In a first for New Zealand, SkyCity is hosting a multimillion-dollar resident theatre show — the kind found in Las Vegas casinos, on Broadway or London's West End.
City of 100 Lovers, a one-hour musical comedy designed for Aucklanders and tourists alike, opened on night Friday. It will continue for nine months and, if successful, become a permanent addition to entertainment at SkyCity.
Three years in development and with an $8 million budget, it's backed by Templar
Tourism Management, a company linked to the Templar Family Office which has numerous investments and interests worldwide and is known for sponsoring art events. Templar Family Office is now a major sponsor for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra who recorded music for the show.
The story follows Sally, a newly divorced food critic from New York on assignment to judge an international cooking contest "in the city of 100 lovers". Imagining herself drinking red wine in Paris, she is taken aback to learn she'll travel more than 21 hours and cross eight time zones to reach Auckland, New Zealand. However, her head is quickly turned by a charismatic Māori tour guide, TJ. Australian Rebecca Cullinan plays Sally; Aucklander Kieran Foster is TJ.
SkyCity general manager marketing Jon Spittle agreed such a long season is unusual.
"We were approached more than 12 months ago by City of 100 Lovers production team. Yes, we were very curious, and the ambition and vision of the team was infectious and we knew that the unique Auckland story would appeal to our tourism visitors in particular," said Spittle.
"To have a long-term venue hire, in comparison to working with a number of smaller shows, is simpler in many ways for us."
Show publicity states that the high-tech production "simultaneously takes viewers through an entertaining love story while showcasing the places, culture and way of life, which attracts millions of tourists to Tāmaki Makaurau every year."
The production involves some of New Zealand's highest-profile creatives, including film director and artist Vincent Ward as artistic director and author and former radio host Justin Brown, who wrote the story. Ward agrees many might be surprised to find him working as artistic director for a theatre musical — "I would be surprised" — but says he was asked by Templar Family Office to be involved.
"Anything I can't do or haven't done before is instantly more interesting than something I can do," he said.
He and Brown developed the story with American Tony Award nominee Peter Kellogg and have been joined by New York director Tony Stimac, costume designer Ding Ding, who's worked on many Chinese film and stage productions, award-winning local choreographer Taiaroa Royal and Apra and Silver Scroll winner Tom McLeod on music and lyrics.
"It's an unusual amalgam," Ward said. "There are a large number of incredibly talented New Zealanders but also a real melting pot of talented people from around the world and that represents who we are today as a people. Auckland is a cosmopolitan city and that's what's exciting about the new Auckland and the new New Zealand."
Strong Māori themes are woven into every aspect of the production, with Paora Sharples working as cultural adviser and Māori talent curator.
Brett O'Riley, chairman of Templar Tourism Management's advisory board and a former chief executive of Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed), says research carried out some years ago showed visitors felt there wasn't enough nightlife in Auckland.
O'Riley is confident City of 100 Lovers will fill the gap, giving visitors more reason for Auckland to be a destination rather than a transit point, and boost tourist spending in the region.
•Team of 158. Cast, crew, design and production staff gathered from around the globe.
•A 26-strong cast, along with a live band each night.
•16 musical numbers, including 11 original songs
•6 shows a week in the 700-seat SkyCity Theatre; matinee performances may be added
What: City of 100 Lovers
Where & when: SkyCity Theatre, now on