Shortland Street: The Musical is just what the doctor ordered

I feel like I have to preface this review by saying: I’ve never been a big fan of Shortland Street. I think it’s because I was born just a little bit too late to be swept up in the show during its heyday. So it was with a degree of trepidation that I arrived at the ASB Waterfront Theatre for the opening night of the musical adaptation of New Zealand’s favourite soap opera. I’m incredibly pleased to say, I had a ball.

Set during Shorty’s classic era, the Musical focuses on an array of Ferndale faces who have become embedded in New Zealand pop culture. There’s playboy Dr Chris Warner, humanitarian Dr Hone Ropata (from Guatemala, of course), nurse Carrie Burton, and receptionist Marj (played by the original actress’ daughter, no less). Utilizing a number of storylines from the television counterpart, the Musical is unabashedly self-aware and meta; everyone sleeps around, someone always dies at Christmas, and shocking events occur on a regular basis. It’s the inherent silliness of the show that makes it so much fun, parodying the soap rather than simply adapting it. It could have been oh so bad. But thank god the writers and producers obviously decided to just go all out and have fun with the huge amount of source material at their disposal.

The main cast all do an amiable job; Mark Hadlow is a stand-out in the dual role of Sir Bruce Warner and Dr Michael McKenna. He gets a couple of scene-stealing moments, and it’s obvious how much fun he’s having on stage. Of course, Dr Warner and Dr Ropata get a lot of stage time, and it’s quite scary how well Guy Langford has nailed the voice and mannerisms of Warner. Opening night audiences were treated to a little cameo from the television version of Dr Warner – and seeing them both on stage together just showed how well Langford does in the lead. Comic Chris Parker and Comfrey Sanders as young Nick Harrison and Rachel McKenna also deserve a shout-out, providing some of the biggest laughs of the night.

Being a musical, a lot of the story is delivered through songs, and thankfully the production decides to go all-out with campy, big budget, Broadway-esque numbers. There are echoes of Wicked, Chicago and several other productions in much of the music’s styling. It’s a smart move as the show wouldn’t work so well if wasn’t over the top.

If you’re a fan of the TV show, you’ll have a blast. If you’re inexperienced in the goings on in Ferndale, like me, you’ll still find yourself laughing and smiling throughout.

Sure, it’s not very highbrow, the songs are a bit schmaltzy and it’s all a bit silly. But, not taking itself too seriously is what means it such a success and defiantly doesn’t fall short in the entertainment stakes.

Shortland Stree: The Musical is on at Auckland’s ASB Waterfront Theatre until 9th December. The show will also be touring nationally in March and April 2019. For more information visit shortlandstreetthemusical.co.nz

Reviewed by Steward Sowman-Lund.