Big stage comes to Auck­land

Mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar Ve­gas-style show opens at SkyCity The­atre

Herald on Sunday - - IN OTHER NEWS - Dionne Chris­tian

In a first for New Zealand, SkyCity is host­ing a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar res­i­dent the­atre show — the kind found in Las Ve­gas casi­nos, on Broad­way or Lon­don’s West End.

City of 100 Lovers, a one-hour mu­si­cal com­edy de­signed for Auck­lan­ders and tourists alike, opened on Fri­day. It will con­tinue for nine months and, if suc­cess­ful, be­come a per­ma­nent ad­di­tion to en­ter­tain­ment at SkyCity.

Three years in de­vel­op­ment and with an $8 mil­lion bud­get, it’s backed by Tem­plar Tourism Man­age­ment, a com­pany linked to the Tem­plar Fam­ily Of­fice, which has nu­mer­ous in­vest­ments and in­ter­ests world­wide and is known for spon­sor­ing art events. Tem­plar Fam­ily Of­fice is now a ma­jor spon­sor for the Auck­land Phil­har­mo­nia Orches­tra, who recorded mu­sic for the show.

The story fol­lows Sally, a newly di­vorced food critic from New York on as­sign­ment to judge an in­ter­na­tional cook­ing con­test “in the city of 100 lovers”. Imag­in­ing her­self drink­ing red wine in Paris, she is taken aback to learn she’ll travel more than 21 hours and cross eight time zones to reach Auck­land, New Zealand. How­ever, her head is quickly turned by a charis­matic Ma¯ori tour guide, TJ. Aus­tralian Re­becca Cul­li­nan plays Sally; Auck­lan­der Kieran Fos­ter is TJ.

SkyCity gen­eral man­ager mar­ket­ing Jon Spit­tle agreed such a long sea­son is un­usual.

“We were ap­proached more than 12 months ago by the City of 100 Lovers pro­duc­tion team. Yes, we were very cu­ri­ous, and the am­bi­tion and vi­sion of the team was in­fec­tious and we knew the unique Auck­land story would ap­peal to our tourism vis­i­tors in par­tic­u­lar,” said Spit­tle.

“To have a long-term venue hire, in com­par­i­son to work­ing with a num­ber of smaller shows, is sim­pler in many ways for us.”

Show pub­lic­ity states the high­tech pro­duc­tion “si­mul­ta­ne­ously takes view­ers through an en­ter­tain­ing love story while show­cas­ing the places, cul­ture and way of life, which at­tracts mil­lions of tourists to Ta¯maki Makau­rau ev­ery year.”

The pro­duc­tion in­volves some of New Zealand’s high­est-pro­file cre­atives, in­clud­ing film direc­tor and artist Vin­cent Ward as artis­tic direc­tor and au­thor and for­mer ra­dio host Justin Brown, who wrote the story.

Ward agrees many might be sur­prised to find him work­ing as artis­tic direc­tor for a the­atre mu­si­cal — “I would be sur­prised” — but says he was asked by Tem­plar Fam­ily Of­fice to be in­volved.

“Any­thing I can’t do or haven’t done be­fore is in­stantly more in­ter­est­ing than some­thing I can do,” he said.

He and Brown de­vel­oped the story with Amer­i­can Tony Award nom­i­nee Peter Kel­logg and have been joined by New York direc­tor Tony Sti­mac, cos­tume de­signer Ding Ding, who has worked on many Chi­nese film and stage pro­duc­tions, award-win­ning lo­cal chore­og­ra­pher Ta­iaroa Royal and Apra and Sil­ver Scroll win­ner Tom McLeod on mu­sic and lyrics.

“It’s an un­usual amal­gam,” Ward said. “There are a large num­ber of in­cred­i­bly tal­ented New Zealan­ders but also a real melt­ing pot of tal­ented peo­ple from around the world and that rep­re­sents who we are to­day as a peo­ple.

“Auck­land is a cos­mopoli­tan city and that’s what’s ex­cit­ing about the new Auck­land and the new New Zealand.”

Ma¯ori themes are wo­ven into ev­ery as­pect of the pro­duc­tion, with Paora Sharples cul­tural ad­viser and Ma¯ori tal­ent cu­ra­tor.

Brett O’Ri­ley, chair­man of Tem­plar Tourism Man­age­ment’s ad­vi­sory board and for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of Auck­land Tourism, Events and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment (Ateed), says re­search car­ried out some years ago showed vis­i­tors felt there wasn’t enough nightlife in Auck­land.

O’Ri­ley is con­fi­dent City of 100 Lovers will fill the gap, help­ing make Auck­land a des­ti­na­tion rather than a tran­sit point.

Kieran Fos­ter (cen­tre) stars in ‘City of 100 Lovers’, the first res­i­dent the­atre show at Auck­land’s SkyCity. Ta­iaroa Royal, be­low.

Ta­iaroa Royal.

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