READY TO ROCK
Here comes the 1980s
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.
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.