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Once Were Warriors: The Musical: A $4 Million Production

Yeah, right. I KNOW what you're thinking. "Aw, man, I've watched the movie and sort of read the book so who wants to see the musical?" Believe me, YOU do. Especially as it's being directed by the great man himself - Jim Moriarty / Artistic Director of Te Rakau Hua O Te Wao Tapu Trust - a Maori charitable trust performing theatre in schools, marae, remand centres, prisons and at-risk communities. Some of you might have seen the incredible productions out at the men and women's prisons (Christchurch) or at Kingslea.

Quite simply, Jim Moriarty is a legend and that being so it was hardly surprising I found myself reduced to something of a cliché - i.e. dumb blonde mode - when I met him in person.

Once were warriors cast photo

We'd been invited out to 'Bootcamp' for the interview where the cast of 40 are holed up for several weeks for rehearsals. Basically, they're stuck in the middle of the Canterbury Plains surrounded by drought, raging n'west winds and not much of anythin' else apart from their energy, enthusiasm, the freshest well water in the world … oh, and a one hundred percent commitment to make this musical a landmark in NZ theatre.

They were just breaking for lunch when we arrived so it was over a plate of nachos (me praying that I didn't dribble sour cream anywhere or have strands of lettuce dangling from my teeth) that we chatted about Once Were Warriors The Musical.

Jim MoriartyHow can this work as a musical drama?
Because it has passion. One of the major things that strikes you is the passion. Every major character is driven by it one way or another and once you think of the passion in musical terms, you can recognise the huge potential. And it's about being able to turn your life around, to find a pathway out - just look at Beth Heke. It's about hope. I was lucky really because it's the second time I've been approached to direct this. Artco bought the rights five or six years ago but the first time round I was too committed with other things so it was great to be offered another go. What's more I'm being paid for the two passions in my life - wellness and theatre - makes a pleasant change from trying to get funding for our other productions.
Is it different to the movie?
Totally. We've got a few surprises including some Pakeha actors where you'll least expect them and the characters will provoke a lot more sympathy - including Uncle Bully! All in all, the musical is much more subtle and way more poignant.
In what way would it especially appeal to a teen audience?
We've got 26 young people in the cast from a total of 40 - and they're characters that other teens will be able to associate or identify with - they're their peers up there. When I accepted the role as director, a draft of the script and music had already been written but I felt it needed more input so the first week here we spent workshopping where everyone had a chance to express their ideas regarding their characters, the music (played by an 8-piece band), the choreography, the dancing. It was an organic process and our younger actors played a huge role in that.
How was the cast selected?
I hand picked teens that I'd worked with before who I knew were just right for the part. The other great thing is that it's enabling them to acquire 55NZQA credits in drama. The rest of the cast was auditioned/selected in pretty much the standard way. Tina Cross is playing Beth and Will Fransen - Jake Heke. The chemistry between the two of them up on stage is electric and they can dance too - whether it's tapping, jiving or romancing - they've got it. All up, we've got actors with the right mix of experience and enthusiasm who're willing to take risks.
What was Alan Duff's response?
He thinks it's a great thing. We've got an email from him which is totally supportive
Would you have considered playing the part of Jake?
Absolutely but you can't direct and be up there in such an important role as well. To succeed in playing the part you've got to love your character - that's what it's all about - no matter who they are.
You don't like the label "at risk youth" but prefer to talk about kids who are not making the best choices for themselves. What would you say to someone reading this who wanted to make changes but didn't know where to start?
Bring it out into the open. Talk. Whether it's to a school counsellor, doctor, teacher … you have to talk. It's the first step.

You have to break the silence.

Once Were Warriors: The Musical: the poster

Media Release


In Once Were Warriors the stage musical drama theatregoers can expect a production that marries the reality of contemporary urban life with the power and energy of musical drama and kapa haka.

Once Were Warriors the stage musical drama contains two narratives: the domestic story of the Heke family's living in and struggling to get out of their abject social conditions, and a mythic narrative that draws in the warrior ancestry that Jake has lost contact with as a counter point.

Once Were Warriors director Jim Moriarty has great praise for Riwia Brown's adaptation of Alan Duff's landmark novel as means of accomplishing this. A key difference to the book is the absence of swearing.

"Riwia's script is so strong it doesn't require f's and c's, it is as powerful as it needs to be without street language."

"It's a bit like Shakespeare," says Moriarty, "insults in Te Reo or Māori far outweigh street language and expletives. The insult questions a person's mana or lineage rather than just being offensive."

"This is Once Were Warriors," says Moriarty, "and we need to bring the that history into the show, we have to understand what Jake has lost contact with and why. That's crucial otherwise we loose the real power and impact of this story."

Once Were Warriors the musical drama will have its world premiere in Christchurch on 2nd March. It plays at the Theatre Royal until 10 March. The Dunedin season is at the Regent Theatre from 16 to 19 March. The show then returns to Christchurch from 24 March. The Auckland season is from 10 to 28 April at the St James Theatre, then Wellington's Opera House hosts the show from 3 to 22 May.