Hamilton aims for the sky

Hamilton The Revolution coverThere’s a song by the comedy band Tripod with a line that goes: “I always get into stuff/ Just as it’s finishing being cool...”, and embarrassingly this often applies to me. A couple of years ago I listened to the first song of the (Alexander) Hamilton musical and thought it was good, but it didn’t blow me away. I figured I’d try it again another time.

A few weeks ago I put it on as something to listen to while cleaning the house, and this time I stuck with it; halfway through listening to “Satisfied” I was a firm fan. I kept cleaning just so that I could finish the musical (which never happens, believe me). The house was spotless by the time the last refrains of “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” faded out, and I may have cried a few times while folding the washing. How did a story about another country’s history affect me (and millions of others) so deeply?

For a start it’s incredibly well written; it’s a musical but it’s sung-through, so you can hear the entire story by listening to the cast recording. While many of the songs are incredibly catchy the story is what compels you to continue listening to Alexander Hamilton as he drags himself up from nothing to something; he’s not always likeable, but you have to admire his incredible work ethic, and he was clearly charismatic to many.

Articulate, intelligent leaders are always interesting to read about, and he surrounded himself with articulate, intelligent men and women, including my favourite character — his sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler — who sings my favourite song. Hamilton isn’t a musical that shies away from shades of grey, portraying both Hamilton and his frenemy Aaron Burr as complex rivals with a fundamental difference in character. Lin-Manuel Miranda manages to pack all this complexity into two and a bit hours by using rapid-fire delivery and lyrics that seem throw-away on the surface but unpack to give multiple meanings and allusions to hip hop masters, Shakespeare, and historical events.

Cover of Washington: A Life, Ron ChernowThere is a lot more I could say on the topic, from how I love that it’s bringing verse back to stage performance as a great tool for compelling exposition, how it’s performing America then by America now with a diverse and talented cast, how I’ve managed to have seven different songs stuck in my head at once — and yes, if you listened to this back in 2015, you already know all this stuff. But for anyone else who’s heard about it but hasn’t quite gotten around to it yet, or who loved the Kate Shepard musical (That Bloody Woman) last year, borrow the Hamilton cast recording today and give it a listen. If nothing else you’ll get a clean house out of it.

If you do already like Hamilton, I recommend Ron Chernow‘s biographies for some extra insights into Hamilton and Washington. I’ve also been reading the fantastically nerdy Hamilton The Revolution : Being the Complete Libretto of the Broadway Musical, With A True Account of Its Creation, and Concise Remarks on Hip-hop, the Power of Stories, and the New America and can thoroughly recommend it as it showcases the thought put into every single aspect of the show.

The Gig Guide: May 2017

Planning on attending a concert, show, or gig in Christchurch? Then why not take a look at what we’ve got of that artist’s back catalogue?


May presents many more opportunities to listen to music than usual in Christchurch with New Zealand Music Month performances at a library near you including Adam McGrath of The Eastern, as well as the Cavell Leitch New Zealand International Jazz & Blues Festival.

What gigs are you looking forward to in the near future? Anything we’ve missed? Do let us know in the comments.

The Gig Guide: April 2017

Planning on attending a concert, show, or gig in Christchurch? Then why not take a look at what we’ve got of that artist’s back catalogue?




What gigs are you looking forward to in the near future? Anything we’ve missed? Do let us know in the comments.

The Gig Guide: March 2017

Planning on attending a concert, show, or gig in Christchurch? Then why not take a look at what we’ve got of that artist’s back catalogue?




What gigs are you looking forward to in the near future? Anything we’ve missed? Do let us know in the comments.

A meaty night out at the opera

I have a friend who’s never been to the opera. Never been to a musical. Actually, possibly never even been to a live theatre performance before.

How exciting for him, then, that his very first outing to all of the above will be to Sweeney Todd: the demon barber of Fleet Street.

He looked a little concerned when I told him where we were going (the oh-so-beautiful Isaac Theatre Royal), and for what purpose.

Things got worse when I tried to give a brief plot outline. Perhaps I shouldn’t have started with a line about hairdressers.

How though, does one cover all the important bits, without spoiling the plot twists? Do I talk about wives and daughters, justice and revenge, haircuts and close shaves, meat pies and unrequited love?

Cover of Sweeney Todd: The demon barber of Fleet StreetDo I mention that Mr Todd first made his appearance over 150 years ago, in the pages of a “penny-dreadful” publication? That there have been more than a dozen different stage and screen adaptations, including the most well-known current movie version starring the now infamous Johnny? Or that Christchurch is the third of the major centres to have the privilege of showing us what a close shave really means?

Perhaps I should just send him to the library to read/watch/discover all our Mr Todd-related resources?

Or perhaps I should tell him nothing. Let him enter the theatre unsuspecting and unprepared in any way for the delicious horrors that are to come …

Perhaps that last one, yes.

A few of my favourite things

“Mum,” said Miss Missy, “I’ve never eaten a croissant. They look delicious, I’d like to try one.”

The Sweet Life in ParisI was shocked because, 1: she never asks to try new food, and 2: I love sharing my favourite things with my kids, so how could it be that in all her 12 years of existence, I had never suggested she try a croissant??

Sharing my favourite is one of the best things about being a parent. I love making pancakes for them on Saturday mornings (no lemon juice for Miss Missy, the gastronomic neophobe). The Young Lad and I love building Lego together.  I loved listening to him when, at age 3, he recited The Very Hungry Caterpillar as he turned the pages of my very own book.

I love watching Project Runway and Star Trek with Miss Missy. Together, she and I have read our way through The Ordinary PrincessMilly Molly Mandy, and the Little House books. Now that she is too grown up to want to be read to by Mum, I’ve started suggesting old favourites, like the Jinny at Finmory series (which she loved) and Anne of Green Gables (which she didn’t!!*).

Cover of Children's Book of CinemaWhen I saw that the library has Bugsy Malone on DVD, I just had to bring it home to watch with her. I was in a production of Bugsy when I was at high school, and loved the movie (perhaps partly because it stars Scott Baio). Miss Missy wasn’t too keen at first, but once I finally persuaded her to give it a try, she loved it. The same thing happened with My Fair Lady (I had a bit part in that too). In fact, she enjoyed that so much that she didn’t want to have to go to bed, and couldn’t wait to watch the other half the next night.

And so began our Mum and Daughter Movie Nights, complete with a yummy treat — and yes, croissants have featured on the treat menu! We very quickly (ok, instantly) ran out of high-school-productions-Mum-was-in-that-are-also-movies, and so we branched out to old favourites of mine like Back to the Future, and classics like The Sound of Music and National Velvet.

But now I’m starting to run out of ideas .  So, I’d love to know what your favourite (pre-teen appropriate) movies are? Or if you’d like some ideas of great movies to watch with the young’uns, you could check out my Movie Night List.

*I know!  I couldn’t believe it either!


Search catalogueI’m not sure why I torment myself in this manner, but I have signed up for regular emails advertising big events and shows that will be coming to Auckland. This is with the clear understanding that I won’t actually ever GO to them, but once in a while something arrives that makes me stop and think, Maybe THIS will be the one thing I save up my 50 cent pieces for.

And Wicked, the musical based on Gregory Maguire’s bestselling book, may be that one thing. I saw it in Melbourne a couple of years ago, and absolutely loved it, so I’m already thinking about how much time I will need to spend looking  under the couch cushions for loose change.

Most of us know the original 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, and some of us are aware that it was based on a novel written in 1900 by L Frank Baum. Fewer people know that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was only one of a series of over 15 Oz-based books written by Baum, or have any idea just how pervasive the Oz story has become in some literary and cultural circles. A bit like Alice in recent times, the wizard, the good and wicked witches, the flying monkeys, the yellow brick road, AND Dorothy and her little dog too, have appeared in all sorts of places, spaces and forms.

I personally know all the words to Elton John’s 1973 hit Goodbye Yellow Brick Road; will never forget the 1978 movie The Wiz, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson; and have come across innumerable booky references to Baum’s characters and worlds, most notably for me in Stephen King’s epic gunslinger fantasy series The Dark Tower. We had the Disney version at home too (See the picture! Hear the record! Read the book!), and I can still belt out that classic and emotionally inspiring song, “Ding Dong! The witch is dead!” with very little prompting.

And while I have to admit that (again, like Alice and her Wonderland crew) the story and characters still leave me feeling a little uneasy and unsettled, even (quite frankly) a bit creeped-out, there’s no denying that Baum’s world and work has left an enduring mark on our culture, and one that looks to be continuing for some time.

What’s your favourite musical?

Some people love them and some people hate them.  I’m definitely in the first group.  I’ve grown up with Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Wizard of Oz and, thanks to my girlfriend I now know the wonders of other great Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals such as Oklahoma and Carousel.  I love them because they’re great stories with some very memorable tunes thrown in to liven it all up.  On Friday night I went to the Broadway Broads concert that the Christchurch Symphony presented, featuring the amazing voices of Naomi Ferguson and Ali Harper, among others.  They sung some fantastic renditions of songs from Broadway musicals, including I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables, Somewhere Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz, and The Worst Pies in London from Sweeney Todd.  I was smiling the whole way through because I knew most of the songs and was very tempted to sing along myself. 

My top five are:

1. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

2. Mary Poppins

3. Annie

4. Bugsy Malone

5. Oklahoma

Do you have a favourite musical or do you absolutely loathe them?

Nuns, Nazis, and Yodelling

The Sound of Music companionIt seems unlikely that a story combining these three elements would become one of the most successful musicals, and later films of all time.  But fans know that if you add these, a guitar, and some clothes made out of curtains, you get cinematic gold.  Musical films are experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment as evidenced by the popularity of High School Musical and Hairspray, and last year’s Oscar nominated Dreamgirls but for me, none of these recent pretenders will ever surpass the Julie Andrews spectacular that is The Sound of Music.

While the library has video and DVD recordings of the best musical ever, that’s by no means the end of the story.  These are a few of my favourite Sound of Music things – Continue reading