READY TO ROCK

Here comes the 1980s

Manawatu Standard - - Front Page -

Abbey Mu­si­cal Theatre’s re­hearsal space is filled with 80s power bal­lads. It’s like China Inn karaoke on a Fri­day night, but with peo­ple that can re­ally sing.

It makes you want to join in, play air guitar, play Pac-man and watch Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s what makes these theatre-ad­dicted com­mu­nity ac­tors, singers and dancers give up their evenings, eat crack­ers for din­ner and drive their fam­i­lies mad by con­tin­u­ally hum­ming Pat Be­natar.

It’s Palmer­ston North com­mu­nity theatre with a pro­fes­sional edge and right now, it’s all about the 80s, baby.

Liam Tay­lor added in the ‘‘baby’’. He is play­ing Stacee Jaxx in Rock of Ages, the ul­ti­mate rock star char­ac­ter, ‘‘who no­body likes’’.

‘‘He’s one of those peo­ple who got to the top, but shouldn’t have, re­ally. He’s a hor­ri­ble per­son, which is so fun to play.’’

Tay­lor has been in and out of Abbey Mu­si­cal Theatre for many years. He says it’s his hobby, ‘‘but it’s a hobby on steroids. It’s not like knit­ting, more like ex­treme cro­chet­ing while singing and danc­ing at the same time.’’

The cast belts out We Built This

City while Tay­lor ex­plains the ‘‘full-on 80s plot that is all over the place, but pretty sim­ple, re­ally’’.

The Bour­bon Club is the set­ting. Think glam, lace, Ly­cra, groupies and sex-ma­chine singers on stage. There’s the wannabe star who is the toi­let cleaner, the small­town girl with stars in her eyes, the power bal­lads and the booze. And then there’s the cli­matic ‘‘oh no’’ plot thick­ener of the Ger­man devel­op­ers who want to turn the leg­endary club into a mall.

‘‘It’s just a great end-of-theyear show, where you can come and sing along, and dance in the aisles. It’s like turn­ing on the ra­dio to great songs that ev­ery­one knows.’’

Ri­ley Booth knows them and she is only 16. ‘‘I love the songs in this show. That’s to­tally why I au­di­tioned.’’ She was ner­vous ‘‘as any­thing’’ at the au­di­tion – this is her first big show and her first big part – and the per­for­mances hap­pen right in the mid­dle of her school ex­ams.

‘‘But this is so much fun and I am learn­ing so much. It’s a mas­sive step for me, but even though I’m new, it doesn’t re­ally feel that way.’’

She’s clearly hooked. She will no doubt be­come an Abbey Mu­si­cal Theatre junkie like the rest of them and will be do­ing ball changes and jazz hands in her sleep very soon. But for now, Booth is play­ing Sher­rie Chris­tian, the small-town girl with a great voice who be­comes the love story that ev­ery good mu­si­cal needs.

‘‘Yip, me and Ty (Tyrell Beck, who plays Drew) are the love story, the teenage ro­mance of the show.’’

Beck is well en­trenched into the Abbey Mu­si­cal Theatre fam­ily. This is his third show of the year and he’s just put his name down on an­other au­di­tion sheet. ‘‘You walk into first re­hearsal and it’s just like meet­ing old friends again. It brings a good at­mos­phere and it’s nice to have new peo­ple like Ri­ley on board too.’’

Erica Ward is a con­firmed theatre ad­dict. She says she moved to Wellington for a while, but had to come back to Palmer­ston North and her ‘‘theatre fam­ily’’. ‘‘I missed it all too much.

‘‘They are the most tal­ented group of peo­ple and this show is great. I grew up with these songs and I tend to lean towards the more soul­ful roles, so this role was per­fect.’’

She plays Jus­tice Char­lier, the owner of the neigh­bour­ing Venus Club, and Ward says ‘‘she is the mumma to all the lost souls’’, the ma­tri­ar­chal mother bird. Jus­tice is a power-bal­lad queen, as is Ward, who gained early in­spi­ra­tion in her singing ca­reer from Jem and the Holo­grams. She gets to rock out Shadows Of The Night, Any­way You Want It and Ev­ery Rose Has Its Thorn.

Plus, she gets to have pink hair, just like Jem. Ward says di­rec­tor Phil An­stis has been awe­some with let­ting ev­ery­one put their own spin on their char­ac­ter, which in­cludes spon­ta­neous hair dy­ing choices.

‘‘He’s great. He lets you bring your own ideas. It’s great to have free li­cence to bring what I want to the char­ac­ter.’’

An­stis last did Disco Inferno for Abbey Mu­si­cal Theatre way back in 2009, so it has been a while be­tween Abbey shows, but he says, ‘‘there are plenty of peo­ple from that cast in this’’. ‘‘Some­one men­tioned to me that Rock of Ages was go­ing to hap­pen and I put my hand up straight away. To be in it or di­rect it or what­ever. I wanted to get back in­volved and ev­ery­thing just seemed to align for this.’’

An­stis has done a heap of dif­fer­ent things in his ca­reer as a di­rec­tor and ac­tor, in­clud­ing big pro­duc­tions, plays and events in Wellington, work­ing with school kids and do­ing stop mo­tion cap­ture work for Weta. So when the cast says he has a dif­fer­ent ap­proach than most who di­rect mu­si­cals, you can see why. An­stis says his pas­sion is mu­sic and move­ment and that’s of­ten how he will see a scene. ‘‘I of­ten find my­self con­duct­ing when I am try­ing to ex­plain some­thing.

‘‘The here and the now and bring­ing your­self to the role has been a real key thing for me. I said to ev­ery­one right from the start that it is my job to make sure that the sto­ry­line is car­ried, but it’s not my job to give you your char­ac­ter. The char­ac­ter needs to be from your soul. I’ve cast peo­ple who are su­per-tal­ented, so why not use all of their best fea­tures?’’

Michael Doody has taken a step off the stage for this show, so rather than his act­ing skills, he is bring­ing his mu­si­cal skills to Rock of Ages. And Cara Hes­selin is once again chore­ograph­ing the show and mak­ing ev­ery­one mag­i­cally look like they are dancers.

It’s the end-of-the-year show, so Abbey Mu­si­cal Theatre is pulling out all the stops. The re­hearsal room re­sem­bles a church con­gre­ga­tion that wor­ships the gods of power bal­lads and their leader is a pas­sion­ate be­liever in big hair, ripped tights and a rock­star pout. All they need now is hands-in-the-air fol­low­ers pre­pared to leave their knit­ting at home and sing along like their lives de­pend on it.

●➤ Rock of Ages opens on Novem­ber 23 and runs un­til De­cem­ber 9 at The Au­di­to­rium in Palmer­ston North.

PHO­TOS: BEN PRYOR

Rolling with the 80s vibe are, front to back, Paula Fred­er­icks, Ruby Jamieson, Liam Tay­lor and Alex Hughes. Abbey Mu­si­cal Theatre cast mem­bers re­hearse a scene from Rock of Ages.

Phil An­stis has re­turned to Abbey Mu­si­cal Theatre to di­rect Rock of Ages.

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