Dominion Rd The Musical – The Heart of the City

Musicals have that wonderful ability to give life’s topical issues new light simply by putting a melodic spin on it. This developmental work by accomplished art practitioners Renee Liang and Jun Bin Lee does exactly that to brilliant effect.

Dominion Rd The Musical not only delights in the rich history and diversity of this iconic road in Auckland but it also celebrates the musical genre itself. From the catchy opening chorus number to its archetypal narrative structure, it bears all the hallmark tropes of what we all know and love in a musical.

The story follows the lives of various residents and shopkeepers on Dominion Road and their subsequent reactions when city councillor Stevie (portrayed by Brady Peetie with charming bravado) proposes to rebrand the street as Auckland’s Chinatown. The set is effectively minimal; adorning the stage are four large sandwich boards with stills of real-life shopfronts – a clever way to represent the street – which coupled with well-choreographed cast members playing buskers and passersby, suitably transport us to the hustle and bustle of Dominion Road.

The cast is fairly big in number, as to be expected, and wonderfully diverse which is not usually expected so was a joy to see. The five main characters are well cast, each with a different story to tell; particularly enjoyable are neighbouring proprietors Alison and Ahmad (played superbly by Jackie Clarke and Mustaq Missouri) whose animosity towards each other provide great comic relief.

Marissa Holder’s Geeta is the classic likeable protagonist who seeks to bring the community together to curb the rebranding with the help of her best-guy-friend-potential-boyfriend Terry depicted earnestly by Benjamin Teh. These two characters were the most interesting in terms of their backstory so much so that the will they/won’t they romance felt a bit out of place and almost unnecessary.

There is plenty of music to enjoy with a generous song list and varied repertoire of styles and arrangements all of which are performed excellently by the five leads and chorus. From fetching crowd numbers to droll duets and stirring solos, there is something for everybody. Liang and Lee are a dynamic duo; together they have created a fabulous tapestry of songs that wonderfully encapsulate the colourful and eclectic nature of Dominion Road.

What makes this work truly special is how intrinsically New Zealand it is. It is unequivocally a musical just as it is unquestionably a New Zealand story. More importantly it reflects the melting pot of cultures in which we live in today – something that is not showcased all too often, particularly in musicals. It may possibly not resonate quite as much to a wider audience outside of New Zealand however it is still an important story to tell.

Dominion Rd The Musical is a discerningly crafted, easily enjoyable symphony of sound celebrating all that is uniquely wonderful about Dominion Road and, in a broader sense, living in Aotearoa. It brilliantly fuses political and musical together resulting in a delightful work that is feel-good and thought-provoking, uplifting and heartwarming.

Dominion Rd The Musical is on at the Playhouse Theatre on 15 Glendale Road in Glen Eden until 19 August. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

NZICF 2017: Urzila Carlson – Studies Have Shown

South African Urzila Carlson, who has called NZ home for 11 years now, is a national treasure and no stranger to the local comedy circuit. This year’s offering brings more of her trademark straight talk and conversational style of stand up which Kiwi audiences have come to know and love.

Studies Have Shown sees Carlson poke fun at the silly studies and strange surveys that are being carried out online and beyond while also providing suggestions of alternate topics for research. A range of subject matters are covered from what researchers have to say about pets to her personal approach to parenting.

Carlson’s engaging delivery coupled with her conversable and laidback demeanor make for an easily enjoyable show. Her ability to highlight the hilarity in everyday predicaments and scenarios – like which is the best toilet cubicle to occupy? – feels so effortless which illustrates her seasoned comic chops.

While her findings were fascinating and often eye-opening, it is Carlson’s suggestions for what we should be focused on instead that is the driving comedic force of the narrative. From a hilarious anecdote about the worst time for your keys to fail on you to a facetiously contentious spiel around how being vegetarian doesn’t help the planet, her material had solid entertainment value.

Studies Have Shown is frequently funny, incredibly accessible and brilliantly combines topical with comical to entertaining effect. It is another superb offering from Urzila Carlson that is guaranteed to tickle your funny bone.

Urzila Carlson has finished her run at the Comedy Festival but will now be taking this show on a nationwide tour. For dates, locations and to book tickets, click here.

NZICF 2017: Luke Callaghan – Born in the US, Eh?

Having grown up in the US and having lived in NZ for the past 12 years, Luke Callaghan considers both home and consequently his comedy has an interesting dichotomy to it. Born in the US, Eh? sees him examine the hallmarks of these two countries through both American and Kiwi lenses.

Callaghan is off to a great start with his observations on NZ’s favorite snacks and spreads followed by the ridiculously excessive menu items offered at family restaurants in America. His thoughts on the great culture war that is marmite versus vegemite and why he doesn’t trust Weet-Bix are hilariously spot on.

The rest of the show continues in this fashion with Callaghan seamlessly finding the funny in a range of topics spanning from pet food to pot. Though he has an indisputable American twang he regularly reminds us that he doesn’t meet any of the usual stereotypes which is another recurring talking point in the narrative.

Callaghan pokes fun at the oddities of both his home countries to humorous effect, like mocking America’s advertising tactics and pointing out the illogicality of finding a flatmate via TradMe. He delivers these from the perspective of both a native and outsider looking in which gives his material quite an intriguing quality and aptly mirror his duality of identity.

Born in the US, Eh? is a cleverly written and commendable debut solo show from Luke Callaghan. His keen and insightful observations coupled with his affinity with both NZ and US come together in a comedic collision of cultures that is incredibly engaging and easily enjoyable.

Luke Callaghan is performing this show one more time this evening at the Backbeat Bar on 100 K road. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

NZICF 2017: Rhys Mathewson – Rhys Classic

Rhys Mathewson started his career in comedy at a young age and has accomplished a lot over the years. Most notably he is the youngest comic to be awarded NZ’s prestigious Billy T and Fred awards, a fact which he shamelessly slips in during the show whenever he deems it necessary.

There’s one thing that Mathewson has not quite managed to master yet though and that is conquering the marketing and social media game. That and doing tech for himself which though unorthodox provided great comic relief. Rhys Classic is the product of his plight to discovering what his comedy brand is, which he ponders and talks through with the audience.

Over the course of the hour, Mathewson reflects back on his past like the pivotal moment he became a comedian and also talks about his hopeful choice of clothing for his future self. He recounts the time he played improv games at a friend’s funeral and how he resorted to a self-imposed sexual harassment charge as a result of being home alone all day.

A highlight was Mathewson narrating a hilarious email exchange between himself and a council representative to do with being inconvenienced by the Auckland Marathon. His ongoing, unabashed facetiousness which builds in each message is highly amusing and reveal his quick wit as well as irreverent sense of humor.

He may not know how to sell his shows but he sure knows how to market himself on stage. Rhys Classic is another solid offering from Mathewson; his assured bravado and seasoned comedic instincts come together brilliantly for a consistently funny hour.

Rhys Mathewson will be performing at The Classic until 20th May. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

NZICF 2017: Brendon Green – Best Friends

Life is going great for Brendon Green at the moment. At 32, he is in his first long-term relationship and after putting in the time and by sheer tenacity he is proud to have successfully befriended his girlfriend’s rescue cat Tilly, the most introverted and timid cat in the world.

Green loves writing short stories which he used to bond with Tilly, performing said stories to her (his harshest critic, no less) as a way to win her over. Consequently Best Friends was born, a delightfully charming and engaging monologue about friendship illustrated through three Tilly-approved vignettes.

Over the course of the hour, we are brought on an exhilarating journey of theatrical and fantastical proportions with tales spanning from childhood memories to holiday misadventures. The strength of this show lies in Green’s ability to tell a story which he does effortlessly; each narrative is perfectly paced and delivered with impeccable timing and charisma.

There’s no denying that Green is a skilled and eloquent raconteur. Whether it was a fast-paced account which mirrored his fervent vaulting on a trampoline or a moving anecdote involving his grandma and her trusty dog Shaggy, he has the audience completely transfixed and hanging on to his every word.

Best Friends is a heartwarming and compelling experience that will give you all the feels – it will make you laugh, gasp, ponder and maybe even shed a tear or two. Cat person or not, this wonderfully devised and riveting piece is sure to warm the cockles of your heart.

Brendon Green is performing at the Backbeat Bar on 100 K Road until 20th May. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

NZICF 2017: The Fan Brigade – Don’t Ask The Fan Brigade

Livi and Amanda, the two vivacious ladies that make up The Fan Brigade take to the stage with a gusto and bravado which far supersede the cosy space they are performing in. They instantly win the crowd over with their cheeky opening banter – you just know you’re in for a cracker of a show.

Don’t Ask The Fan Brigade brings us more of this dynamic duo’s trademark tongue-in-cheek and unabashedly risqué brand of musical comedy. Their opening number berating a boyfriend that watches too much porn gets the gasps and guffaws going from the get-go and is the perfect taster for what is to come.

This year’s repertoire boasts a deliciously saucy setlist that include a satisfying rhyming track about their visit to the RSA, a “Lana Del Rey-ish” ballad about shitty exes and a side-splitting song detailing the horrors of having sex in a public toilet. In between tunes, they deliver comic commentary on several hot topics and at the ’40 minute slum’ they even throw in an interactive game show for good measure.

It’s unquestionable: Livi and Amanda are a talented pair who complement each other superbly. They are a triple threat – gifted singer-songwriters, engaging performers and adept comedians in their own right. Every tune is melodically sound and has been deftly crafted with excellent witticisms and clever wordplay which pack a comedic punch.

Don’t Ask The Fan Brigade is a whole lot of fun – it’s brilliantly bawdy, fabulously facetious and exceedingly entertaining. If you’re looking for something a bit different at the Festival and are not easily offended by off-color humor, this riotous and wildly audacious hour is the ticket.

The Fan Brigade are performing at the Backbeat Bar on 100 K Road until 20th May, with an extra later show on the last day. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

NZICF 2017: Chris Martin – Ol’ Smarty Pants

“This is nice comedy, not mean comedy” Chris Martin tells an audience member just before the show kicks off – this sums up his brand of comedy to a tee. Ol’ Smarty Pants is the kind of show that’s incredibly accessible, one which you can totally just sit back and enjoy.

A lot has happened since Martin was last in NZ three years ago – he is married, he’s moved to the US and he’s finding it harder to make new male friends in his 30s. This quest to find the platonic version of ‘the one’ is the springboard which he leaps from, self-disparagingly sharing with us his anxieties and inescapable desire to please people.

Over the course of the hour, Martin regales us with snippets across his personal, social and married life where his worries and idiosyncrasies have gotten in the way. We can’t help but endear to him as we hear about him stressing over a text conversation with someone who’s a ‘reply-in-a-while-er’ and the time he signed up for what turned out to be oddly like a doggie version of Tinder.

Martin’s effortless ability to put a humorous spin on his perceived character flaws keep the show lighthearted and not too over-indulgent and though much of what he talks about is personal to him, he still manages to make it relatable. We are also treated with brilliantly silly puns as a result of his irresistible urge to deliver a pun no matter how lame which provide another comedic layer to the narrative.

Ol’ Smarty Pants is another solid offering from Chris Martin that is immensely enjoyable, disarmingly witty and is his best solo show yet. Considering the show is about his anxious disposition, Martin is an assured, accomplished comedian that will keep you engaged and entertained from start to finish.

Chris Martin is performing at The Classic until 20th May. For more details and to book tickets, click here.