2017 VAC Awards Announced

The Variety Artists Club of New Zealand Inc are pleased to announce the recipients of this years’ awards.

Agnew Award for Excellence : Bruce King

Pacific Entertainment Top Female Artist Award : Lavina Williams

Pub Charity Top Male Artist Award : Paul Town Treweek

New Zealand Entertainment Academy Top Musician Award : Ken Strong

Stage & Screen Travel Top Group Award : The Lady Killers – Jackie Clarke, Tina Cross ONZM, Suzanne Lynch MNZM

Lou Clauson Top Variety Artist Award : Steve Larkins – Mercury Rising

Fullers Entertainment Award : Greg Peacocke

Top Children’s Entertainer : Andy Wonder

Pat McMinn Rising Star Award : Jenny Mitchell

Rielly Comedy Award : Penny Ashton

Limelight Productions International Achievement Award : Rhys Darby

Unsung Hero Award : Ruth Gould

Nostalgia Award : Billy Karaitiana (AKA Billy Kristian)

VAC Scroll of Honour :

Tim Beveridge
John Callesen
Ric Carlyon MNZM
Ray Eade
Rodger Fox ONZM
Stanley Goudge JP
Mark Leishman
Steve McDonald
Rachel Rouge

President’s Award :

Max Merritt
Gray Bartlett MBE
David Hartnell MNZM

Benny Award : Kevin Greaves

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2017 Benny Award Evening

The Variety Artists Club of New Zealand Inc are pleased to announce the nominees for this years’ awards.

Agnew Award for Excellence : Bruce King, Paul Town-Treweek, Mike Walker

Pacific Entertainment Top Female Artist Award : Kaylee Bell, Sharon Emerali, Lavina Williams

Pub Charity Top Male Artist Award : Tim Beveridge, Shane Cortese, Paul Town-Treweek

New Zealand Entertainment Academy Top Musician Award : Rob Galley, Stuart Pearce, Ken Strong

Top Group Award : The Lady Killers, Prima Swing Riot Orchestra, The Recliner Rockers

Lou Clauson Top Variety Artist Award : Eva Gordon, Steve Larkins (Mercury Rising), Le Cirque de JP (Jean Philippe Janin)

Top Children’s Entertainer : Paul Classan, Andy Wonder, Alan & Emily Worman (Science in a Van)

Pat McMinn Rising Star Award : Jenny Mitchell, Tiana Sooialio, Cameron Walsh

Rielly Comedy Award : Penny Ashton, Urzila Carlson, Simon McKinney

Limelight Productions International Achievement Award : Broods, Rhys Darby, Parris Goebel

Recipients of the Unsung Hero Award, Nostalgia Award, Fullers Entertainment Award, President’s Award, the prestigious VAC Scrolls of Honour and the Benny Award will be announced on the night.

TICKETS ON SALE NOW!

The Benny Award Evening is Sunday the 8th of October 2017 at Crowne Plaza, Auckland City.

Tickets are on sale now. Please contact Robyn Alexander on 027 211 0203 or via email robynalx@orcon.net.nz

Your ticket includes buffet dinner and a great night of entertainment and guest stars and is most reasonably priced for financial VAC members at just $95 a head.

Financial VAC members may each purchase up to two tickets at this special rate.

The standard non member price is $105 a head.

Cash bar available.

This event will sell out.

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2016 Variety Artists Club Award Winners

The Variety Artists Club of New Zealand are pleased to announce the recipients of this year’s awards.

Benny Award : Suzanne Prentice OBE

Scrolls of Honour : Kylie Austin, Tim Bray, Murray Cammick, Mike Chunn, Billie Farnell, Kerre McIvor, Chris Priestley, Rufus Rehu, David Weatherley

Agnew Excellence Award : Roger Skinner

Lou Clauson Top Variety Artist Award : Mick Peck

Pat McMinn Rising Star Award : Molly G Paige

Top Children’s Entertainer Award : Paula Wray (Trixie the Fairy)

Rielly Comedy Award : Dai Henwood

Limelight Productions International Achievement Award : Sam Wills (Tape Boy)

NZ Entertainment Academy Top Musician Award : John McGough

Top Group Award : Dreams – The Fleetwood Mac Experience

Pacific Entertainment Top Female Artist Award : Jackie Clarke

Pub Charity Top Male Artist Award : Chet O’Connell

Fullers Entertainment Award : Paul Ellis

Nostalgia Award : Ngoi Pēwhairangi

Unsung Hero Award : Robert Kapita (snr)

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2015 VAC Awards Announced

2015 Variety Artists Club of New Zealand Benny Award Evening

The Variety Artists Club of New Zealand Inc is delighted to announce all recipients of awards at the 2015 Benny Award Evening.

Benny Award : Johnny Devlin MNZM
Agnew Award for Excellence : Wayne Rogers – Chicane
Fullers Entertainment Award : Sandra Roberts
Pacific Entertainment Award for Top Female Artist : Jody Direen
Pub Charity Award for Top Male Artist : Andy Stankovich
Nostalgia Award : Paul Walden
Pat McMinn Rising Star Award : Christopher Bates
Face TV Award for Top Group : Sol3 Mio
NZEA Award for Top Musician : Mark Dennison
Rielly Comedy Award : Michele A’Court
Lou Clauson Top Variety Award : Parris Goebel
Top Children’s Entertainer Award : Paul Bates – Zappo the Magician
Unsung Hero Award : Lloyd Davis

Scrolls of Honour :

Chris Bourke
Simon Grigg
Henk Landweer
Candy Lane QSM
Ken Ring
Frankie Stevens MNZM

A huge thank you to our incredible Master of Ceremonies Mr John McGough who held the event together with professionalism and charm.

Performers on the night :

The Kings of Rock ‘n’ Roll – Tom Sharplin, Che Orton, Shane Cortese and Johnny Devlin
John Rowles OBE
John Carr
Royce Creamer
The Claxtons
Midnite Special
Jody Direen
Andy Stankovich

Our valued VAC Patrons David Hartnell MNZM and Grey Bartlett MBE.

Our sponsors : Pub Charity, Gray and Trish Bartlett & NZ Entertainment Academy, Gerard Smith & Face TV, Robyn Alexander & Pacific Entertainment, Glenda Law & Fullers Entertainment and Royce Creamer.

Our photographer Jason Fell and tech crew Mike Richards, Brent McLeod and Robyn Alexander.

Karen Davy and Laurelle Betti for arranging the beautiful table settings, and to Linda Luxford organising the sumptuous meal.

Mick Peck for promotional materials and marketing.

Key Suppliers : Peter van Gent of Audio Visual People, Paul Randall of Captures Video Productions and Crowne Plaza.

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Alan Watson Receives Queen’s Service Medal

Auckland Magician Alan Watson Queens Service Medal QSMAlan Watson has pulled a few tricks over the decades which have surprised and delighted his audiences, but the Auckland magician was the one left stunned to find himself on this year’s New Year’s Honour’s list.

“I have never seen this before; I am quite surprised,” he says of receiving the QSM “for services as a magician”.

He says he has no idea who nominated him for the award and wondered at the detail in the biographical note issued by Government House.

“I was astounded, where did they get all this information from?”

Once it settled in Watson decided it was a thrilling award for New Zealand magicians.

“Our art form is going to be recognised with a royal honour.”

His grand uncle was a magician in World War One and the magic wand has been passed through the generations. His 15-year-old Oamaru grand-daughter has won age group national honours already.

He has been a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians for more than 33 years.

He has organised more than 100 international lectures on the art of magic.

In the last 10 years, he has arranged $70,000 of sponsorship for young magicians to attend conventions and lectures in New Zealand and Australia.

Since the 1990s, Watson has served in a voluntary capacity as New Zealand representative on several international magic societies, including the Society of American Magicians and The Magic Circle, London.

Watson was the resident magician at Auckland’s Rainbow’s End and is now a resident at the Waipuna Hotel and Conference Centre.

“I’ve always had plenty of work.”

Article courtesy the Dominion Post, reproduced with permission.

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Blue September—Prostate Cancer Awareness

Variety Artists Club of NZ - Ray Woolf, Peter Leitch and David Hartnell Blue September

Our VAC members are featuring in this year’s Blue September campaign for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand.

Pictured are Ray Woolf MNZM, Sir Peter Leitch (VAC Scroll of Honour recipient) and our Patron David Hartnell MNZM who is also an Ambassador to the Foundation.

Every year around 600 men die in New Zealand of prostate cancer, many of these deaths could be prevented by early detection and healthy lifestyle choices.

Visit the Blue September website for news, and information about events and men’s health.

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Edwina Thorne in France – “Song For My Father”

A clip of trumpet diva Edwina Thorne jamming at La Sale Baisir in Paris.  Edwina has performed all over the world; career highlights include playing second cornet in the Eric Ball Composite Band directed by Lloyd Thorne QSM, the Lincoln Centre Women’s Jazz Festival with her own group The Thorne Birds, playing the Blue Note in New York, forming a band with alto-sax great Vince Herring, performing in Cologne Germany, performing in Stockholm with the late great Mel Lewis, in Helsinki with Clarke Terry, also appearances at the Monterey Jazz Club, ‘Fog Bank’ and at the Rochester Latin Festival.

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The Amazing VAC Variety Show – July 2014

The Amazing VAC Variety Show 2014 Variety Artists Club of New Zealand Inc

Pleased to announce that the Amazing VAC Variety Show at the Rose Theatre was a great success.  Ticket sales were so strong that an extra row of seats had to be placed at the front of the theatre.

Performers included Dizzy Summers (Paula Wray), Gemma and Maryanne Rushton, Colin Parris, Mick Peck, Paul Bennett, Roger Skinner, Ken Strong, Karen Davy and Marian Burns.  Holding the show together was our MC David Hartnell MNZM, Patron of the Variety Artists Club of New Zealand.

My sincere thanks to all members of both cast and crew who worked so hard to put on a fantastic evening of entertainment.  Lots of emails and positive comments from the public about the professionalism of the show and in particular the wide variety of talent on display.

My thanks to our major concert sponsor – Paddy Fahy from Nature’s Sunshine Products New Zealand.  Support also graciously received from Kenderline Electrical – suppliers of MARTIN professional lighting, Edwards Sound – suppliers of D.A.S. Audio, Musicways Limited – suppliers of ZOOM sound effects and Trumpeter DJ John McGough.

The Amazing VAC Show will return …

– Mick Peck
Producer/Director

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The Amazing VAC Variety Show – Tickets Available

Incredible VAC Variety Show Rose Theatre July Variety Artists Club ShowProudly hosted by the iconic Variety Artists Club of NZ Inc, the Amazing VAC Variety Show features performances by some of the top performers in the country.

Music, comedy, magic, a touch of burlesque and more!

Featuring acts from both NZ’s Got Talent and Stars in their Eyes.

Hosted by David Hartnell MNZM, New Zealand’s king of celebrity gossip and Patron of the Variety Artists Club.

The must-see Amazing VAC Variety Show is on for one performance only – Friday 25th of July, 7:30PM at the Rose Theatre, School Road Belmont, North Shore.

Featuring Benny recipients Marian Burns and Paul Bennett, Kiwi music icon Roger Skinner, hits of Broadway from Maryanne and Gemma Rushton, Agnew Excellence Award recipient Karen Davy as Dolly Parton, comedy and celebrity impersonations from Colin Parris, eye-popping visual magic with Mick Peck, a touch of burlesque and fun from Dizzy Summers and more!

The VAC would like to thank our major concert sponsor – Paddy Fahy from Nature’s Sunshine Products New Zealand.  Support also graciously received from Kenderline Electrical – suppliers of MARTIN professional lighting, Edwards Sound – suppliers of D.A.S. Audio, Musicways Limited – suppliers of ZOOM sound effects and Trumpeter DJ John McGough.

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Linn Lorkin – Family At The Beach

From Linn Lorkin’s award-winning one-woman show Hey, Piano Lady!  Linn won the Best Cabaret Award at this year’s New York United Solo Festival.  She sings in several languages and has recorded twelve albums for her own Rouge Records label, including five CDs of originals and two of French chansons.  “Family at the Beach” was voted Best Kiwi Summer Song in a recent New Zealand radio listeners’ poll.

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2013 VAC Top Female Artist to Star in Phantom of the Opera

toni-gibsonNew Plymouth has a new “Angel of Music.”

New Plymouth Operatic has great pleasure in announcing that twenty-one-year-old Toni Gibson will play the iconic role of Christine in the 2014 New Plymouth season of The Phantom of The Opera.

While new to both New Plymouth Operatic and musical theatre, Ms Gibson brings a wealth of experience to what is her ‘dream role’ – “I’m bursting with excitement,” says Toni.  “I can’t wait to get into rehearsals – I know the words of all the songs already.”

Toni began performing at the age of seven.  Aged nine through eleven she was part of a group called The Starlight Kids, five pop performers that travelled the North Island performing numerous shows.  Toni has studied singing and opera extensively, including under the tutelage of Ellen Barrett and two years of Classical Voice (or Opera) training under Linden Loader at the Young Musicians Academy at Victoria University Wellington.

In recent times, Toni has performed with the NZ POPS Orchestra at the Auckland Town Hall, Coca Cola Christmas in the Park, TVNZ’s Good Morning, as well as alongside New Zealand icon and VAC Patron Gray Bartlett at numerous concerts.

In 2013 Toni released her debut album Echo in My Soul and was awarded the Pacific Entertainment Award for Top Female Artist at the 2013 Benny Awards.  Her album was distributed by Ambition-Fanfare Record Label, who also represent Michael Crawford, the original West End and Broadway Phantom.

“The audition process for this role in Phantom attracted an incredible number of very talented auditionees,” said New Plymouth Operatic President Kevin Landrigan.  “It was a very competitive process.”

“Toni has real star quality,” said Mr Landrigan.  “Her voice is angelic.  Toni embodies much of what we at New Plymouth Operatic stand for.  As a young woman with exceptional potential, we look forward to seeing her develop into a true star through this role.”

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VAC President Tom Sharplin in the Press

tom-sharplin-vacTom Sharplin can still remember the exact moment he heard his first Beatles song.

The veteran rocker was pedalling down a Tauranga street in 1964 when he heard “this noise” coming out of a friend’s house.

“I said, gee what’s that sound? I just stayed there all day and listened to the same record over and over again,” he says.

It’s now almost 50 years since the Beatles released From Me to You, the single Mr Sharplin first heard on his bike and inspired him to take the first steps towards a long rock and roll career.

It’s also the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s 1964 world tour and their whistle-stop visit to New Zealand.

The Beatle-mad teenager was part of the screaming welcoming mob at the airport, who followed the entourage by bus to the Auckland Town Hall mayoral reception, and to top it off saw them in concert that night.

“The guys were screaming too, you couldn’t help it, it wasn’t just the girls,” he says.

He was so besotted with them, he watched the Beatles’ movie A Hard Day’s Night four times in one day, wore the black Beatles-style winkle-picker boots with his school uniform and even adopted their trade-mark mop haircut, with unintended consequences.

“I lost my after-school job because I had a Beatle haircut,” Mr Sharplin says.

“They said find a new haircut or you’re out of a job.”

Mr Sharplin, who lives in Mt Wellington, made his mark on the local music scene in the 1970s and still performs today.

He has always wanted to visit the Beatles’ home town Liverpool and that dream is about to come true.

He is hosting a 20-day Beatles Tour in August this year for up to 40 people.

The tour will include Beatle tours around Hamburg, London and Liverpool with extra sight-seeing stops in Paris and San Francisco.

“It’s a trip of a lifetime,” he says.

– Fairfax News, reproduced with permission.

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The Brotherhood of Auckland Magicians

BAM The Brotherhood of Auckland Magicians Incorporated, New Zealand

The Brotherhood of Auckland Magicians have a new website. The BAM was formed in 1945 and are the custodians of the prestigious Grand Master of Magic Award, presented as a lifetime achievement award for New Zealand magicians.

Many of the magicians involved with the VAC have also been members of the BAM including Benny recipients Jon Zealando, Peter Evans and Alan Watson.

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A Musical Party …

2010 Benny Award recipient Gary Daverne conducts the Auckland Symphony Orchestra with his own composition “A Musical Party”, originally composed for piano accordion orchestra. Filmed at a concert at the Auckland Town Hall, November 2012.

Gary’s re-arrangement of this movie style composition is full of colour and shade of emotion. Accomplished accordionist Stephanie Poole provides a most scintillating performance.

Click the HD icon to switch High-Def off (faster).

More about the Auckland Symphony Orchestra at their new Wikipedia page.

 

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Arif Usmani 1949-2013


Arif Mohammed Usmani

10 July 1949 – 30th June 2013

Musician, Composer, Playwright, Creative Director, Promoter,
Producer, Radio DJ, Painter & Decorator

Born David Martin Neumegen in Auckland, New Zealand. Educated at St Kentigern College and the University of Auckland, where he obtained a Bachelor of Laws. It was his lawyer father, Carl Neumegen, who wished him to study law but Arif never went into practice. He was drawn to composing and performing.

In 1967 he founded the Frank E. Evans Lunchtime Entertainment Band, a fringe group that was dedicated to the music from the 1920s and 30s. The band celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2007.

In 1969 he co-founded the Auckland Student Pirate radio station, Radio Bosom (bFM), which is still broadcasting today at the Auckland University, although no longer illegally. He wrote and hosted children’s radio shows for them for ten years.

In 1971 he moved to London and formed the Demolition Decorators Troup, experimenting in street theater and performance. It was around this time that he became a Muslim Sufi.

He returned to Auckland in 1981 with his wife Jan. Apparently they were short of a witness at their wedding so they ran outside and found a passerby. Jan died in a freak car accident leaving Arif with two young children to support.

He founded The Aunties Children’s Theatre in 1982 when he took up the position of organiser of a newly established artwork project to set up creative schemes for the unemployed. This name was inspired by Kohanga Reo Maori language nests where the female adults are known as “aunties”.

Over the next twenty years The Aunties created and performed in festivals, libraries, concert halls, schools, pre schools and corporate functions. He wrote and produced twelve large-scale full-theatre family musicals and over 200 scripts including five bilingual Maori Legend shows. He regularly wrote shows for the National Maritime Museum. Arif wrote twenty-five albums of original songs. During the school holidays, all of the children performed in the Aunties shows. To make ends meet, with a large family to feed, Arif partnered a house painting business.

His wife, Lynn Usmani, is a magician and between them they created many illusions and routines. Many of these can be seen in their television series, The Aunties Alphabet, which was repeated on New Zealand television sixteen times.

In 2002 Arif moved to Melbourne with his new partner, Karen Jarvis and co-founded the Starfish Magic Children’s Theatre performing at the Moomba Festival, St Kilda Festival, Casey Kids Carnival and Whittlesea Festival and the Melbourne Aquarium. They returned to New Zealand in 2005.

Over his lifetime Arif created thirty-six albums of music, both for children and adults. He composed over 1,500 songs and his shows contained many magic routines, many set to a song. He worked with many NZ musicians such as Don McGlashan, Peter Neumegen, The Jews Brothers, Phil Dadson and Nigel Gavin. He experimented with many themes, many of them challenging human failings such as bullying and racism. He loved animals; many of his songs were about them, especially teddy bears, rabbits and mice. At one time he owned a menagerie including a goat and a parrot.

He passed away after a lengthy illness and is sadly missed by his six children and partners Lynn and Karen and his brothers Peter and John.

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2013 VAC Committee

Variety Artists Club Committee Tom Sharplin Gary Daverne Garry Betti Laurelle Betti Jason Fell Karen Davy Robyn Alexander Linda Luxford Mick Peck David Hartnell Gray Bartlett Glenda Law

Your Variety Artists Club Inc Committee at the 2013 Benny Awards Night.

From Left : Tom Sharplin, Gary Daverne (obscured), Garry Betti (obscured), Laurelle Betti, Jason Fell, Karen Davy, Robyn Alexander, Linda Luxford, Mick Peck, David Hartnell, Gray Bartlett and Glenda Law.

Absent : VAC Patrons Dame Thea Muldoon and Lou Clauson QSM.

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VAC Patron in the Press

David Hartnell Patron of the Variety Artists Club IncGossip columnist David Hartnell has seen, and told, it all. The Westmere author was honoured with The Variety Artists Club of New Zealand’s Fullers Entertainment Award for his 49 years working behind the scenes in the entertainment industry. Reporter Jess Lee sat down with him to find out some of his own secrets. 

1. How does it feel to be recognised for your work?

It was a great honour and for once in my life I was gobsmacked. I certainly never thought that would happen when I started out writing gossip. People said you can’t make a living out of writing gossip and here I am nearly 50 years later.

2. Why do you think you have been so successful?

I woke up in New Zealand and thought – they’re not going to come to me, I’ve got to go to them. You must be where it’s happening and that’s what I did.

I’ve never written salacious gossip – I’ve always written tongue-in-cheek. There are other gossip columnists but I find them too vicious.

There’s only been one celebrity in that 30-odd years that has complained and she’s not worth even mentioning.

3. What are some of your tricks of the trade?

The worst thing you can say to a celebrity is: “tell me about yourself” because they don’t want to hear that – so do your homework. There are areas that you don’t write about. You never write about anybody that’s pregnant because by the time it goes to print they could have lost the baby.

Never take things for granted, never assume anything.

Agents and assistants will say to me that entertainers won’t talk about this and that and then you get there and they’ll really talk about anything. It’s just the way that you ask them really.

4. Who or what stands out as a highlight of your career so far?

Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn was just beautiful, she is one of the most serene women I have ever met. One of the things that sticks out was when I was doing Elizabeth Taylor’s makeup I ended up holding the million dollar ring that Richard Burton had given her.

It’s just one of those things that happened in a working situation so who would have thought I would have held that.

5. Is there still a person you haven’t met that you would like to?

I would love to meet the Queen. I would probably ask her about the Royal Command Performances that she’s had over the years and who she likes as an entertainer. Does she make the list or do agents put it together and she just goes?

6. What do you think of the calibre of celebrity today compared to back then?

In 10 years’ time Miley Cyrus won’t be around. I mean she’s a go-getter, she’s changed her image, she’s out there and we’re sitting in New Zealand talking about her now so she’s a good marketer. But they won’t have the longevity these people – even Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, George Clooney. Never feel sorry for the celebrities in the gossip columns because it’s up to the agents to get them in there.

7. Who would be your five dream dinner party guests?

I would have the Queen, Noel Coward [English playwright, director, actor and singer] because he’d be witty, Elizabeth Taylor because she was just so wonderful, she was always good fun. Phyllis Diller for the jokes and I’d probably have my dear friend Eva Gabor [Hungarian-born American socialite and actress], she was divine so she would add that elegance to the party. Not Zsa Zsa [Gabor, Eva’s younger actress sister] she would be far too bitchy at a dinner party.

8. How did you end up in the entertainment business?

My grandparents took me to all the shows at His Majesty’s Theatre, The Civic and the St James so that that really gave me the grounding.

My grandfather really should have been on the stage. He loved vaudeville shows so I probably get it a lot from him and I’m very grateful.

My parents also took me to roller skating and I just loved it. That’s where I really got into makeup because we did shows.

9. Why have you maintained such a commitment to the industry?

Entertainment is the vein of blood of any country that is down, any country that’s at war. You can get completely lost in a performance and that’s what a production should do.

I love to go to a theatre with a red curtain that goes up, I love an orchestra pit. I very seldom go backstage because I want that magic to be there.

I don’t really like reviewing stage shows because I know what effort has been put into it and it’s only my opinion. Never read a review for theatre or for a movie, just go.

10. Where to from here?

People always ask me if I’m going to retire. I’m not because what else am I going to do? I have a new book coming out next year, that will be my ninth book.

Source : http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/auckland-city-harbour-news/9337724/Hes-never-been-one-to-gossip

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Lionel Reekie’s Russian Standing Ovation

lionelreekieWhile many New Zealanders were soaking up brilliant summer sunshine and enjoying a relaxing day at the beach, our own Lionel Reekie travelled to the land of vodka, ice and snow to star in concert in Novosibirsk, Russia’s third largest city.

Lionel had to pile on thick winter woollies in order to brave the early morning temperatures of minus 26 degrees before boarding a bus to travel to rehearsals on icy, snowbound roads.  For many, forty-two hours on a plane might have been a great excuse for sleep, but Lionel was so excited by this unique opportunity to perform in Russia, he couldn’t wait to get to rehearsals.

The professional orchestra members treated Lionel with huge regard and his lovely Russian-born wife Elena was only too happy to act as official interpreter.

Headed by respected conductor Rustam Dilmukhametov, the large concert orchestra included traditional instruments such as balalaikas for the main string section in addition to the more familiar flutes, oboes, piano, keyboards and percussion section.  As an honoured guest, Lionel was invited to join the orchestra members for a festive celebration lunch after their final rehearsal.  Everyone was in a very cheerful mood, even more so after a few bottles of vodka had been consumed.

The concert venue was at the prestigious Novosibirsk Philharmonia, a massive building with impressive colonnades. Lionel was delighted to see the concert programme had been well advertised.  Large posters featured both in and outside the building and were prominently displayed around the city.  When Lionel last visited Russia in 2011 to record his album From Russia with Love he was backed by the Siberian Festival Orchestra.  Rustam Dilmukhametov, also conductor of that orchestra, had been so impressed by Lionel that he invited him to return to Russia for a special New Year festival concert.  The sold-out concert, which included favourite songs from Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, was a great success, with the enthusiastic audience leaping to their feet at programme’s end demanding two encores.  Of course Lionel was only too happy to oblige, choosing to sing in Russian “Esli U Vas Netu Teti”, the theme from a very popular Russian film Irony of Fate.  Being a Kiwi performer had created quite a bit of interest, so immediately after the concert Lionel was interviewed by a reporter from the local radio station.

Before leaving Russia Lionel and Elena were excited to try ice fishing, so one of the local fishermen drove them out over the hard frozen shell of the Ob Sea.  This immense artificial lake was created in 1956 by a dam on the Ob River.  In summer it is an extremely popular holiday spot for Novosibirsk citizens but in the winter time the ice is more than a metre thick.  Fortunately it was a warm day for a Siberian winter – only minus 15 degrees.  A circular hole was drilled in the ice and a baited line was lowered to entice the fish.  Elena did eventually catch a carp but the fish that day were few and far between.  “Not to worry,” said Lionel, “The concert will always remain as the most thrilling part of my trip to Russia!”

Lionel was a recipient of the VAC‘s Pat McMinn Rising Star Award, in 2010 he received a VAC Scroll of Achievement and has been nominated for the Agnew Award for Excellence six times.

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