I don't go out at night any more. Not what I mean by "go out". Dinner and a show type of "go out". That all came to an end when my stint in Berlin, reviewing its operatic and musical entertainments, came to an end, some years ago. There is no underground railway in Christchurch, driving by day is a trial and by night a nightmare, climbing stairs is purgatory, and aged bladders take fright at exaggerated sound systems. So, no go.
I don't really mind. I've been there and done that most of my life, Wendy's home cooking is better than anything available in restos round this area, and the mostly over-amplified and usually witless shows of this era I can live without.
But there is one exception to that rule. Each year my dear, long-time friend, Richard Marrett (yes, THE Richard Marrett) comes in his latest limousine, picks me up, and drives me to town for Dinner-and-a-Show. There have been some mediocre dinners, and some very mediocre shows, through the years, but what the hell! It's a cherished annual Occasion!
So, what to go to see? The local professional theatre, the Court, has a chequered record with musicals. They did good productions of GREASE and CHICAGO, and last year a nice LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, but I simply do not want to see a trashed-up MIKADO or a twee WIND IN THE WILLOWS. Actually, the NASDA student companies do better stuff. Their SPRING AWAKENING, MUSIC MAN, CITY OF ANGELS and ONCE ON THIS ISLAND were much more to my taste than any Court musical I have seen. If you don't count Ali Harper's TELL ME ON A SUNDAY. Well, the Court is to regale Christchurchians this year with what I count as one of the most pitiful musicals of recent decades, RENT. So, no visit to the Court for Kurt this year.
There is also an enthusiastic amateur group. But, alas, it has tumbled into a consortium sharing exaggerated physical productions of big musicals with half the towns in the country. So nothing adventurous, nothing original, and oh my Lord, tired old compilation shows such as BUDDY! So, I don't go the their shows, either. BUT .... amateur? professional? ... who cares, class will out, and tonight it did so in an unexpectedly dazzling manner.
Knowing that I wouldn't get my Xmas musical-with-Marrett (he's conducting both RENT and the amateurs' nationwide MATILDA) I have been hopefully keeping my eye open for a delicious event ..
Boing! What is this? Ali Harper as Desirée in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC? It can't be? How? Where? An independent small-scale production. Great. All for small-scale productions. Which is what this show really is. The production was apparently COVID-crushed at the same time that I was crushed and was now revived being for four performances at the venue called The Piano. Ummmm ... a favourite show, a favourite actress ... Richard? This is our opportunity ...!
So Richard skived off MATILDA rehearsals, jumped into his amazing white Teslar and, at 5pm, rolled through the gates of Gerolstein. Our Dinner-and-a-show 2022 was on (electric) wheels.
We started off superbly with the first resto meal I have eaten in central Christchurch for ... how many years, decades ... Well, things have come on a bit since the days of 'The Swiss Châlet'. We went to a fun-looking place a few doors from the 'theatre'. 'Casa Publica'. South American food. Oh dear. I'm not really a fan of tacos and tortillas! WRONG. I had a delicious 'Peruvian' ceviche, and we shared the house speciality ... a big skewer of dangling meat with yummy semoule ... and they even served dry sherry. Oh dear, if I have a second, will I need to pee in the middle of the first act! Meal 10/10 .. lead me back!
On to the theatre. Goodness, I was expecting a room with chairs around it. The Piano is a splendid venue of ?350-400 raked seats ... I get the feeling it is largely intended to be a concert venue .. and as such it would surely be the best in town. It reminded me of the London Purcell Room. I also get the feeling that it would be best for un-amplified performances. Tonight's amplification was delicately (and unneccessarily?) done, but there were still some blurts, and the xylophone/harp effect from the orchestra occasionally drowned the singers. Yes, you are going to find tiny niggles throughout this report. I was always told by my editors not to write unmitigated raves.
Open stage, very basic scenery (who cares about scenery?), with the Armfeldt mansion at the rear and a series of screens allowing quick and efficient scene changes.
And we began. The quintet sounded absolutely super, if a little loud (which damages the cohesion). Where did they get those voices from? Where are they when I go to other productions in our area? Splendid! However, by the end of the evening, I had got tired of the five external 'people' twirling and whirling around the stage. Most LNMs I have seen have had the singers as a shadowy group of narrators on the edges of the stage, not interfering with the main action. A choir of disembodied voices. Well, these voices were so fine, that I put up with the tweaking gowns and and the parading. But, busy, busy ... du calme, mes enfants!
Well, I won't go through the piece item by item. Most of the numbers (and the dialogue) were sung and played as well as in most international and fully professional productions I have seen.
Ali Harper, acknowledged as 'New Zealand's National Treasure', more than confirmed that crown as Desirée. I have seen Taina Elg (lovely!) and Jean Simmons as Desirée. Ms Harper has wiped away all those memories ... in Christchurch, NZ???? Am I doing the provincial gush? (The Titipu Players production was much better than Broadway's ..') No, I am not. I don't. This was a performance of choice that wouldn't be out of place on any stage on the world. Her last lines of 'Send in the Clowns', beautifully lit and dressed, were gobsmacking. Her by-play behind Fredrik Egermann in 'You Must Meet My Wife' was a masterly piece of understated acting ... well, enough. I have gone into ecstasies over this lassie's performances before ... but this is her best ever.
Her Fredrik was Jonathan Densem. And he was delightful. His wry, twinkling, gently humorous performance was right on the button, and his vocals were (for me) just the right weight. An 'easy' performer is such a joy. When he came on 'dying' I was reminded of Cullum in ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY ... now there's a next project for Enchanting Productions!
It is possible to come out of an LNM performance remembering only the Big Bits. For me, the biggest Bit of the whole show is the Soon/Now/Later trio. And tonight it got a grand performance ... with, it seemed to me, some unfamiliar pauses between the elements.
The other two participants, with Fredrik, in that trio were Ann and Henrik, the two most difficut roles to cast in this show. Well, the Christchurch NZ semi-pros got it soooooooo right. My previous Henriks have been young boys cast for the top note and lots of Angst. Here we had a Henrik (Alex McHugh) who looked as if puberty was past and now pressingly painful, a young man not a boy, who negotiated the high notes unoperatically and super-effectively and ... he actually played the 'cello!!!!! Oh! Hallelujah!
And what to say of Ann (Katie Atkins). A perfectly clear soprano voice (one or two blurts I blame on the sound system) a perfect teenage appearance, an enthusiastic acting performance ... This young lady has a future. But once again .. du calme, when you are playing a small house xxxx
Elsewhere, Amanda Atlas gave a richly vocal and incisive acting performance which lifted the role of Countess Charlotte (who can appear an awful wimp) into a prominence I've never known it to have before. I see she is an experienced opera singer. I'd love to see her as Countess Palmatica in Bettelstudent! Total joy.
Jane Keller took the important role of Madame Armfeldt. Ms Keller is, I see, a noted singing teacher. So we didn't get a Hermione Gingold grunted-rather-than-sung performance .. to my delight we got a magnificent deep contralto, bang-on-the-note performance.
I am no judge of Carl-Magnuses. The role was created in New York by my dear friend Larry Guittard and I can't see past that. It, too, is a hard role, for Carl-Magnus is a fairly one-dimensional creature. John Bayne looked every inch the dragoon, strutted the part well and sang lustily.
Catherine Hay gave Petra's song with a fine voice, which didn't quite erase memories of Geraldine Turner in Australia, 100 years ago, Maddie Glossop was grand and unaffected in the key role of Fredrika ...
Come on, criticise. Remember no gush. Direction (Louise Glossop) straightforward and clean, the way I prefer it. No gimmicks. Choreography (we need choreography in LNM?) a bit clichéd .. when will we banish straight lines? Jason Carr's fine re-orchestration for a band of five (hello, Jason!), precise musical direction ... Criticise? OK.
A little too loud, a little too 'busy' -- we are dealing with a musical with WORDS and they mustn't be obfuscated by external elements and trifling taffeta ...
I'm not grumbling. You only take the trouble to pick-a-little over details when the production is worth it. And this one is worth it in spades. This was a truly splendid night in the theatre ... hopefully the magical folk behind Enchanting Productions will give us more of the kind ... and hopefully this production will have a future ... it deserves one more than anything I've seen in New Zealand since ... well, since Ali Harper's TELL ME ON A SUNDAY.
O heck, it's 2.15am .... time to come down off my cloud. G'night all.