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
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.
Rob Tapert has been dreaming about Pleasuredome for almost 40 years.
Husband and wife duo Rob Tapert and Lucy Lawless worked together on Xena: Warrior Princess.