Lucy Lawless invites Kiwis on wild night out

Author
Siena Yates,
Section
Spy News,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 2 August 2017, 3:57PM

Imagine a world in which one sleazy business tycoon can threaten the entire LGBT community, take away their safe spaces and shame and bully them into submission.

If you're picturing Donald Trump, you're not alone.

A casting call went out in New Zealand looking for someone to play "a ruthless businessman, financier and rabid homophobe", for inspiration, producers added: "Think Donald Trump".

"It's interesting how that's become a bit more relevant," says Michael Hurst, ruminating over President Trump's recent ban on transgender people in the US military.

Actor and director Michael Hurst. Photo / Dean Purcell.

The Kiwi director made plays like As Is and The Normal Heart in the 80s, a time he calls, "the beginning of standing up for gay rights".

Now, "here we are in 2017 and just looking at the whole Trump situation going, 'Holy shit, we're here again'. It's quite crazy."

Hurst is at the helm of a new musical theatre experience coming to Auckland in September, simply titled Pleasuredome. It's billed as a "dirty urban musical" and promises a raucous night of sex, drugs, and 80s hits.

At its centre is a queer love story, it touches on the beginnings of the Aids epidemic, it's camp as hell, and it's about a female business owner standing up to "a complete bigot" who's trying to tear her club down.

Pleasuredome is, first and foremost, a party. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The story was written years ago. It's just pure coincidence that Hurst is adapting it now, in the age of Trump.

"We always thought the musical was important because right now, it's good to be breaking the stereotypes, but there are a lot of things that are accidentally coming to the fore; it's pretty cool, pretty exciting," he says.

"Another thing that's become coincidentally appropriate is all these new figures about wage equality and that whole gender question - making sure there are women in central roles ... that's really come to the fore - just look at the new female Doctor Who."

So it's completely fitting that the show's lead is played by Lucy Lawless; a prominent and hugely successful Kiwi woman, a "champion" for the LGBT community and - coincidentally - a publicly outspoken voice against Trump.

"This was written 10 years ago, long before [Trump's presidency]. But it's not just that our villain happens to be a homophobic property developer, he has a very glamorous daughter and she has a shadowy fiancee who works for daddy, so the parallels are a little spooky," Lawless says, laughing.

She says the LGBT community is "under threat like it hasn't been since the 70s", but the answer is more visibility, and their "big gay musical" gives just that.

"People that love and support and accept [the LGBT community] need to band together and show that there are more of us than there are of the detractors. We have to win this for the sake of everybody."

Lawless became an icon in the LGBT community thanks to her role as Xena: Warrior Princess after fans picked up on gay subtext between Xena and her friend and sidekick Gabrielle - subtext which is supposedly being brought to the fore in an upcoming Xena reboot.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, co-creator Rob Tapert, who is married to Lawless, said outside pressures kept them from exploring the subtext at the time: "The studio was so concerned that it would be perceived as a lesbian show that they would not allow us to have Xena and Gabrielle in the same frame of the opening titles".

Now, he's producing Pleasuredome and Lawless says: "Rob knew that this was the frontier of where society was at in the 90s; gay relationships, inter-racial relationships ... so he's always about pushing the frontiers of social norms, because that makes an idea important and gives it a buzz. The answer is that we come back loud and proud and unified."

Lucy Lawless as Sappho. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

Pleasuredome was originally a film script that never got developed. It was Tapert's idea to turn it into a musical and, having seen Michael Hurst's production of Chicago, he knew Hurst was the man for the job.

Over the past two years, the team worked on adapting the script, securing the rights to some major 80s hits and creating the Pleasuredome "experience".

Audiences won't just walk into a theatre and watch a show, they'll walk down a constructed New York Street, complete with shops they can go into and buy from, following the road to the Pleasuredome - a fully kitted out nightclub with standing areas, table service, arena seating, and screens around the club showing the action from all directions.

As much as it's a story about addiction, self-discovery, shame, redemption and acceptance, it's also uplifting and definitely a party, to which Lawless says, "everyone's invited".

The music includes hits from Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Eurythmics, Bruce Springsteen and more, all repurposed to work with the story.

"It's got a really great classic musical structure but think about those early nightclubs in the 80s; Studio 54 and all those. It was new, those clubs were really just starting out through the beginning of hip-hop and all of that" - that's what they're trying to recreate.

The show also features Kiwi artist Vince Harder, returning home after performing in the Australian stage production of The Lion King, and Sol3 Mio star Moses Mackay, ditching the operatics to become the Pleasuredome's DJ.

And Lawless will get a much-anticipated chance to show off her singing chops again as Sappho, "the high priestess of pleasure" on an "uphill ride to catch" the girl who's the love of her life.

She has a history of musical theatre and appeared in reality series Celebrity Duets, but says she's "never [sung] like this before".

"I've sung some show stuff but it's never really been me, I've had too much respect for it, been too afraid of it. But I'm beyond being afraid now because I'm just in way too deep, 110 per cent of what I am is invested in this," she says.

And that investment comes with a promise of giving audiences "the wildest night out you never had".

"These kinds of nights only happened in New York in the 80s. If you were there and you want to go back, if you wanted to be there and couldn't, or if you wanted to go back in time; we're trying to give New Zealanders a portal to a new and exciting, incredibly glamorous night out. Come party with us."

Tickets to Pleasuredome are on sale today via Ticketek.

LOWDOWN: What: Pleasuredome When: Runs from September 28 Where: Patiki Rd