Summer drama musical to sound off

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Stage virgins and veterans will share the spotlight at Queenstown musical California Dreaming from tonight. 

Director Margaret O’Hanlon handpicked the 16-strong cast for the production – set in the era-defining summer of 1969. 

And the Queenstown musical theatre kingpin says while some performers bring years of experience and stagecraft to the show, the newcomers add a fresh energy. 

O’Hanlon says: “Marty Newall is a brilliant actor and is in strong dramatic scenes with three others, Pearly McGrath, Charlotte Graf and Fi Stephenson. 

“The music has been great from the start but they’re all relaxing into the roles now. They know exactly what they have to do, so there’s a lot of ad-libbing coming through and little nuances in their characters. 

“The interaction is really cool to watch and the newcomers are great – they add a new flavour, otherwise people can get complacent with each other.” 

One such newcomer is mother-of-two Violet Lees, 34, whose character ‘Angela’ is based on American civil rights and political activist Angela Davis. 

Lees says: “I was aware of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, but not in detail and it has been interesting reading my script and learning what has happened. 

“I’m from Zimbabwe originally, so I feel I can relate to her,” she says. 

“I’ve absolutely no history of singing – so it has been an exciting challenge. My solo is Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix. It has taken a lot of practice and when I get a chance I have one-on-one sessions with Margaret.” 

O’Hanlon picked up Lees from the hairdressers, where she works as a trainee stylist, and also cast long-time friend Jason Medina as immigrant workers’ rights activist Cesar Chavez. 

The political protests of the turbulent summer are a main theme of the production, which features 21 classic numbers from the era. 

“It was quite a tumultuous year, a monumental year,” O’Hanlon says, adding it began with Woodstock and ended with the Altamont Free Concert. 

Altamont, part-organised and headlined by The Rolling Stones, attracted a crowd of 300,000 and involved a fatal stabbing and three accidental deaths. 

“This is dramatic theatre and the script focuses on social history,” O’Hanlon says. 

“And the music is exceptional of course.”