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Theatre legend keen for Newcastle encore

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When Come From Away broke the box office record at the Civic Theatre in 2023, it grabbed the attention of leading British theatre producer Sir Howard Panter.

In fact, the co-founder of Trafalgar Entertainment made a dash to Newcastle to scout the iconic venue as a possible location to host future Broadway productions.

And, his long trip has paid dividends with The Rocky Horror Show knocking the Tony Award winner out of the park in regards to ticket sales.

Sir Howard Panter, Jason Donovan, Myf Warhurst, Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes and City of Newcastle CEO Jeremy Bath. Photo: Daniel Boud

More than 23,000 people, so far, are scheduled to witness the much-loved rock ‘n’ roll musical, starring Jason Donovan and Myf Warhurst, in the former steel city over the next three weeks.

Amazingly, it’s attracted visitors from every state in Australia and as far away as the United Kingdom.

As a result, Sir Howard is keen to showcase more of his high-class offerings in Newcastle, either at the Civic Theatre or Victoria Theatre following its restoration.

“I was told many times to come here and see for myself first-hand,” he said.

“Honestly, I was promised a mature, heritage city built on both the harbour and the coastline.

“So, when I eventually arrived, I was blown away by what Newcastle had to offer.”

Sir Howard, who received a knighthood in the 2013 Queen’s Birthday Honours for “services to theatre”, and his partner Dame Rosemary Squire own and operate 16 venues across Europe as well as Sydney’s Theatre Royal.

Trafalgar Entertainment is also responsible for producing a range of major shows including Jersey Boys, Jagged Little Pill, 42nd Street and War Horse.

Respected advocates for cultural industries in the UK and internationally, the couple was placed at number one in The Stage 100 for seven consecutive years, topping the Evening Standard Power 1000 Theatre section.

They were recognised in the Progress 1000 list of London’s Most Influential People in the Creative Arts: Theatre section, too.

However, his immediate attention is on The Rocky Horror Show, which opened at the weekend to much acclaim.

“The response has been phenomenal,” he said.

“I was reliably informed that about 50% of the people who’ve bought tickets have never been to the Civic Theatre before.

“So, that’s a wonderful statement of faith and a wonderful statement that they’ll come to this venue.

“They won’t be disappointed either.

“This fantastic facility is a world-class venue and we’re absolutely thrilled to be starting this section of The Rocky Horror Show, and its famous 50th anniversary, here.

“There aren’t many rock ‘n’ shows that’ve lasted for five decades.

“But, it plays somewhere in the world every day in the year.”

Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes and Sir Howard Panter on the eve of the opening of The Rocky Horror Show. Photo: Rod Thompson

Sir Howard also praised City of Newcastle (CN) for its support.

“I’ve been really impressed with our dealings with council,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“We’ve had some very productive discussions about bringing more shows to Newcastle, which we certainly want to do.

“I feel this is the start of a very long and fruitful relationship.

“Newcastle should be getting all the best productions [in this theatre], there’s no question.

“It’s a fantastic auditorium, a fantastic city and a fantastic catchment.

“To have broken the box office record before opening is brilliant as well.

“Usually, people wait until the last minute to buy their tickets.

“So, to be in this position early on only gives weight to the argument that locals and visitors alike want to watch first-class shows.

“This is such an exceptional building, I want more people to enjoy it.

“I also want them to enjoy The Rocky Horror Show because if they’re not up on their feet, we must be doing something wrong.

“It’s a great opportunity to dress up, too,” he added with a laugh.

The Rocky Horror Show has been seen by more than 30 million people in over 30 countries since making its debut in London in 1973. 

Sir Howard put its longevity down to its relevant nature.

“I think everyone can identify with the people in it,” he said.

“That may sound strange because none of us are standing here in our corsets and stockings… or, maybe, we are.

“It’s because it is actually about very vulnerable people, those who are sort of clinging on to things and what they discover going through the show, what they discover about themselves, what they discover about other people.

“So, what starts off as something of a cliche becomes something very loving, very open, very vulnerable and very uplifting, I hope.

“I can’t think of another rock ‘n’ roll show that’s played consistently around the world for 50 years.

“We must be doing something right.

“But, I truly believe it’s because we’re connecting with people’s vulnerability and who they really are.

“That makes The Rocky Horror Show relatable.”

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