It's been described as looking like a glass jewel box and it's about to become a jewel in the crown of the Auckland arts scene: it's the 668-seat ASB Waterfront Theatre, at the Wynyard Quarter, and it opens this week.
Official blessings and welcoming ceremonies at the long-awaited home of Auckland Theatre Company are on Thursday. These are followed with a public open day on Saturday, which includes guided tours, live performances and music, dress-ups and face-painting, kids' crafts and discussions about the theatre architecture.
It will give Aucklanders their first glimpse of the $35 million building, which is stylish, warm and welcoming. This belies the glass cladding, which makes the interior of the building visible and open to the public, and is a clear sign that the world of theatre is no longer to be hidden from view.
There are three street frontages - Madden St, Halsey St and a new outdoor laneway called Logan Campbell Yard. New Zealand sculptor Professor Robert (Bob) Jahnke has created a 6.4m tall pou for the Logan Campbell Yard, Pouwhakamaharatanga mo Maui tikitiki a Taranga, based on the Maui tikitiki a Taranga narratives. It's made of steel and laminated totara, and will serve as a focal point for powhiri and other ceremonial events at the theatre's main entrance.
The pou is one of two specially commissioned artworks; the other is a three-storey installation, with 10,000 LED lights, by American light artist Leo Villareal. This is Villareal's first major public commission in the Pacific, but he's internationally renowned as a pioneer of using light-emitting LEDs and computer-driven imagery to create light sculptures and site-specific architectural works. Both works will be unveiled at the official opening.
Because the building is on the waterfront, there are nods to that maritime environment: a cloakroom made from shipping containers, port-hole like windows, and chunky wooden stairs among these features.
The first theatre in the Southern Hemisphere designed for a 5 Green-Star rating, it also includes a bar, cafe, gallery space and lounge as well as plenty of spaces to observe. The pedestrian bridge is probably not a great place to stand for those of us with vertigo, but it certainly affords a great view of the bar, foyer and the stunning David Trubridge light features (for those who want to describe them accurately, they're sculptural luminaries).
Fitting snuggly into the three-storeyed building, like a crucible in a glass box, the theatre auditorium features long, wide rows of seats - each computer-modelled for its view - curved around a 12m wide, 16m deep stage with 24 secret trapdoors embedded in its floor.
But what happens in the cedar-lined theatre itself will retain a little mystery; unlike the rest of the building, it can't be seen from the outside. So what can we expect to see there?
For starters, the seats themselves will be a talking point, but we're not revealing anything more. When you're sitting in one of those seats either later this year or next, here's what you might be watching:
BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL
Music by Elton John; book and lyrics by Lee Hall and originally directed by Stephen Daldry; ATC production directed by Colin McColl.
October 7-November 27 (the season has been extended and 15,000 more tickets are now on sale)
We've seen a couple of scenes and even in the rehearsal room - with no costumes or props, scripts still in hand - the audience was spellbound. Based on the film and set in a northern mining town as the 1984 miners' strike unfolds, Billy Elliot the Musical is about a regular 11-year-old lad who would rather do ballet than boxing.
PEER GYNT [RE:CYCLED]
By Eli Kent; based on the original epic poem by Henrik Ibsen, directed by Colin McColl and presented in association with the Auckland Arts Festival
March 7-March 18
Wunderkind Kiwi playwright and recipient of an ATC Patrons Writers' Award, Eli Kent stars as the central character taking a wild ride through the life and times of one of literature's most charming ratbags. Peer Gynt is a bad boy with big dreams and a lust for life - and women. Banished for seducing a bride on her wedding day, he wanders the world in search of love, fame and fortune. After a lifetime of exotic encounters and epic adventures, he makes his way home.
By Peter Shaffer, directed by Oliver Driver
Remember ATC's runaway hit Jesus Christ: Superstar? Well, the creative team behind it - Oliver Driver and Leon Radojkovich - reunite to transform Peter Shaffer's thrilling musical murder mystery into an unmissable state-of-the-art spectacular. In Vienna, music is the currency of power and court composer Antonio Salieri is the toast of the town - until the arrival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Confronted with true genius, Salieri is consumed with obsessive jealousy, declaring war on God for choosing to speak through this upstart and not him. His mediocrity becomes murderous as he sets out to destroy his potty-mouthed young rival and extinguish the spark of his divine talent. Driver and Radojkovich are already shaking things up, casting dancer/choreographer Ross McCormack and Michael Hurst in the lead roles.
WHEN THE SUN AND MOON COLLIDE
By Briar Grace-Smith, directed by Rawiri Paratene
June 20-July 6
New Zealand: a small, rural settlement in the middle of nowhere is in turmoil. Somebody knows what happened to two Danish backpackers who disappeared a year ago on a local walking track. Is it Isaac who runs the local tearooms? Or is it his only customer, the anorexic Francie? Perhaps it's Declan, recently released from prison for a crime he didn't commit? Or maybe local cop Travis is not saying all she knows?
By Jessica Swale, directed by Colin McColl
Long before there were the Kardashians, there was 17th century media sensation Nell Gwynn, a pretty, witty orange-seller who became the toast of London town, and King Charles II's most famous mistress. Jessica Swale's 2016 Olivier Award winning best new comedy puts theatre's most legendary love affair in the spotlight and is a love-letter to theatre itself. Our cover star Anna Jullienne takes the lead.
By Roger Hall, directed by Colin McColl
News that Bill English is to open a new wing of the Cambridge Retirement Village sparks a revolution among its residents. Though many want to turn on something special for the Deputy PM, others are less enthused and plan to protest. With a cast that includes Mark Hadlow and Alison Quigan, this is a lethally funny black comedy about sex, death and politics.
Tickets for the 2016/17 season go on sale on Saturday, October 1. Bookings for the above shows (except Billy Elliot) cannot be made until then.