PO A Tribal Pop Opera

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

12/03/2010 - 12/03/2010

Production Details


The quintessential self-made Maori man, with singers and dancers from across Asia-Pacific, tells his peculiar tale. Sung in a number of languages and with virtuoso bodies – sometimes actually in flight – build together a living, breathing house of ancestors, remembered and imagined.

With his inimitable mixture of swanky bravura and piercing wit, Mika delivers ringing anthems, bittersweet lullabies and quirky ditties. With an international cast including Shakti of Japan, this will be a truly unique experience.

Le’o Pacific Voice: CHOIR
Shakti (Japan) | Alfira (Indonesia): INTERNATIONAL GUESTS

1hr, no interval

1hr, no interval

Much to commend but loses its way

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 16th Mar 2010

I was aware of Mika’s show weeks before the publicity kicked in, and it sparked my curiosity: what would it ‘be’?

Perhaps an extension of Mika’s flamboyant approach to Haka and other Maori and Pacific performing art traditions? Would it be a modern musical or opera with a ripping good story told by mischievous Mika? Would it be an explosion of creative collaborations from Mika’s talented friends and industry comrades?

Mika and his commendable well-supported Foundation have a reputation for creating new opportunities for both established and raw performers. It takes a brave and dedicated person to make these things happen; to build a new event from scratch. I applaud Mika’s drive. So how would this big vision pan out?

When the PR began to roll, it gave the event so many different identities that I was left confused and none the wiser.

The Aroha Festival programme listed it as “Gala Opening – Mika & the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.”

The Auckland City Council website listed it as one of the major events The Pasifika Festival was presenting.

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (APO) and The Edge’s websites, as well as many event listings and publications, listed it as –

“PO, A Tribal Pop Opera, Mika and The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Presented by Pasifika Festival, Creative NZ, Aroha Festival and Auckland City present Mika performing music by Gareth Farr with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.” 

On 10 March, in a Harbour City News interview, Mika mentioned "Cirque du Soleil". Brave – with those words come high expectations.

In the programme Mika defines Po as “the discovery of the darkness inside, a darkness that is beautiful and can live on eternally.” The description “A dark shimmering beauty” is also highlighted as significant.

So the show claimed to be many things, including a large scale production like Cirque; a meaningful journey into darkness; an event to celebrate gay and cultural pride; and of course there’s that brand new label: Tribal Pop Opera.

I think a performance can be that complex in nature and motivation, if its final execution has a powerful story and a central focus that is so strong, that it binds all elements, to lead and inspire the audience.

Regrettably, while there is no doubt Po is diverse in content (being multi-cultural, multi-layered, multi-disciplinary and multi-lingual), Po is ultimately uneven and patchy.

Even with Mika’s long-time collaborator Mark James Hamilton’s shaping the hour with direction and choreography, it is disjointed.

Not surprisingly, the show’s identity and story about darkness, is somewhat cluttered. In its brief time, Po is trying to say so much that visually it is reduced to simply a variety of performances by Mika & friends, backed by the fabulous Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

However, there is much to commend: renowned composers Gareth Farr and Steve Robinson, along with Mika, have made a delicious score. They have written several brilliant pop songs as well as numerous warm emotive orchestral passages.

Even though the percussive drive occasionally overwhelms the orchestra, (‘Ahi Ataahua’ and ‘Ahi Wai’) Musical Director Penny Dodd, (who also wrote the orchestrations) has embellished the trio’s accessible melodies superbly, giving Conductor Hamish McKeich plenty of rich textures to merge – he does admirably.

The APO enthusiastically give themselves to the Farr/Robinson/Dodd/Mika collaboration – the brass enjoying a particularly good blast during ‘Coffee’.

Po starts out strong: Mika’s opening descent from a swinging trapeze in ‘Lava Lover’ is wonderful fun. From there, some items are stunning, some are lacking.

The Mika Haka Company (Jermaine Leef, Marino Taiatini, Parai Parai and Eru Bennett Paul), is a tight and talented ensemble. Fine singer-dancers, and looking hot in their fluro feathered Mohawks, they add energy and eye-candy throughout Po. Regrettably we lose some of their dynamic backing vocals, as they enter without microphones several times – a technical oversight?

During Act 1: Tongues Of Fire, Japanese dancer Shakti adds an exotic touch, while Aerialist Shayne Panayiotis Comino brings smooth elevation to ‘Taniwha’. 

While I found Act 2: Bittersweet Lullabies difficult to follow in terms of structure and story, (despite Mika’s earnestly spoken proclamations and cheerless unsubtle solo ‘Junkie’s Broken Strings’) Indonesian dancer Alfira O’Sullivan is amazing, and in perfect synch with the surging percussion in ‘E Taku Hoa’.

Jackie Clarke is flamboyant with vocal gymnastics a-plenty when she makes her cameo appearance to spontaneous applause during Act 2’s closer, ‘Aotearoa’. She continues to lift the energy in ‘Do U Like What U See?’ during Act 3: The Court Jester, which also features a more familiar Mika – a flippant and delightfully irreverent MC.

Story-wise, the evening lost its way during Act 2, which I think was about meaningful darkness. Mika is far more engaging when he simply acts as host, celebrating performance diversity, with more than a dash of gay pride in his stride.

While in some items director Hamilton failed to match the shape of the score with a dramatic or satisfying end or segue, the exception is the inspired impact and staging of the final song, Hollaender’s wonderful ‘Illusions’.

Footnote: During my research of the word Po (darkness, the void, night, the place where spirits go), I found two interesting definitions on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia which may, or may not, shed more light on this Po:

A Po is an idea, which moves thinking forward to a new place from where new ideas or solutions may be found. The term was created by Edward de Bono as part of a lateral thinking technique to suggest forward movement that is, making a statement and seeing where it leads. Also, in ancient Polynesian and Maori, the word po refers to the original chaotic state of formlessness, from which evolution occurred.
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Succeeds as a grand musical showcase

Review by Raewyn Whyte 13th Mar 2010

Mika’s latest project, Pô | Beautiful Darkness, opens in grand style with a conch, drumming and karanga sequence followed by the diva floating down to the stage on trapeze, accompanied by a lush orchestral arrangement as he sings his 1992 gay anthem ‘Lava Lover’.

Beautifully arrayed in a voluminous red spangly Issey Miyake garment below his bare chest, with a red feather headdress and elaborately layered raised collar framing his face, Mika looks and sounds in fine form.

And that fine form lasts throughout the show, with sure singing, a warm stage persona wreathed in smiles, and a gorgeous array of Issey Miyake clothing with plenty of sparkle and colour. Like Mika, the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra is in fine form in a range from lush orchestration to what sounds more like an augmented rock band.

Eleven songs from Mika’s pop music recordings are grouped into four Acts – ‘Tongues of Fire’, ‘Bittersweet Lullabies’, ‘The Court Jester’ and ‘On Burning Waters’ – with the four themes reflected in the choice of songs, costumes and lighting. Six songs have music by Gareth Farr, three are by Steve Robinson, four are waiata, and all well received.

Throughout the show, other than for ‘Junkie’s Broken Strings’, Mika’s singing is embellished by engagement with other performers, including four lithe young men from Mika Haka who provide backing vocals, roam about, and break into occasional simple danced sequences. Fellow diva Jackie Clarke, clad in a green shimmery dress with kick panel frills and the tallest of frou frou headdresses, is in magnificent voice on ‘Aotearoa’, and she out-divas Mika on ‘Do You Like What U See?’.

Mika also shares the stage with several international guests with whom he has previously appeared. Aerialist Shayne Comino (Australia/NZ) appears somewhat awkwardly in a blue reptilian body suit during ‘Taniwha’, but also produces rippling, floating tissu [aerial silk] work all too briefly during ‘Coffee’,while Mika sings in his higher register.

Alfira O’Sullivan (Indonesia) presents delicate masked Javanese cultural dance during ‘E Taku Hoa’ and ‘Ahi Wai’, taking the eye with her confident performance, and she interacts well with Mika.  Shakti (Japan) seems somewhat dwarfed by the stage and unsure of her place during ‘Taniwha’, while body-painted Mark James Hamilton (UK) with flashing dagger-length silver nails seems utterly confident in his rapidly travelling bharat natyam sequences during ‘Ahi Ataatua’ and ‘Ahi Wai’. 

Mika’s show was the opening event for the new Aroha Festival and also a component of Pasifika Festival week. It was unable to achieve its extravagant billing as “Tribal Pop Opera… showcasing the raw beauty of native song and dance”, but as a more conventional kind of grand musical showcase, it was a success.


Raewyn Whyte March 17th, 2010

You should ask Mika -- I am sure he will have archives.

Certainly I have read several articles over the years, but  in print publications  which may never be archoved online. Try the National Loibrary serials index....

Richard Grevers March 16th, 2010

Mika is one New Zealander who is definitely deserving of a Wikipedia article (even more so now with a generation who associate the name with the singer from Lebanon), but I've had problems finding "reliable sources" online. If anyone knows of profiles in magazines etc. over the years, please let me know. 

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