Return of the mega musical to Auckland

Event city: 38% of Mary Poppins' audience has come from outside of Auckland.

When Mary Poppins picks up her umbrella and floats into the heavens of the Auckland Civic Theatre for the last time on December 30, she will be leaving the city in higher regard with international large scale show promoters.

Not since Mamma Mia in 2004 has Auckland hosted such a large, international stage show.

Mary Poppins' success, on the back of Jersey Boys in June, has ended the dry spell and, it's hoped, reticence of international promoters to tour here.

Director of performing arts at The Edge, Robbie Macrae, says Jersey Boys was the big test to prove Auckland could make ‘mega musical’ viable.

Before it had even entered its ninth and final blockbuster week, more than 100,000 people had bought tickets to the production, based on the lives of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, making it the largest grossing musical in this country in a decade.

With broader audience appeal, Disney’s hit musical Mary Poppins - with ticket prices from $55 to $145 - is expected to surpass Jersey Boys’ ticket sales.

The Edge is unable to reveal figures on ticket sales unless promoter Disney Theatrical Production does first. And Disney’s local publicist says numbers won’t be revealed until the curtain falls for the last time, if at all.

However, Mr Macrae says expectations have certainly been exceeded.

"It’s doing extraordinarily well," says Mr Macrae.

“New Zealanders have rediscovered the magic of large-scale musicals.”

Back in good stead with international promotors

Like Mary Poppins, most stage shows which come to New Zealand are driven out of the Australian market.

Costing millions of dollars to stage, touring across the Tasman to New Zealand’s small potential audience, can be a high-risk gamble for promoters, says Mr Macrae.

“It’s not like touring from Melbourne to Sydney. For Mary Poppins, everything had to be sea freighted in about 20 containers.”

Then there’s the sixty cast and crew who need to be put up in hotels and fed for the three-month season.

Since ‘mega musicals’ dried up in this part of the world during the global financial crisis, Mr Macrae and his team have been working hard on a strategy to attract the big international musicals back to New Zealand.

The Edge commissioned research in 2010, refreshed this year, revealing musicals are the favourite form of entertainment for 71% of Kiwis.

Discussions with Disney for a New Zealand production of Mary Poppins started three years ago, and it was statistics such as that, and a commitment to marketing the show locally, which helped get Disney over the line.

“We pulled out every single stop we had to work with the producer to ensure it was successful,” Mr Macrae says.

International promoters also need to be confident in our local technical production team and that our venues and staff are up there with international best.”

Support from Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), involved in the domestic tourism campaign for Jersey Boys and Mary Poppins, helped.

And with 38% of the Mary Poppins’ audience coming from outside of Auckland, the show’s economic benefit to the Auckland region is also being toted up.

Auckland City Mayor Len Brown has acknowledged the importance of events, such as stage shows, the V8 supercars and the Junior Rugby W0Rld Championships in 2014, to help Auckland double its tourism earnings in the next decade.

Mr Macrae says his team work years in advance to secure the big stage shows.

The Jersey Boys and Mary Poppins’ legacy has put Auckland in good stead with international promotors, he says.

The War Horse drama, based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo,, opening in Melbourne this month, is one of the large shows confirmed for Aotea Centre next year.

And Mr Macrae says another big show is being finalised.

“We don’t have to fly to Australia to see the big shows now.

“Melbourne and Sydney are vying to be international musical cities. We are up there with them too.”

Mary Poppins closes at the Civic Theatre on December 30.

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