Dionne Christian is the NZ Herald’s arts and books editor

Shortland Street to hit a new note

Guy Langford and Simon Bennett are involved in an upcoming project to make a musical based on the popular Kiwi TV show Shortland Street. Photo / Doug Sherring
Guy Langford and Simon Bennett are involved in an upcoming project to make a musical based on the popular Kiwi TV show Shortland Street. Photo / Doug Sherring

When Shortland Street first screened in May 1992, Guy Langford, then seven, was allowed to stay up and watch episode No. 1 because his dad, Peter, designed the set.

Langford remembers thinking Nurse Alison Raynor, played by Danielle Cormack, was beautiful; being spellbound by how still actors stood at the end of a scene and feeling terrifically proud when he saw dad's name in the credits.

Now, on the eve of Shortland Street's 25th year, Langford may be about take the week nightly soap where it's never been before: the theatre. He's written Shortland Street - The Musical which has songs with names like You're Not in Guatemala Now, Stuck in a Love Triangle, Cliffhanger, Kia Ora, Shortland Street and Bed-hopping.

It promises to pack in all the drama of your average Shortland Street episode: murderers in the hospital, medical misadventures, forbidden love, truck crashes, a Christmas curse and, of course, the obligatory cliff-hanger to wind up the first half.

Langford has the blessing of the show's production company, South Pacific Pictures, and a director who spent the better part of 20 years producing New Zealand's longest-running TV drama. Simon Bennett, who started his career in theatre, joined SPP as a trainee in 1995 and, after two decades - more or less - with the company, says he's like a walking encyclopedia when it comes to Shortland Street.

Bennett admits when initially approached about the musical, he didn't think it would work. Then, accompanied by SPP and TVNZ executives, he watched a 15-minute presentation, including song and dance numbers, and saw instantly it was a brilliant idea.

"Like Shortland Street itself, it's quintessentially kiwi and it doesn't take itself too seriously," he says. "Television is very naturalistic whereas on stage, you can be a lot more theatrical and introduce different elements like dream sequences. I am very excited to be working with Guy on this and moving back into 'theatre-land'."

When the rest of us get to see Shortland Street - The Musical in March, it won't be the finished product. It plays as a one-evening-only performance at Auckland Arts Festival 2017 in the Raw: Projects in Development programme.

Raw features shows that are still being created. It gives them a test run in front of a live audience so creators can find out what is and isn't working while audiences get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how theatre is made. Other shows in Raw include former Silo artistic director Shane Bosher's Everything After, Poropiti: Prophet and author Sally Stockwell's Firefly.

Langford and Bennett hope to present an hour-long performance that will catapult audiences back to 1992. They say the musical pays homage to Shortland Street's early years with original characters like nurses Alison Raynor and Jaki Manu, Dr Hone Ropata, receptionists Marj Neilson and Kirsty Knight, school kids Nick Harrison and Rachel McKenna and clinic boss Michael McKenna.

"But don't expect to see the actors who played those characters playing them now because they're all 25 years older," says Bennett, hinting there may be a chance for them to make special guest appearances.

- NZ Herald

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