Wellington’s St James Theatre is due to open early in 2022 after closing in 2018 for earthquake strengthening restorations.
The first show to go on sale for the venue ahead of its re-opening is the return of iconic theatre production Les Misérables, after last appearing in the city two decades ago. The first program of events booked into the venue is set to be released soon.
Wellington has long been considered the arts capital of the country, and as the Home of the Royal New Zealand Ballet and host to a variety of dance, drama, opera, comedy, and cabaret events every year, the St James Theatre was the jewel in the city’s arts crown.
The 1600-seat theatre has long stood at the heart of Courtenay Place. Designed and built in in 1912, it was originally used as a space for comedians, jugglers, acrobats, and dancers. From 1930, the building was a cinema and after World War II it was again used for stage productions. In 1987, the St. James played its last movie and, following one of the country’s largest heritage battles, was bought by the council in 1993 and restored to its former glory.
As well as becoming a permanent home for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, St James Theatre has hosted some of the world’s biggest touring artists including Nick Cave, City and Colour, Alanis Morrissette, and The Cure, theatre productions such as Singin In The Rain, Mamma Mia, The Sound of Music, and Annie, and other events including TEDxWellington in 2017.
During the restoration, the significant heritage elements of the theatre – including the historic decorative interior – are being carefully preserved and protected, working closely with Heritage New Zealand and conservation architects to ensure St James Theatre maintains its 100-year-old charm long into the future.
Announced on French national holiday Bastille Day, Les Miserables is another triumph to add to St James Theatre’s illustrious list. Set in 19th century France, Les Misérables tells a story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption – a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit.
Seen by more than 130 million people worldwide, the upcoming version of Les Miserables, opening for a limited season in August 2022, has been produced by the same team behind the critically acclaimedWellington season of Jersey Boys, in association with the recently formed Capital Theatre Trust. Audiences can expect new staging and reimagined scenery, perfect for the newly restored theatre.
Justin Pule, Managing Director of Ticketmaster New Zealand says of the reopening: “The St James Theatre has been such an iconic part of the venues in Wellington and its presence has been sorely missed the last few years. I, like many others, am really excited about its reopening.”
Ahead of St James Theatre’s reopening, we sat down with Gus Sharp, Event Sales & Planning Manager, Venues Wellington to learn more about the current works and what is planned for Wellington’s St James Theatre once it is reopened.
Let’s start with an introduction – please tell us who you are and what your involvement with St James Theatre is.
I’m Gus Sharp, Event Sales and Planning Manager at Venues Wellington and I’m responsible for the team booking and delivering events in our venues. Venues Wellington looks after five venues – the Michael Fowler Centre, The Opera House, The TSB Arena and Shed6 and the St James Theatre.
When St James Theatre reopens what do you hope the theatre will both bring, as well as bring back, to Wellington?
The St James will bring back one of the premiere seated venues in New Zealand. The St James is a perfect space for large scale, main stage productions as well as the home of the Royal New Zealand Ballet
What makes St James Theatre such an important venue within Wellington’s, and by extension New Zealand’s, theatre and arts scene?
The scale of the venue is impressive with one of the largest arches in New Zealand.
What has the reaction been since announcing the venue’s planned reopening?
People are very excited to have it reopen, and everyone is looking forward to having the space back for the audiences of Wellington.
For anyone who might not have experienced St James Theatre previously, what makes the venue so special?
The St James Theatre has amazing sightlines and a beautiful interior including the stunning auditorium roof.
What are the feelings around the upcoming season of Les Miserables coming to St James Theatre in 2022?
It is really heartening to see a return to the St James of locally produced, high calibre musical theatre. The St James is a perfect place to relaunch our musical theatre culture in Wellington.
For long-time visitors, what can they expect once they get to experience the venue once again?
A return to the scale and opulence of the St James Theatre.
As well as Les Miserables in August 2022, what else do you hope for St James Theatre in the future?
The venue will open in March 2022. We have a very full programme, all to be revealed in due course.