NZ Arts Festival 2008, St James Theatre
March 4-5 | Reviewed by Melody Nixon

Bro’Town Live on Stage proudly proclaims itself the “world’s first reality stage show documentary… about a cartoon!” And this title is more than apt; the show is a mix of cross-genre, cartoon-like, real life TV commentary; narrated principally by creators David Fane and Oscar Kightley, with fellow Naked Samoans Mario Gaoa and Shimpal Lelisi as comedic support. Despite a low energy performance and an obvious lack of preparation (the Live on Stage part meant script-in-hand and missed cues) the Bro’Town story gained copious laughter and encouragement from the audience, and was very high in feel-good factor.

Featured special guests aided the charting of the cartoon series’ journey, from Naked Samoan comedy sketch to script-room floor. The pelvic thrusts of Dave ‘GraveCave’ Fane formed the comedic backbone of the story and rose to fever pitch by the end of the night. So too did the number of special guests, who ranged from a beguiling Scribe to a childlike John Campbell, though all but Scribe arrived via video link on the show’s second and final night in Wellington. The celebrity guests glowed with congratulations and praise for the self-styled Bro’Town crew, and their compliments seemed genuinely and heart felt – with the exception of the Flight of the Conchords perhaps, whose heartfelt praise was the most disingenuous (and consequently the most hilarious.)

The producer and series instigator Elizabeth Mitchell also took to the mic bravely, in her first onstage appearance. Her voice and contribution to the story gave testament to the importance of personal friends and companions – outside the Naked Samoan crew – who have made the cartoon series come to life. The onstage addition of animators Ant Sang and Maka Makatoa was a little painful, though once behind their animation boards they became a lot less awkward. Finally, storyteller Teuila Blakely narrated the stage show beautifully, and her garden arch seat hinted at the fun and unrealised possibilities of stage design for a live animation performance.

As with the TV show I felt a slight dissonance at the mass laughter at racial stereotypes, and wondered if we (we Pakeha, especially) were allowed to be laughing, really. But no one seems too bothered by that aspect – at least not in the North Island – and in the circles I know of the show has perhaps served as a point of bonding for Maori-Pakeha relations (I’m thinking of the Far North).

Overall, this was a hearty, likable, multi-media fun show, and it came complete with mental health-focused goody bags. However while it was perhaps aimed at encouraging and inspiring the young audience to fulfill their dreams – or at least think about them - in the end it came across as a little too self-congratulatory. The show-off tone of the whole evening, combined with the lack of preparation, was somewhat off-putting. While the crowd seemed chuffed to have been part of the experience, I couldn’t help wonder if the team has fallen a little victim to its own success.