A celebration of music and musings

Stuart Maunder in Mad About Coward.
Stuart Maunder in Mad About Coward.

Given Noel Coward once wrote a pointed line about opera - "people are wrong when they say opera is not what it used to be. It is what it used to be. That is what's wrong with it" - you might expect NZ Opera general manager Stuart Maunder not to be so fond of the English playwright and raconteur.

But Maunder says he has four great loves in life: opera, "the thing that raises my spirit and makes everything worthwhile", the music of Gilbert and Sullivan, Noel Coward and the Broadway musical.

"To a certain extent, the latter three come down to one thing: a delight in the English language."

He devised his own show, Mad About Coward, to celebrate the music and musings of Coward who, in the 1930s, was the highest earning author in the Western world due to his numerous successful plays, revues, musicals, operetta and songs.

Using a wide variety of sources, from biographies to song lyrics and play lines - some well-known, others more obscure - Maunder has created his tribute show but emphasises he is not impersonating Coward.

"I'm completely the opposite of Coward; I'm far more generous of girth!"

Maunder created Mad About Coward in 2014 as a fundraiser for the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) and has also performed it in Christchurch.

He sees it as a natural fit for a writers' festival where he will be "flying the flag for NZ Opera but also for the English language".

"It's very special that he should be included with so many literary luminaries of our time," says Maunder. "Noel Coward is one of the greatest writers but I think, in more recent times, has been somewhat maligned because he fell out of favour with the advent of the 'kitchen sink drama' - with John Osborne and playwrights like him - and no one was much interested but people are re-valuing Coward.

"I recall when I arrived in Auckland, there was a very fine production of his Private Lives [by Silo Theatre]."

Maunder is accompanied by David Kelly on piano for the Auckland performance of Mad About Coward.

Performance

What: Mad About Coward, Auckland Writers Festival
Where and when: Limelight Room, Aotea Centre; May 13 at 5.30pm.

- Weekend magazine

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