“Can love be for two people like us?”
People Like Us opened this week at Takapuna’s The Pumphouse Theatre. Already involving an uncommon trip to the Shore from out East, the trans-musical was certainly an experience of firsts. Directed by Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho, People Like Us is an exploration of a love free from all constraints.
The show stars middle-aged builder James (Luke Bird), who is coming to terms with his love for dressing as the feminine Bianca. Paired with Bianca is the striking Sheena (Ramon Te Wake), a transgender beautician. Their love story is set in the eccentric DOT’s Bar, run by the sensual fa'afafine Vera (Cindy of Samoa). As expected, their romance is not without its hurdles, with Bianca’s family struggling with her transition, and Sheena’s old pimp, Roger (Johnny Aukusitino), causing strife. People Like Us showcases many minorities, primarily in the form of sexuality and gender, however, when the musical is stripped back of these elements, its actual story is rather predictable. This critique is minor however, as often musicals require a simple storyline in order to let the music and over-the-top characters shine. And shine they certainly do. A standout from the cast is the sassy and androgynous Twinkle (Zakk D’Larté), who functions as Vera’s second-hand and somehow stands out even among such an overtly fabulous cast.
Even though the simplicity of writer Joanna Jayne St John’s People Like Us is no weakness, I do wish they had truly let it shine. The show features many musical numbers under the direction of Lavina Williams and choreography by Taiaroa Royal. The magnitude of these moments at times outweighs their purpose. The characters all perform to a high standard, with duets often conveying essential emotion. However, between these high moments are a number of songs that simply are not entirely necessary. Every song has its own merits and is enjoyable to watch, but overall the simple story cannot carry them. At two hours, including an interval, People Like Us is a lengthy showcase, and this is maybe its main shortcoming. Was it an amazing and charming musical experience? For sure. Did it at times feel stuffy because of its length? Definitely.
All in all, this critique of People Like Us is not condemning. The show presents a gratifying love story and many theatrical characters. Highlights are splattered throughout the musical, so that any flat moments are quickly overpowered by bubbly entertainment. The night ends on a high, with the whole audience dancing on their feet. If you’re looking for an upbeat show that combines a classic story with modern elements, you can’t go wrong with People Like Us.
People Like Us runs until this Sunday at The Pumphouse Theatre. Tickets are available here.