My one dilemma was that the premier, October 28th, would be during my first week of vacation out of the country. Not to worry, my host family in New Zealand said. I had already planned to be in their part of the country that week and they had decided to go themselves so it was no trouble to arrange an extra ticket for the event. Sweet! On vacation, in New Zealand with old friends and seeing the last show of shows from one of the world's great showmen.
New Plymouth, New Zealand, is next to nothing else in the civilized world. Mt. Egmont, or Taranaki in native Maori, was itself kicked out of the Lake Taupo region by the other three massive volcanoes there after a fight over a girl according to legend and lore. Auckland and Wellington, the national capital, are five hours each to the north and south, respectively. There is a small industrial port but the town otherwise serves as a place to live peacefully by the sea and raise a family away from the madness of Auckland, the largest city in the country. This bucolic town/village by the sea is like a home away from home for me, filled with breathtaking scenery, caring friends and quiet times. It is not the place to expect cordoned streets, huge crowds or impersonators in full gear.
The theater did engage the velvet rope cordon but they needn't have bothered. The space eventually filled up but there was no mad rush for choice seats in the venue of roughly 300. There was a moment of silence for Michael, then the lights fell and the show began. The "Kiwis" enjoyed an early chuckle when one dancer from across "The Ditch" only got as far as "I'm from Australia..." before breaking down crying. What, we thought, are we in for if they're blubbering before we even get into the film too deeply?
The young "crunksters" laughed out loud again at some of Michael's more uninspired antics such as lying on his back and kicking his legs in the air but they were in lock step with the back-up dancers who were primarily their age. One dancer pulled off an aerial barrel roll during "Shake Your Body Down" that nearly got the entire audience on its feet but this is New Zealand where over the top displays outside of sports arenas are frowned upon. Still, "Billie Jean" was the crowning moment it always has been, the last time it would be seen live and the moment when every dancer on stage and in that theater first decided what they wanted to do for a living. It was a bittersweet homecoming for those of us who knew him when.
Michael played New Zealand only once during the "HIStory Tour," appearing in Auckland over two nights in November of 1996. Maybe some in the theater that night in little New Plymouth were there. Many surely pretended this was the actual concert come to New Zealand at last and enjoyed it for what it was. The small remainder simply saw it as an interesting night on the town, a two hour diversion like any other film.
Either way, we all agreed that this concert, this documentary, would have topped them all. One thing we couldn't agree on was how long he would have stood there on opening night to all that applause before lighting in to the first number. Five? Ten? Fifteen minutes? Who knows?