Michael Hurst is directing a musical like no other. He talks to Dionne Christian.

It's an admission that stops me in my tracks.

Michael Hurst, veteran New Zealand actor and director of everything from plays at the Basement to grand operas and acclaimed TV shows, doesn't like being plucked from the audience to go up on stage.

"I get mortified that I am going to get picked," says Hurst. "I don't mind if people get close but when they look at me like they're going to get me up, I'm like, 'please don't get me up, don't get me up ... '


It might be even stranger when you consider Hurst directed Generation of Z, a zombie apocalypse survival story where a handful of actors shepherded audiences - who signed up in droves - through a "what would you do?" participatory theatre show.

That interactive "play" started in Aotea Square, travelled to the 2014 Edinburgh Festival and proved so popular big-name producers got out their cheque books and took it to London for a six-month sell-out season.

Maybe not the kind of thing Hurst would have queued for because he likes a traditional structure with a beginning, a middle and an end but don't label him old-fashioned. He knows change is coming, that millennials especially want immersion and interaction, and he wants a piece of that action.

So he's directing Pleasuredome the Musical, an arena show the likes of which New Zealand - maybe the world - hasn't seen before; one character is a digital avatar.

Written and produced by a team spearheaded by Hercules and Xena creator Rob Tapert, Pleasuredome is a multimillion-dollar musical, with a 21-strong cast of actors and dancers led by Lucy Lawless and Vince Harder. It cuts across cinema, theatre and pop to tell a surprisingly traditional story - okay, there's a contemporary twist - set to a funky-licious sound track of 80s hits from Springsteen to Grandmaster Flash.

"Every musical has a band: well, we have a Deejay," says producer Charlie McDermott. "Those clubs in the 80s, like Studio 54, this is what it's modelled on because they were havens from oppression where it was all about the music. People just went to dance and listen, sampling had come in, break beats had happened, house music had started in Detroit and it was all filtering to New York in these super-cool clubs."

Is it timely now given escape from oppression seems to foremost in many minds?

The longing for escape and fantasy are always there, says Hurst: "We're human."

Though rumours abound that Pleasuredome is interactive, Hurst and McDermott say if you don't want to, you don't have to do anything more than sit back and drink in the "booty-shaking 80s musical epic of love, glamour, hedonism and greed set on the dance-floor of an underground Manhattan nightclub to some of the biggest tunes of the era."

There's slightly more to it, though. The vast Avondale warehouse where it takes place - seven minutes from downtown Auckland - was the set for Ash vs Evil Dead which conveniently left behind an entire replica US streetscape.

Those who want an "interactive" experience get it as soon as they take a "subway" journey back into the 1980s and find themselves on a New York street complete with bar and eatery. You can linger, talk to the characters you might meet, then walk into the 800-seat arena, which doubles as the Pleasuredome nightclub, sit back and watch the show. If you want to dance, buy a $35 ticket to stage-side standing pits.

McDermott sounds a word of warning for those who might take their time booking - this is a temporary thing. With producers from Las Vegas casinos, Broadway and Australian touring companies coming to see it, Pleasuredome is likely to travel overseas once the Auckland season ends.

What: Pleasuredome - the Musical
Where and when: 17 Patiki Rd, Avondale; September 28-November 5