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Musical dream team

Accomplished musicians Amanda Maclean, Catherine Macdonald and Trish Tattle have joined forces for Musical Theatre Gisborne’s production of Mamma Mia!, on stage in July. They talk to Kim Parkinson about their musical backgrounds and how the production is coming together . . .

Mamma Mia! - The Musical is seven weeks into production with the first six being devoted purely to getting the music and singing together.

The 34 strong cast in the production began their rehearsals in mid-April working with musical director Amanda Maclean, her mother, soprano Catherine Macdonald and pianist Trish Tattle.

Amanda says she is loving the experience so far and is happy with the level they’ve achieved.

“Everyone has put in a lot of time and effort.

“People can expect a very enjoyable feel-good night out.

“It will be a high energy, highly enlightening, thoroughly engaging large-scale production.”

Lead pianist Trish said it’s the first time the three of them have worked together on a production of this size, although she and Catherine have worked together many times on operetta and choral performances over the years. Trish and Amanda first worked together in 2012 in MTG’s production of Cabaret where Amanda was MC, a role that had her performing acrobatics on a rope in top hat and tails, among other things.

Although Amanda has the title of musical director, she said she feels part of a tight-knit team with her mum helping and supporting her.

At the early rehearsals the large cast was broken into smaller groups to learn the complex musical harmonies and melodies and they have had the very best guidance from a singer of such pedigree as Catherine.

She is able to make sure everyone gets the right notes and has been a huge help and voice coach as well as accompanying the singers on keyboard.

“I’m thrilled with the excellence of the choral singing; it will be a good quality show,” Catherine says.

Trish, who has also been musical director for several Musical Theatre Gisborne (MTG) productions said Mamma Mia! was musically sophisticated.

“I’m really enjoying the level that we’ve achieved.

“It’s surprisingly good — we’re all putting in lots of time and it’s a really satisfying result.”

The Mamma Mia stage show has a live band which Amanda has handpicked.

“It is a rather large band — we have four keyboards including Trish Tattle, Coralie Hunter, Mum, and Tracey Bacon, three guitarists including Cameron Wood, Joseph Samuel Walsh, and Tahi Paenga, bass guitarist Peter Te Kani, me on drums, and mesmerising us with a thrilling array of percussion, Michael Jones.”

It is a big financial investment for MTG to secure the rights to the production and there is pressure on Amanda as musical director, but she says she feels well supported by the musicians, cast and crew.

“Everyone is doing it for love — for the enjoyment of being immersed in this great big production.

“It’s a great opportunity for Gisborne.

“We have an out-of-town director, Dean McKerras, who is here at the moment teaching the choreography and staging the show.”

Mamma Mia! is looking to become another career highlight for all three of the dream team.

A powerhouse to guide the show

Amanda Maclean

Amanda grew up with music in her blood. Father Gavin Maclean is a well known singer, director and teacher and mother Catherine has also enjoyed a long and successful musical career.

“It’s pretty nice that I have Mum and Dad to help,” says Amanda. “It means there are that many more hands and ears.

“The vocal arrangements in Mamma Mia are a lot more musically complex than shows normally are.”

After playing in the Gisborne Civic Brass Band and Concert Bands and school and Youth Orchestras while at Gisborne Girls’ High School, she said she rebelled and went to circus school in Christchurch, rather than following the more traditional and perhaps expected musical path of her parents.

“In the first year you have to pass tests on all of that circus apparatus like the flying trapeze, unicycle, juggling, tightrope, slackrope, acrobatics.”

Amanda majored in clowning.

“It was perfect for me.

“I’m a real ‘try a little bit of everything person’, rather than focusing on just one thing.”

Naturally athletic from a childhood of climbing trees, physical theatre and drumming were a perfect fit for her.

“I took up drums when I was 10 but Mum had taught me piano from about age three.”

Amanda has learned music by ear and has never done a music exam.

She went on to study physical theatre at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, California from 2002-2003.

“It’s a clown school really.

“We learned mask-making, and melodrama and explored the Comedia dell’Arte characters.

“California was great.

“We took a show on tour at the end of the year around small towns. We’d pull in and the whole town would be there to see our show. There would be about 100 people including all the family members that had spent a week painting the welcome signs, because they knew we were coming.”

Amanda had her 19th birthday there.

“My classmates threw me in the air 19 times — it was awesome!”

She returned to New Zealand with an ambition to “buy a phone, get an agent and become rich and famous doing TV and film”.

But after a few film jobs as an extra and creating and touring some theatre, she ended up studying performance music at the Massey University Jazz School in Wellington.

“This led to working as a musician in Wellington with a lot of amazing people, and playing a vast array of music styles including world, jazz, and some very alternative music.”

One of the highlights of her career was playing at Womad with Anthony Donaldson’s band Village of the Idiots in 2008, and working with film-maker and director Geoff Murphy.

This project led by Lucien Johnson, turned Edgar Allan Poe poetry into music and resulted in an album called Night’s Plutonian Shore.

“Geoff Murphy tagged along to our gigs on a South Island tour and made a short film of what we were doing for the Wellington Film Festival, called Tales of Mystery and Imagination.”

Amanda was a great fan of Blerta, the travelling group of musicians, actors and friends begun by Murphy and his friend

Bruno Lawrence in the early 1970s.

The Bruno Lawrence Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition (Blerta for short)toured New Zealand to get away from the pressure of the music and movie scene.

“I was inspired by the conversations I had with him,” Amanda says.

“I liked the way they mixed film, music and theatre, and pulled off ideas that the industry, even now, could not imagine.

“Our bass player Patrick Bleakley was also a member of Blerta, and I always felt very fortunate to be in their company.”

Catherine Macdonald

Catherine Macdonald’s reputation transcends geographical boundaries.

She trained under renowned opera teacher Ruth Packer in London in the mid-1970s and before that sang with the University of Auckland Choir and the Dorian Choir, which is where she met husband Gavin Maclean.

She too inherited musical genes from her piano-teacher mother who also conducted the Women’s Institute Choir in Hamilton, where she was born.

“We sang around the piano on a Sunday night and there was always a family item in the local concerts,” she says.

“We learned piano but my sister and I liked singing more and started singing lessons.”

After studying English and music at the University of Auckland she and Gavin travelled to London in 1974 to train with a variety of private teachers.

They married in London in 1975 and returned to Gisborne, New Zealand, with a mutual desire to “live on and off the land and pursue music”.

“I did most of my best work here between 1976 and 1983,” she says.

This included My Fair Lady, and the opera The Magic Flute, both locally and for TVNZ.

Still to come though was a highlight, singing the title role in the 1994 Gisborne production of 19th century composer Gaetano Donizetti’s tragic opera Lucia di Lammermoor.

“The Gisborne Herald really went to town — it was front page news.”

She is enjoying working with Amanda and together with Trish they like to bounce ideas off one another with Amanda making use of Catherine’s many years of singing and teaching experience.

“Both Gavin and I really want to support Amanda.”

Catherine received a Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) in 2016 for services to music.

She has had a long relationship with Musical Theatre Gisborne. She is also musical director at St Andrew’s Church, and organises recitals and musical activities such as the free monthly lunchtime concerts at St Andrew’s Church, and Carols in the Vines.

Trish Tattle

As a young girl Trish said she had aspirations of “being a plain lady with a baby”.

She has far exceeded those ambitions. “I’ve lived in Gisborne for 40 years and done about 16 shows in that time.”

She has also been musical director of four — Godspell, Slice of Saturday Night, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and The Frankenstein Monster Show.

She said the comedy, Slice of Saturday Night at Lawson Field Theatre in 1983 was, “a bit naughty . . . we had fun at every rehearsal”.

Trish started learning piano when she was six years old and played the organ throughout her teenage years.

“I did my grade exams until I was about 14 and then told Mum I wasn’t doing anymore.

“I kept playing for people, accompanying them singing and playing for ballet classes and exams.”

Describing her life as “very ordinary”, she attributes her good health to her continuing involvement in the arts, playing music and keeping fit and healthy.

“Looking back, I always thought I was fortunate to be able to be home with my children.

“I also managed to complete my piano exams in Gisborne in the 1980s.”

She got involved with Catherine and MTG “the very second” she arrived in Gisborne.

“I had done about eight shows in Hawke’s Bay before coming here, for the Hastings Operatic and Hastings Musical Comedy Company.

“But I didn’t do my first show until I was 37.”

Trish celebrated a milestone birthday last year which coincided with the 10th anniversary of Musical Theatre Gisborne.

“My career highlight, without a doubt, was La Traviata, at The Gisborne War Memorial Theatre in 1997.

“It was the second major opera to be staged here.

“I loved the whole experience of working at that level.

“I loved the music and the singers.

Another highlight was accompanying New Zealand tenor Simon O’Neill for an audition demo tape. O’Neill has gone on to become one of the finest operatic tenors, appearing in many of the world’s leading concert halls.

THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC: Musical director of Mamma Mia! Amanda Maclean discusses the complexities of the show’s music with her mother Catherine Macdonald and lead pianist Trish Tattle before rehearsal.
OPERA HIGHLIGHT: In 1994 Catherine Macdonald sang the title role in Donizetti’s tragic opera Lucia di Lammermoor, staged in the War Memorial Theatre. Here she is with her romantic partner Edgardo, in the production, played by her husband Gavin Maclean. File picture