Legally Blonde: the musical

May 15, 2016 at 12:36 am | Posted in Dance Review, Musical Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to Wellington Footlights‘ production of Legally Blonde:the musical last night, at Whitireia Theatre (in Wellington). Footlights put on an entertaining musical version of the Reese Witherspoon movie. Directed by Ben Emerson, apparently, this is the first time this musical has been staged in New Zealand.

This is a morality play about hard work, not judging-a-book-by-its-cover, being true to yourself, etc. In the end the bad people get their come-uppance and true love will out.

Standouts for me:

  • Kirsty Moir is fantastic as Wood COMMA Elle – Elle Wood –a UCLA blonde sorority queen turned Harvard law student.
  • Karen Anslow plays Paulette Buonofuonte, a  hairdresser fated to marry an Irishman, and Elle’s  fairy godmother.
  • Uncredited person playing the UPS “I have a package” Courier, who Paulette ends up marryingHis sense of timing and delivery stole every scene he had a part in.
  • Stacey O’Brien as Brooke Wyndham, charged with the murder of her husband, and Elle’s client. If she really were to putout a workout DVD it would be worth buying!
  • The Greek chorus Brigid Boyle, Ellie Stewart, and Kree MacMillan.

I don’t know how Michael Stebbings found time to be the musical director and perform in Jukebox Heros: The Legends of Rock’N’Roll. Briar Franks has done a good job with the choreography.

A good two hours, plus, of entertainment.




Jukebox Heros: The Legends of Rock’N’Roll

May 8, 2016 at 1:05 am | Posted in Concert Review, Show Review, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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This musical gem was from Backyard Theatre and staged at the Gryphon Theatre on Ghuznee Street. I don’t like crowds, so I am unlikely to ever go to a real rock concert, but for 2 hours I got to experience the next best thing: five amazingly talented singers – Alex Rabina, Flora Lloyd, Harriet Dawson, Ingrid Crispin, and Michael Stebbings – taking me on a musical journey from Bill Haley to the present.

Alex Rabina’s Mick Jagger, early on, really got the audience (a full house) really warmed up. Harriet Dawson’s Joan Jett had the audience singing and clapping with her. All through the show people were clapping and shifting in their chairs, by the last third of the show, the younger audience members were up on their feet.

There was a minimum of dialogue – partly because most of it was original words said by the original artists during interviews, and partly, it was all about the songs.

The band – Bruno Shirley, Steve “Shack” Morrison, Bernie Stander, Paul Gadd, Michael Stebbings, and Harriet Dawson – were also pretty amazing, with some excellent guitar solos. Bruno Shirley’s Bruce Springsteen was awesome. Bruno was also the music director.

I really enjoyed it, and hope they re-stage it next year. Kira Josephson did a great job, writing/directing/choreographing, bringing the singers and band together . Kira admits that the songs used are a combination of her picks and the singer’s vocal ranges. So next time, some other songs might make it onto the stage; though if the same amazing singers are in the production, that would be fine too.

The Sapphires

December 2, 2012 at 4:26 am | Posted in Film Review, Musical Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see The Sapphires the other day and found it quite disturbing. The script by Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson is not just a musical – this is not an Australian version of The Commitments. The film directed by Wayne Blair is very crafted to bring out into the light some episodes in Australia’s history.

On the face of it, the film is about four Aboriginal young women who go to Vietnam, to sing, to mark their mark on the world. The three sisters Gail, Cynthia, and Julie, and their cousin Kay, are ‘discovered’ by Dave – an itinerant Irishman with a passion for soul music – and the rest is history as they say. But whose history?

There is a tension between Gail (Deborah Mailman) and Kay (Shari Sebbens) that when it is explained is quite shocking – and not the usual adolescent ‘you stole my boyfriend’ squabble. Kay is one of the ‘stolen generation’; she was taken into custody by the Australian government in 1958 to be raised as a European, and in her only visit back to the Mission, she says some very hurtful things about ‘lazy Aboriginals’.

The film begins in 1968, with Gail, Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), and Julie (Jessica Mauboy) going into town – they live on an Aboriginal Mission – to enter a talent contest. This is the audience’s introduction to race relationships in Australia – it is not violent, but it is not a pretty sight either. Despite being the best act they do not win, and are told to go back where they belong. This is when Dave discovers them, rather Cynthia convinces him to be their manager. He is a bit of a hopeless romantic.

Gail, Cynthia, and Julie are re-united with Kay, and after a short audition, they are off to Vietnam.

This portion of the film inevitably explores Western intervention in Vietnam. The film stays firmly centred on the Sapphires, but what they see and experience of Vietnam is pretty disturbing – the brutality of war, the divisiveness of a civil war, and US race relations injected into an Asian conflict. Vietnam was a war fought without borders or uniforms – there is no rear area, and the Sapphires are caught up in the fighting.

There is lots of romance: what can you expect when young men and young women thrown together – and it is the 60’s.

Definitely worth seeing. The singing is pretty good too – especially if you like soul, the other 90% of recorded music is shite! (or so says the Dave character). Just don’t expect a just musical; there are some very serious issues gently brought out onto the ‘silverscreen’.


December 2, 2011 at 8:20 am | Posted in Musical Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the Whitireia’s production of the Tony Award winning musical Nine, the other night. The show is an opportunity to show case the it’s graduating musical theatre and commercial dance students. The show had excellent production values and clever use of lighting, back production, and props.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

I was surprised at how sophisticated it was; for some reason I expecting something a bit lighter and humorous. Instead, it was dramatic: as it explored the facets of the main character – Guido Contini. Nine is a semi-biographical portrayal Federico Fellini’s – the famous Italian film director – life. At times it was almost operatic.

The whole show revolves around the Guido character and Nick Purdie carried the show well – displaying on stage maturity that belied his relatively young age. Guido is under a lot of pressure, as his personal life falls apart, and his reputation is assaulted by a series of ‘flops’. He takes refuge at a seaside spa to get away from it all, but on ends up running head on into his problems: his mistress Carla ends up leaving him; his decease mother (played by Caitlin Barrie comes to him in visions; he needs a film plot; and his muse deserts him too.

The seductive ‘telephone’ scene featuring Carla was ably handled by Bridget Connor as she sang and draped herself over the stage and Guido. The emotional duet between Guido and Claudia (played by Bethany Gould) was wonderful – there was a real sense of connection between the “director” and his favourite actress (and muse). In the end only his wife (played by Emma Walker) comes back to him.

In between all the singing are – true to the show’s Broadway roots – dance sequences. At times there was a Bollywood feel to it.

At the end of the show, I felt a bit exhausted from Guido’s emotional journey through his life and the encounters with his women. But Whitireia was ready with a happy fix. The night ended with a little upbeat dance piece Be Italian!. The transition into the dance was a bit of uneven and I think the transition could be smoothed by changing the choreography slightly and introducing the dance piece as one of Guido’s films.

Well done everyone.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Wellington, 2011)

October 23, 2011 at 12:12 am | Posted in Musical Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I saw the New Zealand Drama School’s production of this Tony Award winning show.

I presume the cast were drawn from the School’s graduating class. Full marks for them for doing a work that required lots of singing, some dancing, as well as acting.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, not having researched the origins, but having seen 42nd Street the week before I was quite unprepared for this piece of musical theatre / musical comedy. There was a lot less dancing, and much more acting.

I found it a bit wacky, not just because it is a comedy, but the array of characters all had ‘issues’. The entrants were a combination of hot-housed over achievers to lonely under achievers – for good measure some random members of the audience were tossed in. The spelling bee officials also had ‘history’ that they were trying to get past.

What I liked about this work was that when the characters sang, they gave the audience a view of their personality, neurosis and flashbacks in a way that is all but impossible any other way in the time and space available.

I found two characters struck a real chord with me: Marcy Park (played by Alice Canton) and Leaf Coneybear (played by Andrew Paterson).

It did take me a little while to mentally cast the spelling bee entrants as children – because the drama students are adults :-). Maybe more audible cues when these characters were introduced?

This was the last night; otherwise, I would say go to it!

42nd Street (Wellington, 2011)

October 11, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Posted in Dance Review, Musical Review, Show Review | 1 Comment
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I went to the Wellington Musical Theatre production of 42nd Street last night, at the St James theatre.

I got to see/hear some classic Broadway numbers, such as: Lullaby of Broadway and We’re in the Money.

The tap dancing was was impressive. Almost all of the dancing was tap, with a little bit of jazz and ballet thrown in for good measure. I did not think the short en pointe segment added significantly to the evening and would have preferred to see another tap number. There isn’t much tap dancing on show in Wellington, and it was nice to see a stage full of talented tap dancers going for it. Tap can be pretty unforgiving, as any one dancer lagging or leading is very audible; so good on them for getting out there – especially in the numbers where the band did not provide any backing music.

The costumes were very nice – lots of glitter, good fitting (without being confining), and well put made. The props and lighting were very good; the mirror to show the Busby Berkeley dance sequence – dancers in circular patterns ‘swimming’ – was genius.

It was good to have live music – the winds, the brass, some strings and some percussion from the Vector Welling Orchestra provided some great numbers.

The two standout performers on the night, for me, were: Courtney Hale (who as Peggy Sawyer in the space of 36 hours goes from chorus-girl to star) and Kelly Maguren (who is Andy Lee the dance master).

Young@Heart – Young at Heart Choir

January 20, 2009 at 12:20 am | Posted in Film Review, Musical Review | Leave a comment
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Warning: plot elements revealed

January 19, 2009 by

Film Hanger

Paper Hanger Blog
New Zealand

This is a documentary about a choir, whose average is over 80 years old! The Vienna Boys Choir they are not !! But they retain a passion for music and performing. The documenatry is shot over 7 weeks in a hand-held-video-camera style, and is very engaging. The story of the Choir and its members make for a lightedhearted exploration of a serious subject – what does one do as one approaches the twilight years? how show one deal with the loss of a friend and comrade?

The Choir makes regular trips abroad – from their native Northampton, Massachusetts, USA. Stephen Walker and follow the Choir as they put together their next show.

Key to the Choir is their director – Bob Cilman. Who keeps the Choir’s repertoire upto date and re-arranges the music for choristers’ older voices. He works the Choir hard and does not let them settle into the comfortable music of ther ‘youth’. So we see the Choir working on a Sonic Youth number – Schizophrenia!

The Choir members are constantly confronted with their mortality. By the time the documentary is filmed two of their number has died; By the time the documentary has completed post-production, a third member has died. And sadly, just before I saw this film, a fourth member, featured in the documentary has also passed away.

But, it is the way that the Choir deals with the loss of these fellow choristers and friends that is so moving. They resolve to go on performing. One chorister, talking about the death of Bob Salvini, says that if she dies on stage, that they should just push her off stage and keep on singing.

For me, the most moving part of the film was the Choir’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s Forever Young to an audience of inmates at their local prison. The Choir had been informed just that morning of Bob Salvini’s death.

Singing seems to improve the quality of life for the Choir’s members – they were mentally alert (Bob Cilman makes them learn the words to all the songs they sing) and active (regular rehearsals and the choir has some light dance moves). And I think creates a support network for them – something to focus on, other than themselves.

The filming of the documentary must have been fun for the Choir too. Stepping out of a strictly documentary mode, Walker shot three music videos for the Choir – covers of: I Wanna Be Sedated (Ramones), Road to Nowhere (Talking Heads), and Staying Alive (Bee Gees). The Ramones video had the Choir dressed in hospital gowns in a hospital setting and was just surreal. NB: Bob Cilman is a huge Talking Heads fan.

The documentary team get quite close to a trio known as the Three Musketeers; today there is only one Musketeer left. Joe Benoit died before the filming of the documentary’s final concert. Eileen Hall, died at the young age of 93, during post-production; the film was dedicated to her.

The documentary does not dwell on the loss of Choresters, because the Choir doesn’t. The losses hurt, but people are remembered for their contributions and perfomances.

The Choir’s is pretty good – just don’t expect the vienna Boys! Eileen Hall’s rendition of The Clash number Should I stay or should I go, backed by the rest of the Choir, brings the house down. There are also some renditions of classic James Brown and Bruce Springsteen numbers.


During research for this review, I discovered that Fred Knittle passed away on the 11th of this month. I will remember his solo of Fix It – originally intended to be a duet with Bob Salvini.

Rome the Musical

July 28, 2008 at 1:52 am | Posted in Musical Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see Paul Jenden and Gareth Farr’s third in a series of musical inspired by historic events, on at Circa Theatre. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it looked worth a go. I didn’t go to Troy the Musical or The Monarch the Musical, but based on this work, I will try to catch them next time.

July 23, 2008 by

Musical Hanger

Paper Hanger Blog
New Zealand

This was really a modern opera – what is the difference between an opera and a musical anyway ?

The musical compresses the struggle to be Julius Ceaser’s successor into a single dinner – on the evening of 15th of March 44BC. There is a high body count – very high! The musical is historially accurate – as far as a I can tell from wikipedia after the show – with a few extra bodies thrown in at the end to lead into the political commentary finale. Otherwise the first 90% of the musical is about the struggle between Ceaser (Kingsford-Brown), Brutus (Wood), Mark Anthony (Kennedy), Octavian (Wilson), and Cleopatra (Cusiel). Most of the action is set after dinner; Ceaser’s wife, Calpurnia (Kinane) and a house slave (Solino), keeps the food and refreshments flowing while the bodies stack up!

I found the first 30 minutes hard to get into: lots of characters being introduced and me trying to integrate them into my fading knowledge of Roman history. It might have been better if I had had no knowledge of the Romans. I became more engaged when Cleopatra arrived – her solo gave me the zip I needed. Who can wrestle with the work at an intellectual level when you get lyrics like ‘I don’t look like Elisabeth Taylor” or “My tongue is my best appliance” being sung in lovely seductive voice! Not thinking about Roman history certainly made the last three quarters more enjoyable and accessible.

I kept wondering why the performers weren’t wearing togas. It was revealed at the end, when the general political commentary was revealed. Octavian is actually stands in for all of the charismatic democratic leaders down in the last 100 years. The set was very simple and the symbolism had a definite fascist feel to it – the Roman eagle was more symbolic that anatomically correct and the Roman courtyard had a Reichstag and Brandonberg Gate feel to it

The musical used live musicians, and cleverly introduced them in a parade at the beginning, before hiding them in a stoa; and placed the ‘voice over /commentary’ singer on stage as the soothsayer (Lineham) – who warns Ceaser about the Ides of March – to direct the muscians.

Overall, quite good: definitely worth going to. It was a very intellectual work, that engaged my analytical side more than my emotional side. I thought Lineham (the soothsayer) and Cusiel (Cleopatra) stood out in terms of the singing.

The best death scene award goes Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, who played Mark Antony’s wife, with a very exaggerated death flop.


Mamma Mia

July 25, 2008 at 12:53 am | Posted in Film Review | 1 Comment
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Or rather Poppa Mia – since it is about a young women’s search for her true father.

I went to see the film of the stage musical Mamma Mia – which seems to re-use every ABBA song ever.

July 22, 2008 by

Film Hanger

Paper Hanger Blog
New Zealand

This film is a must see for ABBA fans; ABBA’s music is cleverly re-cast to tell the story of a young 20 year old woman – Sophie played by Amanda SiegFried – searching for herself. It is set on an incredibly picturesque Greek island – that must have been especially built by the Greek tourism commission.

Sophie is about to get married and after coming across one of her mother’s old diaries, she secretly invites the three men who could be her father to the wedding: Stellan Skarsgård, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth duly turn up. I am not going to bother giving their characters’ names, because their star quality just powers through the plot!

This comes as a unwanted surprise to Sophie’s mother – played by Meryl Streep. Two of her old friends – played by Julie Walters and Christine Baranski – who have proper invitations help to balance out the sexual dynamics. Once again I won’t bother giving their characters’ names, because their star quality just shines through!

The storyline is appealing: young woman searching for her father, but really searching for herself. Minor threads include: single parenthood; love that lasts a 20 year separation; and being true to yourself.

The music was wonderful; the singing was patchy: the mum, aunts and dads were not great singers, but hey, it was sunny and it didn’t get in the way of the story being told.

The dancing was nice. As someone said to me afterwards: “It is a bollywood movie with white people!” Who can turn down the cygnet dance done by four men wearing flippers! Did Meryl Streep really do the cossack unassisted off the bed?

The flow of the movie was a little stilted – stop start – due to the need to work in or set up the lines of the next song. This is where the movie betrayed its beginnings as a stage musical. But it did not really matter – the music and scenery carried all before it!!

The only thing that did not work, for me, was the visual age of the dads, aunts and the mother. Amanda SiegFried looks 20, but for me the others looked more like six grandparents. Still good on them for putting themselves outside of their genres.

I think that between them Christine Baranski and Julie Walters nearly ‘stole’ the movie.

They must have really enjoyed themselves making the movie – imagine getting paid to hang around on a sunny Greek island.


In some ways, this is long ad. for Mamma Mia the stage musical ! I will certainly go if given a chance !! I might even buy the sound track if it comes out.


October 4, 2007 at 10:30 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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Oct 4, 2007 by

Film Hanger

Paper Hanger Blog
New Zealand

This remake of the 1988 original by John Waters – also based on the Broadway musical. John got to do a cameo right at the beginning – as the neighbourhood flasher!

The film had a ‘bright clean’ fell to it; I subsequently attributed this to the influence of the Musical and the involvement of the Musical’s writers.

The film exams all kinds of social segregation – fat & thin, black & white, even young & old. It is all very serious, treated in a very sugary way – i.e. there is no sense of ominous weight of history that a more ‘serious’ drama would have injected. One of the things illustrated through obsurdity is the segregation that took parts of the USA in 1962: the mlocal TV music show has a ‘negro day’. This is so un-PC, cringe matterial, and in real life unacceptable today, that you just had to laugh.

Tracy cannot appear on the local TV dance show because she is fat; the negros cannot appear on the show because they are not white.

Because this is a happy musical, everything ends happily – integration, true love, cheats exposed.

I found the film very political – all those subjects treated in a stark bright, yet clean, cartoon way – and so I was a little uncomfortable through the whole film. It achieved its intended effect of conciousness raising and condemnation. I laughed at times, but it was an uncomfortable laugh, because the alternative was to be depressed.

John Travolta playing the part of Tracy’s mother gave the film a different dimension: I was a little distracted – there was no way due to pre-release PR not to know it was him in the part.

I need to watch the original again, because my memory – poor – was that the original was not so overtly political.


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