Think back to your time at high school. The pressures of being young, living up to the expectations of family, friends, peers and teachers. You had your heroes, your secret guilty pleasures, your shame and your pride. Those formative years can make or break you, navigating the difficult teenage years is a time fraught with danger and confusion.
Now, imagine putting all of those embarrassments, trials, talents and fears into a stage show and touring Aotearoa to share your stories. That is precisely what Rutene Spooner has done in Super Hugh-Man his charming, powerful yet imperfect autobiographical cabaret, directed by Jennifer Ward-Lealand.
Reviewed by MARTIN QUICKE
Growing up in Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa (Gisborne), Spooner was immersed in the traditional Kiwi male pastimes of sport, kapa haka, superheroes and the underlying fear of anything that stands out from the norm. Teased for his love of theatre and singing, he found solace in his love for everybody’s favourite Adamantium Australian, Hugh Jackman A.K.A. Wolverine.
We are taken on a journey as the young Rutene navigates his way through kapa haka practise, complete with a one man performance of what seems like an entire group performing some classic pieces. His characterisations are immediately recognisable to every Kiwi. The “cool kids” mocking him for his love of drama, Uncle Wally the kapa haka teacher, a man of few words but incredible mana. Teachers, dance instructors, friends and family are all beautifully portrayed and feel immediately familiar.
As we are taken on a whirlwind tour of his audition and years spent at NASDA (National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Arts) we watch as the young boy, terrified to be anything other than what he was expected to be, blooms and becomes the all singing, all dancing sensation we see before us today. Growing in to your own superpowers, as he put it. A slow, often painful experience for any of us to endure.
Ultimately this is a story of hope. Hope that there is a place for all of us, even those who feel lost and out of place. Hope that there is a world out there where men can love both haka and high-kicks. Personally, growing up in a rugby dominated school where drama was not even an option, the story and feelings Spooner bled on to the stage hit home. Too many memories of relentless bullying and lack of support from the school staff were brought to the surface and I felt a real sense of kinship with Spooner. The struggle is real, in New Zealand and it isn’t getting any easier for young men to feel comfortable with being a little different.
There were a few nerves, forgotten lines here and there, however Spooner delights us with his innocence and natural charm, his incredible voice soars as he launches into his reworked versions of classic musical theatre show-stoppers.
His control and power are awe-inspiring, pitch perfect and smooth as butter, Spooner would not be out of place singing on any stage around the world, his voice is that good. Dance numbers, guitar, kapa haka, Wolverine impressions (on a budget) Super Hugh-Man had it all in spades.
Accompanied by some simple yet effective lighting and sound, Spooner managed to prove to anybody who ever doubted him or teased him, that there is nothing to fear in being who you are. Even your own heroes are closer to yourself than you think. Just look at Hugh Jackman, he can do it all. And so can Rutene Spooner.
Super Hugh-Man is a part of the Spiegel Fest in Taranaki, which runs until December 1. For more information or for tickets visit www.spiegelfest.co.nz.