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  • Liane Morris

What's On Newcastle | Superstars Premieres!

The Ultimate Cast as Superstars premieres in Newcastle!
Marina Prior with the Ultimate Cast as Superstars premieres in Newcastle! Image Credit: Peter Stoop


Superstars is a musical celebration of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in concert and represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the best musical theatre performers in Australia sharing a stage, performing some of the greatest hits of the best-loved musicals of the twentieth century. Coming to the Civic Theatre in March, it promises to be a magical musical journey that will appeal to a very wide audience with songs that evoke collective memories and touch the hearts of anyone who’s listening.


The ‘superstars’ are comprised of Australia’s leading lady of musical theatre, Marina Prior, who headlines the ultimate cast, including Silvie Paladino, of Les Miserables, Mamma Mia, Cats and Chess fame, Joshua Robson, fresh from his triumphant portrayal of the title role in Handa Opera’s The Phantom of the Opera on Sydney Harbour, and Australia’s very own Catherine of Aragon and Eliza Hamilton, Chloé Zuel. This extraordinary cast will perform hits from the world’s best-loved musicals, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Starlight Express, Aida, Chess, Mamma Mia, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Sunset Boulevard, The Phantom of the Opera and many more!

Musical Direction is by ARIA nominee and Starstruck Musical Director since 2008, Dan Wilson and the production will also feature local powerhouses Katie Blaxland, Tayla Choice, Thomas James, Jon Murphy, Layla Schillert, Amy Vee, Marty Worrall and Danny Folpp, backed by a 100-voice mass choir and the Hunter Pops Orchestra, conducted by Dan. With choreographic work from the highly acclaimed National College of Dance and pieces specially devised for this performance under the guidance of choreographer Lauren Harvey, this show promises to be spectacular in every sense

of the word.

This rare confluence of amazing talent is the brainchild of The Very Popular Theatre Company Producer and Artistic Director, Daniel Stoddart and Musical Director Dan Wilson.

“It started as a conversation following our production of Chess in 2021,” said Daniel Stoddart. “Dan and I talked about how much we loved the format with a big orchestra and a mass choir. We had great feedback from audiences just loving Silvie Paladino, and we thought we just had to have her back. Six months later, we could see a gap in the production schedule and wondered if it would be possible to do a full concert with a bunch of musical stars.


We never thought Marina would be available, but Silvie and Marina are great friends, and when Silvie was keen, the stars

aligned; we got lucky, and Marina was able to fit the production into her busy performance schedule.

“This is the biggest concert of musical theatre that Newcastle has ever seen by far and likely never to be repeated. When on earth will you get these top four performers together with this catalogue of songs again? It’s all the bangers!”

What's On Newcastle | Superstars
The cast of Superstars IMAGE: Peter Stoop

Musical Director Dan Wilson agrees. “We’ve created the whole show around Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The scope of music between the two of them is an amazing collection. Both Lloyd Webber and Rice have the coveted claim to fame of being EGOTs, winners of the world’s four most prestigious music-related awards – the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. Who can’t help but be swept up by the music of Aladdin, Lion King or Beauty and the Beast? There’s something for everyone.

“We started quietly putting this together in December 2022. It’s been an 18-month process. You have to book Marina Prior at least 12 months ahead, but we planted the seed two years ago. It was a pinch-me moment when all our first choices of artists jumped on it. Then began the long process of negotiating the rights for the songs.”

There is no narrative thread to the concert. It’s a concert of top hits with some talking between songs as the performers share their personal connection to the music. The performers are front and centre, including the orchestra and choir, who are all on stage.

Seeing the music being performed is part of the experience. Marina Prior is regarded as Australia’s leading lady of musical theatre and, in the 2023 King’s Birthday Honours, was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia. Marina is arguably best known for her lead role as Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera, which she played for over three years.

Silvie Paladino has established herself as one of Australia’s most versatile and talented entertainers. Her first theatrical role was Eponine in the Australasian tour of Les Misérables. She followed that with roles in Cats, Mamma Mia, Miss Saigon, Fun Home, Cinderella and the lead role of Florence Vassy in Chess The Musical, a performance she recreated for

the sold-out season at the Civic Theatre in Newcastle in 2021.

Chloé Zuel is a renowned musical theatre performer, most notably starring as Eliza Hamilton in the original Australian cast of Hamilton the Musical. Chloé was previously Catherine of Aragon in Six the Musical, Anita in West Side Story and Sarah in Ragtime for The Production Company.

Joshua Robson recently starred in the titular role in The Phantom of the Opera with Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, for which he was nominated for Best Lead Performance in a Musical at the Sydney Theatre Awards.

“Sir Andrew and Tim Rice are both aware of the show,” said Daniel.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed for a video message.

"The production will be visually dynamic. We’re excited to have Christopher Snape as our lighting designer, who uses LED screens five metres high and 11 metres wide to evoke different moods, stories and characters. The audience will find it easy to invest in the characters, and with the use of technology and animation, they’ll be able to immerse themselves in 30 different journeys.

Superstars at Newcastle Civic Theatre
Silvie Paladino in Superstars Image Credit: Peter Stoop

“Our director is Erin James, who did Mamma Mia and Chess. She also worked with Julie Andrews on the revival of My Fair Lady at the Sydney Opera House, so we’re all in good hands. There are 36 songs representing 17 different shows, some never before seen in Australia. One may even be a world premiere.”

An integral component of the production is the blending of local talent with world-class performers and creatives and the exceptionally high level of professionalism that is demanded of everyone. This is something that Daniel Stoddart has been passionate about since he was a student himself.

“We work hard at training young people to professional standards, fostering an ecosystem of training, bringing in professional directors and artists to elevate skills and profiles. Newcastle is the seventh biggest city in Australia. Cities smaller than us have professional theatre companies, but we don’t.

There’s a sense that you are only respected as a creative artist if you leave and then return to our city. We want to change that.

“In Superstars, the only people not getting paid are the choir members. There is a sliding scale of remuneration. This is the first time that The Very Popular Theatre Company has been able to do this. It’s an important development for us.

One of the significant advantages of combining local talent with world-class performers is the development potential

for Newcastle artists. The ‘superstars’ won’t arrive in Newcastle until a week before the show. As Musical Director, Dan Wilson will have to travel the country to where each artist is located for individual rehearsals.

“Our local singers will cover for the stars during the month of rehearsals in the leadup and get an opportunity to sing

this amazing material and rehearse with a full orchestra and a mass choir,” said Dan.

“For them, it’s like Christmas morning to get a run with the orchestra and choir.”

Daniel agrees, saying, “What’s truly wonderful about it is that there is a recognition of equal respect and talent. It operates

at a collegial level. Exposing our young and emerging talent to the experience of professional world-class performance standards is invaluable for them. It’s inspirational and truly develops their careers.”

Superstar Marina Prior agrees.

“The way Daniel involves the professionals with the amateurs is a fantastic thing to do.”
“Sometimes I do masterclasses with students, but nothing on the scale of this. It’s a joy to come back to Newcastle. I’ll have a week and a half to enjoy the town and the beautiful beaches. I don’t often get a chance to enjoy the place we visit when performing.”

“I have friends that have worked with Daniel and said how wonderful it was. I’ve also worked with Dan Wilson before, and I know that he has put together a fabulous orchestra. Dan has done arrangements for me in the past, so I trust him and know how good his work is.

“Newcastle is becoming another centre – a seeding ground. The more work we create, the more a community thrives. A healthy arts scene is indicative of a thriving community. I see it all the time when I’m touring. It’s wonderful that this is being created in Newcastle, and it’s a massive endeavour. It doesn’t happen often outside of a capital city, and I love that.

“The Very Popular Theatre Company is a creatively resourced, fantastic theatrical organisation that’s dreaming big - professional, meticulous. It’s not a lower-scale endeavour, and I can’t wait to do it.

“I love the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. I’ll be singing songs from shows I love and songs from shows I haven’t done. It’s a privilege to sing these songs, and it’s fabulous with an orchestra. I’m lucky. I love the community, and I like mentoring those who are dreaming big and starting out. Many of these young performers will end up working on big

shows, and I think it’s wonderful to be a part of it.”

The fact that concerts like this don’t happen outside capital cities is important. There is a bigger dream underlying the work of The Very Popular Theatre Company.

“It’s all part of our journey to develop the local industry,” said Daniel. “We produce highlevel, top-quality productions that can stand their own on any world stage. We set the bar very high. The challenge is in convincing the public. Every single state in Australia was represented in our ticket sales for Billy Elliot and Chess. The big names that star in some of our

productions help draw attention to what we’re producing here and attract people to the city.”

Dan Wilson would like to see the show do so well that touring it around the country would be a possibility.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Having Marina performing in a Newcastle production is simply amazing. It may never happen again. Josh and Chloe are both on the precipice of true stardom, and people in Newcastle just love Silvie. Getting

all four of these artists is quite a thing. Our dream is to tour it around Australia. The model would be that each location would provide the local artists whilst the creatives and the four stars would tour. The success in Newcastle will determine the possibility of touring. So much has to fall into place, though, with venues and artists. But how wonderful would it be for something from Newcastle, produced here where there is so much talent, to go on tour around the country? We don’t want our local talent to feel like they have to leave to get work. We need to give them a reason to stay and perform. Or at least visit. It’s wonderful to create work in our city.”

As Daniel puts it, “I couldn't be more thrilled to be bringing this dream cast together for the most spectacular musical concert event our beautiful city has ever seen. Newcastle deserves the very best that Australia has to offer, and Superstars delivers just that. Get ready for an unforgettable night of music and magic which showcases the next level of locally produced entertainment!"

Superstars will take over the Civic Theatre for four performances only, from 8 to 10 March, and tickets are selling fast from or by phoning 02 4929 1977.


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