The New Blue: A Portrait of Pixie Williams

Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

02/03/2024 - 03/03/2024

NZ Fringe Festival 2024

Production Details

Creator: Amelia Costello
Musical director James Illingworth

The New Blue is a unique festival performance showcasing the remarkable story and songbook of the first recording pop star in Aotearoa, Pixie Williams, and the music that influenced her.

In 1948, Pixie Williams gave voice to one of the most enduring popular melodies of the twentieth century – Blue Smoke.

Kickstarting New Zealand’s recording industry from a specially renovated studio in Wakefield Street, Blue Smoke was just the beginning for Pixie as she became a highly sought after vocalist, going on to record a second number one hit by Ruru Karaitiana called ‘Let’s talk it Over’ selling 20,000+ records.

Recording a total of 13 songs over two years, mixing universal themes and international music styles with the unmistakable flavour of Aotearoa through 1949 – 1951, The New Blue also celebrates Wellington.

Venue: Hannah Playhouse as part of NZ Fringe
Saturday March 2nd, 4pm and 8pm
Sunday March 3rd, 7pm
General Admission $44.00 Concession $39.00

Kirsten Te Rito, Lisa Tomlins, Rachel Fraser - performers

Music , Theatre ,

90 minutes

Musical celebration performed with absolute skill and heart

Review by Maryanne Cathro 03rd Mar 2024

The Hannah Playhouse stage is looking good for The New Blue – potted plants, fringed lamps, cocktail bar, rugs, a piano, and musical stands anticipating a band. The stage is set for an evening of musical story-telling. 

This show is about the life and times of Pixie Williams, whose rich, clear voice is heard in New Zealand’s first ever recorded song, ‘Blue Smoke’. The NZ recorded music industry was born in Wellington on Wakefield St, and so it seems fitting to all that this show’s homecoming is just around the corner.

Sir Ian Taylor (yes THAT Sir Ian Taylor) enters the empty stage wearing a korowai and delivers a mihi and greeting to us all. Pixie Williams was his Aunty – and he tells us of his musical childhood and Aunty Pixie visiting, bringing her beautiful voice.

As he tells us, she embodied the saying, “The Kumara never speaks of its sweetness,” a modesty that we find out is taken advantage of in her lifetime.

The story unfolds as spoken narration from the velvet tonsils of Simone Kennedy placed downstage left, woven around music. We hear Pixie’s singing in original recordings with accompanying photo montages projected above the stage, but most of it is live.

NZ music royalty Kirsten Te Rito, Lisa Tomlins and Rachel Fraser are all well-known across a range of musical genres, but tonight they wear gorgeous wine frocks, black gloves and 40s hair to set the scene. Backing them up is an impressive band comprising James Illingworth on piano, Jacqui Nyman on bass, Mark Sommerville on guitar, Cory Champion on drums and Lucien Johnson on sax, clarinet and flute. Together they capture the mid-century sound perfectly, under Illingworth’s skilled musical direction.

Songs have been lovingly curated to counterpoint the telling of Pixie’s life, from country girl to city woman. As well as songs that Pixie recorded there are well known hits like ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’, ‘Blue Moon’, ‘Que Sera Sera’ and ‘Haere Mai’.  

We are privileged to hear original recordings and live versions of some of the songs that made her voice famous, including an absolutely charming love song to Wellington, ‘Windy City’. The accompanying photo montage shows brave Wellingtonians of the 40s and 50s battling the southerlies in black and white. It is wonderful.

Pixie’s story carries some shocks – like her never receiving a cent for all the recordings she made: an inexcusable exploitation even at the beginning of the industry. We also hear of her move from Wellington to Dunedin where she finds the domestic happiness she was looking for, of children – which also brings tragedy – and love and music. 

All in all, it is an evening of 40s and 50s music performed with absolute skill and heart, that lovingly celebrates the story of one of our country’s musical treasures. Even if she was a reluctant star who, as Sir Ian says, would have wondered what all the fuss was about, we all agree that she was worth every bit of the fuss!  


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