Reviews, News and Commentary

Three big musicals coming to town next year

John Daly-Peoples

Come Away From

Next year will see the  return of live performances including several musicals. Already announced has been Opera  New Zealand’s “Carousel” which will be performed on the water at the Viaduct Harbour. Now there are another three great productions – “Chess” one of the great classic musicals, “Come Away From” an inspirational new musical and “Shrek” which will appeal to the whole family

“Come From Away” by David Hein and Irene Sankoff

The Civic, Auckland.
From 20 April,.

St James Theatre, Wellington.
From 20 May, 2022.

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of 9/11, when terrorist attacks on Washington and New York closed US airspace for the first time in history. It was then that 38 planes carrying nearly 7,000 people from over 100 countries were diverted to the small island of Gander, known to locals as ‘The Rock’.

The Tony and Olivier Award-winning musical, “Come From Away” tells the remarkable real-life journey of 7,000 air passengers who became grounded in Gander, Newfoundland in Canada in the wake of the September 11 tragedy. The small community that welcomed the ‘come from aways’ into their lives provided hope and compassion to those in need. Award-winning husband and wife duo David Hein and Irene Sankoff (book, music and lyrics), travelled to Newfoundland and interviewed thousands of locals, compiling their stories.

The kindness and spirit of humanity that ensued in the face of crisis; the indelible friendships forged and the anguish of not knowing what had happened to their loved ones, together with a Celtic-inspired soundtrack, make this musical one of the most celebrated to emerge from Broadway in recent history.

Come From Away” has won numerous awards including the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (Christopher Ashley), and four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical, Best Theatre Choreography (Kelly Devine), Best Sound Design and Outstanding Achievement in Music.

The recent Australian season saw more accolades for the production, becoming the most successful musical ever staged at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre, breaking box office records across the country, winning numerous  awards.

The show had a return season this year in Melbourne and the Sydney morning Herald’s  reviewer Cameron Woodhead wrote about the production,

“For expositional brilliance and strength of ensemble performance, there is no musical quite like it. I’ve seen it four times now and am yet to be bored: there isn’t a dead moment.”

“It is marvellous to see an entire town, not to mention the crowd of international visitors stranded there, brought to life, and it’s done with such pace and vigour, such stirring music and movement, such finely judged humour, such poignancy and pathos, such warmth and welcome, that you start to feel like a Newfoundlander yourself.”

Chess – The Musical

Chess – The Musical by  Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and Sir Tim Rice Kiri

Te Kanawa Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland.
From 16 June.

One of the world’s best-loved musicals,  Chess – The Musical  will have a limited season in Auckland.  

This semi-staged production, will feature an array of New Zealand musical theatre talent, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, and a choir of 30 was written in 1984 by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and Sir Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita),  Chess – The Musical features hits including “I Know Him So Well”  – recognised in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest selling UK chart single ever by a female duo – and the upbeat pop favourite “One Night in Bangkok”.

 Chess – The Musical tells the story of a complex love triangle combined with dramatic political intrigue, set against the background of the Cold War in the early 1980s, where Soviet and American forces attempt to manipulate an international chess championship for political gains.

Two of the world’s greatest chess masters, one American, one Russian, are in danger of becoming the pawns of their governments as their battle for the world title gets underway. Simultaneously, their lives are thrown into further confusion by a Hungarian refugee, a remarkable woman who becomes the centre of their emotional triangle. This mirrors the heightened passions of the political struggles that threaten to destroy lives and loves.

The musical originally premiered in London’s West End in 1986 (where it was revived in 2018) starring the Elaine Paige. The season ran for three years, resulting in a BBC listener poll ranking  Chess – The Musical seventh in a list of ‘Number One Essential Musicals’ of all time. 
Chess the boardgame, has become the world’s most popular sport, with 605 million fans and now enjoying even more popularity following the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit”, which drew a record audience of 62 million households. In the first three weeks after the TV series’ debut, sales of chess sets in the US went up by 87% and sales of chess books leaped 603%.
 Chess – The Musical is produced by the makers of this year’s Jersey Boys and is directed by Jeremy Hinman (Jersey Boys, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). Musical direction is by Penny Dodd (Chicago, Evita, Cats, Anything Goes, 42nd Street and The Phantom of the Opera) and vocal direction is by Jane Horder.  

Shrek, The Musical
Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre,  Auckland   From 19 April
Hamilton – Clarence St Theatre, Hamilton  From26 April
Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch From4 October
St James Theatre, Wellington   From 11 October  

The Broadway’s monster smash-hit production Shrek The Musical based on The Academy Award-winning animated film “Shrek” is the story of everyone’s favourite ogre is a  lavish multi-million-dollar musical  part romance, part twisted fairy-tale and all irreverent fun that brings all the beloved characters from the film to life on stage.   The antisocial Shrek lives alone in a swamp, until pint-sized dictator Lord Farquaad banishes all fairytale creatures from his realm.   Soon Shrek’s home is overrun with refugees, from Pinocchio to The Three Little Pigs, and if he’s to regain his solitude the ogre must embark on a quest for Farquaad, rescuing Princess Fiona from a dragon-guarded tower. Along the way, he reluctantly befriends an annoying Donkey and falls in love with the princess. Just when he thinks he’s too ugly, fearsome and freakish for a happy ending, Shrek discovers Fiona hides her own green secret.

Producer Layton Lillas says ‘All of my productions are designed to be accessible for as many people as possible. I love to see kids being introduced to theatre at a really high level, but I also know being a dad to a 7-year-old that asking them to sit through two and a half hours is just too much.
“Our version of Shrek The Musical features a talented professional cast of 14 actors,” he says, “the set alone is worth over $1 million and was used on both the UK and Australian tours, and a dragon that has its own 40 foot shipping container. Believe me everyone who comes will be blown away!”
The Limelight review of the production in Sydney this year noted “Shrek is a show that relies fundamentally on two things: humour and heart. The version at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre (produced by John Frost and Glass Half Full Productions … has plenty of the former and loads of the latter.” “This script requires performers who can send it up but also express the emotional truth of the central relationships: Shrek’s outsider status and how he deals with loneliness, the nature of friendship and loyalty, and the truism that beauty is only skin deep. Also, it doesn’t hurt if Tesori’s snappy but often complex music is sung by confident, experienced voices, and played by a band that relishes the traditional Broadway references.”

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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