Infectious, memorable and sometimes downright annoying - they're the kind of "songs" that get stuck in our brains and, for entire generations, can prompt a walk down memory lane.

We're not talking about Number One tunes or retro hits, but advertising jingles that have you back in the living room of your childhood home before you can even say "utter peanut butter nutter". Just ask Dean Hewison, a commercials director, theatre and film-maker who frequently found himself humming ditties from the catchiest ad campaigns of the 1980s and 90s.

"I'd had these ads in my head since I was a kid watching too much television," he says, adding the lament of pre-internet generations, "because there wasn't much else to do back then but watch TV."

Rather than keep the retro jingles in his head to hum at traffic lights or in other idle moments, Hewison decided to seize an opportunity to strike theatre gold. With help from musical director Amand Gerbault-Gaylor, he pulled around 20 jingles together to craft a musical comedy premised around one of the oldest storylines in theatre: small town girl leaves sleepy country home to make it big in the city.


Jingles goes that Wella McDonald lives in the small farming community of Rainbow's End. After learning her birth mother is the head of TV3, she ventures to the big smoke to try to win her mother's respect by becoming a TV weather-presenter.

That alone provide clues to some of the jingles Hewison has incorporated, changing none of the lyrics - but possibly the tempo of one or two - to ensure nostalgia value remains. It's a formula that worked well at the NZ Fringe Awards in Wellington earlier this year, where Jingles won Best Musical and Best Comedy.

A cast of three bring the musical to life at the Basement, including Auckland 2017 Billy T Award nominee comedian Paul Williams and songstresses Jessie Lawrence and Carrie Green. It's all topped off with cheese-pop choreography from ex-RNZ Ballet dancer and soul-child of the 90s, Brigid Costello.

Hewison reckons a good jingle is one that stays in your brain, has you singing along and, of course, instantly brings to mind the product it's pushing. Seven of those featured in Jingles were written by one composer, Murray Grindlay (as Monte Video, the singer of the 1982 hit Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop Cumma Cumma Wang Dang).

However, Hewison thinks the art of writing a catchy jingle may be a dying one. We're no longer captive to TV, watching certain programmes at set times and putting up with ad breaks, meaning there's less opportunity for us to hear the ads.

"It would have to be something very special to break through today," he says. "We're not trying to change the world but send people out with a big grin on their faces and some 'ear worm' songs in their heads."

What: Jingles - The Musical
Where and when: Basement Theatre, June 6-17