainly the scariest piece of theatre I’ve witnessed. Sitting frozen in my seat, my heart beating faster and faster, I held tight to my breath in case a scream escaped my mouth. In all honestly I’ve never felt so relieved for a show to finish which is an absolute credit to Tollemache and Ladderman.

It’s certainly a performance not to be missed, but be warned – show contains paranormal activity and is not suitable for those with a nervous disposition.

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