It has been well documented that Shortland Street's beginnings were not what you could call successful. After a strong debut in May 1992, things quickly started to slump, and it took another year before it had become the 7pm TV staple Kiwis know and love.
Yet, nearly three decades on, a dozen serial killers and one exploding bach later, the soap is an intrinsic part of our country's cultural DNA. In the latest sign of its never-ending success, those rough early months have been lovingly recreated in true Broadway, show-stopping fashion.
Yes, Shortland Street: The Musical is here and it's easily the most enjoyable thing an Auckland company has staged this year.
The show's success is huge enough that anyone could slap the name of that cursed hospital on a marquee and people would turn up regardless of quality. Thankfully, the book by Guy Langford (who double bills as the composer, lyricist and Dr Chris "love" Warner himself) and director and former "Shorty" producer Simon Bennett, is a real gem.
It is both playful parody and affectionate tribute, mixing the sincere and the silly in equal measure to make something truly magical. The show revolves around Warner's rivalry with Hone Ropata, a fantastically fluid performance by Justin Rogers, while Warner's father, Sir Bruce, schemes to make the hospital into a private clinic.
Scattered through the songs are enough knowing winks to ensure the audience never stops laughing. The first years are so iconic you don't even have to have been alive in 1992 to appreciate the nods to the past: Chris sleeping with the yoga instructor, Carrie Burton's classic "Guatemala" line, a wayward truck ruining Christmas Day for everyone.
Everything from the uniforms to Lionel's muffin cart has been recreated, showing an attention for detail that elevates Auckland Theatre Company's high-budget show above some amateur tribute act.
And the songs! "Shorty" isn't known for its musical greatness (remember the panto episode?) but Langford's compositions punch well above their weight. Asides from the filler-y Teen Issues, every ballad, duet and ensemble sing-off has instant classic written all over it.
Triage Trio and Saving Lives show off the main stars' vocal excellence, with Ailis Oliver-Kerby (Allison Raynor) and Bronwyn Turei (Jaki Manu) particular stand-outs. Be a Villain, a gleeful romp from Mark Hadlow (Sir Bruce), is a glorious tribute to Ferndale's murderer epidemic, while The Five Wives of Chris Warner is reminiscent of Chicago's Cell Block Tango. And don't get me started on the tap-dancing muffins …
It may be a little silly but all the elements are here for a perfect, entertaining, rib-tickling night at the theatre that will manage a smile out of every soap cynic there is. In 1992, the big question was whether Shortland Street would live another year.
Now, 26 years later, the only thing people will be asking themselves after this is when will the cast album be coming out — I need Bed-hopping on my Spotify, stat.
What: Shortland Street: The Musical
Where & when: ASB Waterfront Theatre, until Sunday, December 9
Reviewed by: Ethan Sills