Sex, drugs and disco

For Rob Tapert, it’s an idea that’s been cook­ing for al­most 40 years - an in­cred­i­bly am­bi­tious project that will fi­nally come true later this month. In­ter­view by

Sunday Star-Times - - ESCAPE -

Brid­get Jones.

It was the spring of 1980 when Rob Tapert first had his mind blown in one of New York’s gay clubs. He’s been chas­ing that feel­ing all over the world for nearly 40 years, but thinks build­ing his own night­club in West Auck­land might be the best way to re­live the in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence.

The man widely known for swords and san­dals, and blood and guts is swap­ping it all for di­vas and se­quins in a new mu­si­cal theatre pro­duc­tion he says is un­like any­thing New Zealand has seen be­fore.

‘‘There are things that make this so much more than a play or a mu­si­cal. But at the heart and the emo­tional core of it, peo­ple are com­ing to a night­club to watch a play within a night­club, set in New York, in 1984,’’ Tapert tries to ex­plain. ‘‘But that’s tough to get on a bill­board.’’

Plea­sure­dome. Tech­ni­cally, it is a mu­si­cal set in 1980s New York City, as a leg­endary un­der­ground night­club faces de­mo­li­tion at the hands of a big­oted de­vel­oper hun­gry for progress – all told through the power of sex, drugs and 80s mu­sic.

Tapert’s long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor – and wife – Lucy Law­less is the show’s sassy diva, com­plete with a trou­bling co­caine habit and an un­ex­pected new love. She’s joined by an eclec­tic cast that in­cludes Moses Mackay from opera trio Sol3 Mio, The Lion King‘s Vince Harder, and Neigh­bours‘ star Stephen Lo­vatt.

And in a fairly bold move, Tapert and his team de­cided to build that night­club to ex­e­cute the ac­tion in. A night­club and a life-size, func­tion­ing New York street.

In­side the party, there’s a float­ing DJ booth and a stand­ing pit that puts pun­ters within spit­ting dis­tance of the stage. There is a VIP ta­ble-ser­vice area and there are bleach­ers to dance on. But be­fore you pass the club’s vel­vet rope, there’s a sub­way sta­tion to walk through, a gam­ing ar­cade to play spa­cies in, and bars and food stalls to feed and wa­ter at, mak­ing the un­usual lo­ca­tion fully self-suf­fi­cient for a com­plete night out.

It’s full-im­mer­sion in feel­ing and full-on in size, but it needs to be more than 800 peo­ple are ex­pected to fill the Plea­sure­dome each night.

A live mu­si­cal pro­duc­tion is some­thing of a de­par­ture for Tapert, but the scale is fa­mil­iar to the man who brought the likes of Xena: War­rior Princess and Ash vs Evil Dead to New Zealand’s film and tele­vi­sion in­dus­try.

Tapert, 62, has been work­ing in New Zealand since the early 90s, when he was com­mis­sioned to pro­duce five Her­cules movies. Since then, he’s made eight film and tele­vi­sion se­ries here, in­clud­ing Spar­ta­cus, 30 Days of Night and Leg­end of the Seeker.

Spar­ta­cus alone screened in 14 coun­tries, and em­ployed 315 per­ma­nent and 150 ca­sual crew per week, 5000 ex­tras days and 20 key cast roles per sea­son. Ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Cul­ture and Her­itage, film­ing gen­er­ated more than $200 mil­lion of spend­ing into the New Zealand econ­omy.

With a long ca­reer and his­tory in Hol­ly­wood, you as­sume Tapert could work any­where. But there’s some­thing about New Zealand that re­ally fits. While the hopes are for the pro­duc­tion to tour the world, Auck­land was the only place, he says, a show like Plea­sure­dome could have been cre­ated.

‘‘Ki­wis – and I count my­self amongst them – tend to like some­thing new. They seem to re­spond to those fresh en­ter­tain­ment ex­pe­ri­ences, so I think here is a good place to start.’’

Tapert re­mem­bers be­ing locked up in a ho­tel room on just his sec­ond trip to New Zealand, work­ing on the script for Xena, when he was dis­tracted by a noise com­ing from the road be­low. Turns out, it was the start­ing point of the Hero Pa­rade.

‘‘In my en­tire life, I had never seen any­thing like that. It was day two in New Zealand. Auck­land is far more a lib­eral city than most places.’’

But Plea­sure­dome is very much an Amer­i­can story which be­gan that eye­open­ing night, al­most 40 years ago.

Meet­ing a friend on April 24, 1980 – the evening Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter or­dered a sur­prise (and ill-fated) US mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion to res­cue 52 Amer­i­can di­plo­mats and cit­i­zens be­ing held hostage in the US Em­bassy in Tehran, so it stands out – Detroitraised Tapert found him­self in the mid­dle of a gay bar in the Big Ap­ple for the very first time.

‘‘I had never even dreamt of it. It wasn’t on my radar. And that was my first in­tro­duc­tion in any way, shape or form, into gay cul­ture. It was all un­der­cover when I was grow­ing up, but it was all ex­posed in New York City.’’

He was still a year away from the re­lease of The Evil Dead – the hor­ror film that launched his ca­reer as a Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer – but there was some­thing about the colour­ful, in­clu­sive world of the club that grabbed Tapert’s at­ten­tion.

Al­most 20 years later he found him­self im­mersed in it again at the in­vi­ta­tion of a for­mer as­sis­tant who was danc­ing in The Don­key Show.

SUP­PLIED

Rob Tapert has been dream­ing about Plea­sure­dome for al­most 40 years.

FRED PROUSER

Hus­band and wife duo Rob Tapert and Lucy Law­less worked to­gether on Xena: War­rior Princess.

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