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O Extravaganza! The Great Extrav Reunion Weekend & Capping Revue Revival [1993]

Extravaganza Reunion

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Extravaganza Reunion

There has been talk of an Extravaganza reunion for many years but despite a lot of talk and even some meetings not much happened. The move towards the present reunion started in the early part of 1992 when I found a telephone message on my desk. The message from George Andrews was somewhat cryptic - two words "Extrav Reunion".

The first move was to place an advertisement in the Listener and this drew a small number of replies. The first was from Jack Ilot who had been in the chorus between 1935 and 1940. Another early reply was from Ralph Hogg who produced Ron Meek's legendary "Centennial Scandals". Redmond Phillips wrote from Sydney to wish us well. Slowly the project began to gain momentum as others joined the team. Deirdre Tarrant joined in and Sharon Major of the Alumni Association took over the basic organisation and refused to let the Extrav Reunion disappear.

Bill Sheat (left) producer, and Peter Crowe, musical director: 1954 Pirates of Finance

Bill Sheat (left) producer, and Peter Crowe, musical director: 1954 Pirates of Finance

For me the real excitement came when rehearsal:, were under way. Rosemary Norman, Bill Wollerman and I were very keen to present one of Jeff Stewart's original songs"I Can't Get a Girl to Practise On". We found that we were short of some of the words. As Jeff had died a few years ago, we had to follow other leads. His niece suggested that Jeff had left his music to the Kapiti Players but an enquiry to them drew a blank. A fax in from Frank Curtin in Queensland indicated that he had a script of the 1950 show. A fax back to Frank resulted in his being on the phone a few minutes later and before the end of the day we had the missing words.

In the course of discussing with Geoff Datson his singing of the great classic "Rollo the Ravaging Roman" I mentioned that it had been composed by R L Hutchens and did Geoff think that was the R L Hutchens who had a career in foreign affairs. Geoff said "We'll soon find out" and minutes later rang me back to say yes, it was indeed he and that he was alive and well and living in Khandallah. This was a real find, for "Rollo" was one of the legendary Extrav songs that was still being sung around Victoria into the 1950s. During the war whenever Victoria members of the armed forces gathered in Egypt or Italy they inevitably got round to singing "Rollo". I expect someone to come forward and tell how they actually sang "Rollo" in the city of Rome itself.

Some of the best material never found its way into printed programmes or indeed into printed scripts. The Miss New Zealand Sequence from 1948 is only partly available in the printed programme. Fortunately Roy Melford who was in the show was able to supply a complete missing verse about the Railways candidate.

Probably the highlight of all the discoveries for me was when Mike Benge came to a rehearsal with a pile of Cappicades from 1939 onwards covering the important period of the Ron Meek shows. Not only that, he brought along from Paul Taylor who was in those productions the scripts of "Zealous Zombies" and "Peter in Blunderland". These are two landmark scripts in the history of Extrav but I had never seen them before.

One of the things that I hope will emerge from the present reunion is that a full set of scripts will be assembled and kept in a secure place such as the Beaglehole Room so that they are available for all who may be interested.

In this programme there are the words of a song from 1904 almost certainly written by Siegfried Eichelbaum and F A de la Mare about the then professorial stall. The names of the professor, mentioned in that song are now commemorated in the major buildings on the campus.

Extrav is a tradition which goes back now for 90 years. Today's students have revived the tradition - long may it continue.

Bill Sheat

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Extravaganza 1966

Extravaganza 1966

The Northern push for an Extrav Reunion probably began at a function at Murray Gray's Under Silkwood bookshop in Parnell when a speaker rashly suggested that he was the only person present who knew Murray as Jigger.

Not so, protested half a dozen of us - proud to claim a link with Jigger and Victoria's earlier, glorious age. For me, that link had been a single season of Extravaganza, "A Mid November Night's Dream" in 1963, the last to be staged in the Opera House, and the swan song also of those much-loved Extrav performers Margot Sutherland and John Koolman. Jigger as usual had been more astute, stretching his Extrav career earlier to 1962, the last of the touring shows, and forward to 1965, seeing through the transition to Extrav's re-emergence in the Little Theatre.

It was Jigger who reminded me that it would soon be 30 years since the last of the Opera House Extravs, and who also pointed out that the way to get a handle on whether Wellingtonians could rustle up a reunion would be to ring Des Deacon and John Tannahill. I did, and they had: ring Bill Sheat they said. The rest is history.

Andy Du Fresne, John Young and Peter Frater were the first to contact me alter the Listener ad appeared, and Hugh Campbell and Lyn Catley Milnes joined Jigger and me as an Auckland ginger group.

But like most important things in New Zealand, nothing would have happened without the movers and shakers in the Capital. Sharon Major of the Alumni Relations Centre saw the opportunity and seized the moment, Deirdre Tarrant had the courage to take on running the show itself, and Margaret Black, more than anyone I know, remembered the magic of those Extravs of our era and cared enough to track down most of the survivors you see on stage tonight.

George Andrews

"O Extravaganza!" - the O of this title has had many inflexions, interpretations and exasperations over many years!

My original involvement was on 'the cusp' at the end of the era of the Opera House and the beginning of the Memorial Theatre Extravs, with particular involvement in the development of the now historical (and then hysterical) Christmas Revues. When Sharon Major launched the VUW Alumni Association and bullied Bobbi Gibbons and myself to 'do an item' for the dinner many memories and lots of laughs were recalled. Bill Sheat had been wanting to reunite for a number of years but the forming of the Alumni Association and the rejoining of the two of us from those differing times seemed a real catalyst - O Extravaganza! was born!

It has been a real archival education - in people, politics and passion. Our wonderful production assistant Margaret Black has spent her entertainment budget for 1993 on fascinating phone calls. Catching up and tracking down has been a special part of the gathering for all of us. The enthusiastic and constant "George Andrews from Auckland" has been a regular caller as the transition from ideas to tonight has taken place.

My most renowned stand in 1967 was the 'total abolition' of the male ballet! Had they only been like the 1993 cast - amazing technical mastery and Dennis's dexterity await you tonight in the reincarnation of tutus and toes! Notwithstanding a change of heart in the male ballet direction this time, the absolute highlight for me is the reunion of the 'Dancers' - not quite all but very nearly the team from 25 years ago - 'O'!

The New Age looks forward to shifting back in time in the next reunion! But I suspect the end of the seventies is always going to have an emphasis on New. With many thanks to Sharon, Bill, Bobbi, George and Margaret - enjoy Extravaganza 1993.

Deirdre Tarrant