Saturday, April 25, 2015

Singin' In The Rain

Singin’ In The Rain, a musical adapted from the 1952 film, has come to New Zealand for a short tour, starting in Wellington and continuing to Auckland. We went along to see.

When booking tickets, it’s important to make sure you know which row you’ll be in as the first three rows are designated the “splash zone”. Ponchos are provided and should be worn if you’re in this section.

We went for a quick dinner at Plum Café, another stalwart of the Cuba Street dining scene. it was as we just ordered that I realised that I'd left the tickets in the office. Fortunately, none of the puddings really grabbed our attention, so we forwent dessert and I hotfooted it back to work to collect them, and then walked back to St James Theatre. Good job Wellington is such a small town!

The musical is a pretty faithful reproduction of the film, I'm told (I don't think I've ever actually seen it - a state of affairs soon to be remedied). At the end of the first act comes the actual Singin' In The Rain bit, where they turn on the sprinklers and folk at the front get wet. Then whilst everyone gets up and mills around in the interval, they presumably dry off the floor for the second half. At the end of the second act they turn them back on for a full chorus version of the song - got to get full use out of them, after all.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

This Means Nothing To Me

Midge Ure kicked off the New Zealand section of his Australasian tour in Wellington. Midge...remember him? In case you don't, his pedigree includes Slik,  the short-lived Rich KidsVisage, a short spell writing and playing with Thin Lizzy, and well as his solo stuff. He also wrote a rather naff charity single, but we'll politely gloss over that.

He was playing at Bodega, scene of such previous gigs as They Might be Giants and Nik Kershaw - a small, standing-room venue with a bar at the back.

The support act was Boh Runga - sister of Bic, who we saw supporting Neil Finn a while back. She used to be in a band called Stellar, along with Kurt Shanks, who turned up to play guitar on a couple of her songs. All of the above are world famous in New Zealand.

And then on came Midge. He greeted us with two words: "33 years". That got a cheer. "You never wrote, you never called". That got a laugh.

This was very much an acoustic, solo synths, no band, no nothing. As he explained later in the set, he often got requests to play some songs which were simply unplayable as an acoustic version. He cites fans asking for Astradyne as an example of this.

And then he was off, into an acoustic set consisting of solo work, a lot of Ultravox numbers re-worked for an acoustic guitar, and Fade To Grey from Visage. He asked the audience to help out on some songs - such as doing the oh-oh-oh-oh's during The Voice. At the end he commented "oh, so you know that one, then?" to which one wag replied "I've heard it once before". In between songs he gave us his views on the current music scene, and also explained the background to some of the songs. He also gave us a bit of spiel about how so-called "heritage acts" got groans when they mentioned the n-word...that's right, some New Material. And then he played us some new material...well, new-ish, anyway, from his most recent solo album, Fragile. It sounds a lot like Midge Ure.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Mystery Of Edwin Drood

The Mystery of Edwin Drood was Charles Dickens’ last, unfinished novel. How do you dramatise an unfinished novel? By making it into a musical, of course! Well, it worked with Oliver, so why not?

But first, the obligatory pre-theatre dinner. We are fast approaching the deadline when the Entertainment Book 2014/2015 runs out, so we are seeking to squeeze every ounce of value out of it before the 1 June deadline...and so, dinner in Muse On Allen, a place we’ve frequented before and liked.

The basis of the show is that it’s not a direct adaptation of what is, by all accounts, a somewhat bleak (some might say “Dickensian”) story; rather, it is set in a music hall, with characters playing characters from a Dickensian show - a play within a play. This allows The Chairman to act as MC, and also to narrate and fill in exposition as required to advance the plot. The production also borrows from the pantomime idea of having the leading man played by a woman. The action follows the adventures of young Edwin Drood in the lead-up to his marriage to Rosa Bud. On Christmas Eve there is a party at the house of Jasper, Edwin’s uncle. The following day, Edwin is nowhere to be found, but the cloak he borrowed from Jasper is found near the river, with bloodstains on it. At this point, The Chairman informs us that this is where Charles Dickens had the bad grace to suddenly die, leaving no notes or other indications as to whodunnit. The cast quickly summarises the state of play, reminding us of important points that may or may not be clues, and then finish off the first act by crowbarring in their signature tune, Off To The Races.

Act 2 begins 6 months later, and the mystery of what has happened to Edwin has still not been resolved. At this point, audience participation is required. First, though, the small matter of what has actually happened to him has to be resolved…is he alive or is he dead? This particular vote is put to the rest of the cast, who, for convoluted reasons, unanimously decide that he has been done away with, come to sticky end…is brown bread. The audience is then asked to pick a murderer, and also to resolve the love interest. The cast have rehearsed 30 different endings depending on the possible combinations of these two votes (although I suspect that a number of them are similar) and they performed the ending suited to our choices (we picked the butler, because it always turns out to be the butler that did it).  

The play is resolved satisfactorily, the dénouement is dénoued, and the cast give a last, rousing chorus before taking their bows; and with a shout of “to the bar!”, it’s all over. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Billy Idol

Eighties throwback Billy Idol is on a world tour, starting in America and now winging its way around  Australia and New Zealand. And for once a major star is not just visiting Auckland, but also taking in Wellington and Christchurch, before heading back to the States and thence to the UK and Europe. On the Australasian leg of the tour he’s supported by Cheap Trick, and Aussie band The Angels.

Oddly enough, Nicola wasn’t that interested in seeing this show, so I teamed up with quiz team regular, Tor. Tor handily works for the Bresolin brothers, so we were able to get some nosh at Scopa and take advantage of her staff discount, before going to the gig. The Bresolin brothers, you will recall, own such hot properties as Scopa, Duke Carvell’s Swan Lane Emporium, and the aptly-named The Bresolin, all of which we have patronised regularly (“you’re quite good, for some Wellington cafés”).

We then wandered up to the TSB Arena for the gig. The show was starting early as there are three bands, each with a substantial set. This venue is Wellington’s second-largest (after the stadium) and holds around 5,000. We’ve been here to see netball and for exhibitions, but this is the first time I’ve been to it as a music venue. We were seated to the left of the stage.  

The Angels are well-known to Australian audiences, but never really broke out of their home country (few Aussie bands seem to - Powderfinger, anyone?). Their heyday was the late Seventies and Eighties, when they were regularly in the album and singles charts in Australia. They are, apparently, famous for a chant at their concerts, in response to the question raised by one of their songs Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again? to which the answer is “no way, get fucked, fuck off!” And it seemed plenty of people in the audience knew this.

Cheap Trick are best remembered for their iconic hit I Want You To Want Me. In fact, they’re known for little else, although they’ve continued making albums until 2009. For reasons unknown, they’re big in Japan…it was their live recording of IWYTWM from the album At Budokan which brought them to international recognition. They played a short set which included a few songs which, it turned out, I did know (Ain't That A Shame, If You Want My Love). It turns out that quite a few people at the concert were there to see Cheap Trick rather than Billy Idol.

And so to the main act: Idol still looks like Billy Idol (hey, once you’ve found your look, why change it?). He was loud, he was bad, and he played all those tunes that you remember, including the Generation X songs Dancing With Myself and Ready Steady Go; and an adaptation of his LA Woman cover, which he changed to Wellington Woman (I kinda think he does this for every city he visits) and added in some stuff from his new album, Kings And Queens Of the Underground. And of course, he took off his shirt. This seemed to excite some of the members of the audience.

He finished off his main set with Rebel Yell, before coming back on for an encore of White Wedding and Mony Mony.