Loosely based on one of the many translations of Auckland’s original name (Tāmaki Makaurau), City of 100 Lovers is something of a first for the city.
The big-budget musical comedy is now resident show at SkyCity, where it will continue for the foreseeable future. It follows the journey of a pushy New York food critic Sally (Rebecca Cullinan) who ventures to Aotearoa and ends up falling for local tour guide operator, TJ (Kieran Foster).
Charming and charismatic TJ takes the New Yorker on a personalised tour around the motu, introduces her to his whanau and the pristine beaches near the marae. Life gets difficult when Sally’s ex-husband Donald (Wesley Dowdell) flies over and within minutes of his arrival, tries to buy up the land to build hotels and malls. He’s aided and abetted by Sally’s boss, Deedee (Bryony Skilington) who’s developed a crush on TJ.
If Justin Brown’s story isn’t laced with complex characters and sub-plots, that’s because director Tony Stimac’s emphasis is on creating a showcase to introduce Auckland to the world — and the team do so with a splash. Multiple screens, stunning animated images of New Zealand’s landscape (as well as the compulsory frolicking sheep) a good dose of self-deprecating humour — with a few gentle barbs at the Aussies — and the story and technology come together well.
Taioroa Royal’s choreography is a highlight of the production. The ensemble work hard to deliver a number of sharp, memorable routines and the opening pōwhiri firmly asserts the contemporary power of indigenous performance. Designer DingDing’s costumes and Jane Hakaraia’s lighting design are both excellent and the various props made for the show get their moment of glory in an exquisite underwater scene where the giant jellyfish, in particular, are glorious.
It’s also worth noting that you can enjoy the live band as they are visible for the duration of the 80 minute show and while some of the lyrics are cheesy, the music, under the direction of Tom Mcleod, definitely delivers the feel-good saga it promises.
The City of 100 Lovers might appear to push the classic cultural tourism package but it has heart. The question is now will it have the legs to walk and how far can it go?