Theatre: Day after night

By Dionne Christian

The Pretties (Alexandra McKellar, Kate Riegal and Romy Hooper) strike up a chorus in Day After Night. Photo / Anil Dumasia
The Pretties (Alexandra McKellar, Kate Riegal and Romy Hooper) strike up a chorus in Day After Night. Photo / Anil Dumasia

When Benjamin Cleaver's music teacher suggested he write a musical, the 27-year-old composer/playwright dusted off a script he had written about fatherhood, partly inspired by a newspaper headline "liberated seahorse dads carry the babies".

As Cleaver was putting music to words to create what is surely one of the country's most original comic musicals, journalist and theatre enthusiast James Wenley turned to arts website The Big Idea to call for creative collaborators.

No longer content simply to write about the arts on his website www.theartrescenes.co.nz, Wenley wanted to make theatre.

Cleaver replied to Wenley's call by sending him the script for Day After Night and a CD of the pop-rock soundtrack so Wenley could listen along as he was reading.

"I thought that was a very clever idea for Benjamin to package things in this way," says Wenley. "I could read and listen to get a real feel for his idea.

"The music was a fabulous mix of emotional ballads which drew one in combined with some very funny songs about the dream of having a baby. The script itself was a neat balance between comedy and drama and plays on universal relationship dilemmas."

Cleaver's musical is a contemporary love story about two gay men, Harry (Kinloch Anstiss) and David (Paul Harrop), combined with drag acts, fantasy and caffeine. Harry wants a baby so much he has started fantasising about giving birth; David, who might not be the faithful and committed partner Harry imagines, cannot think of anything he wants less.

Friends chip in with well-intentioned advice and there's a chorus line - The Pretties - to strike up a tune whenever required.

Cleaver and Wenley, who directs as well as producing, agree Day After Night taps into conversations about gay marriage, the nature of relationships and the ticking of the biological clock - for both genders. But though the issue of gay marriage colours the piece, Cleaver says it is not specifically about that. Instead, he wanted to concentrate more on the subject of fatherhood, the rights and responsibilities involved, and what happens when one person in a relationship wants something the other doesn't.

Just as the musical deals with contemporary concerns, it owes its existence to equally timely fundraising methods. The internet brought Cleaver's project to Wenley's attention, but the duo also owe the online world a debt of gratitude for part-payment of the production.

Through crowd-funding website PledgeMe, they raised the $3000 needed to get the musical made while Arts Alive also contributed backing.

Cleaver says it was encouraging to see former high school friends, fellow artists and complete strangers donate money to bring his project to fruition.

Wenley says it was one of the most nerve-racking days of his life when the deadline for donations drew near with a small amount of money still to be raised. PledgeMe's rules state if a project doesn't reach its fundraising goal, it receives none of the money already promised.

Through Facebook friends, Cleaver and Wenley asked actor and musician Paul Barrett if he would join the production team as musical director. Barrett, who wrote his own show Tic Tic about his life with Tourette's Syndrome, was happy to offer his support. The production team was further boosted by choreographer Lydia Zanetti.

What: Day after Night
Where & when: Basement Theatre, September 18-29

- NZ Herald

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