'Genius lyricist and writer' Jenden dies

A PRODIGIOUS PAIRING: Paul Jenden, right, with his partner, performer Louis Solino.
A PRODIGIOUS PAIRING: Paul Jenden, right, with his partner, performer Louis Solino.

A bright light of the Wellington arts and theatre scene has been extinguished with the death of lyricist, writer and choreographer Paul Jenden, friends and collaborators say.

Jenden, perhaps best known for his hit Hairy Maclary Show and annual Circa Theatre pantomimes with Roger Hall, died in Wellington Hospital on Saturday evening after a long battle with leukaemia.

Close friend and collaborator Gareth Farr said Jenden was a tireless worker with a broad creative reach.

Although he was known for his wicked sense of humour and effervescent productions, he was a private man.

"He was just the most genius lyricist and writer," composer Farr said. "I cannot think of anything I have enjoyed more in my life than working with him."

Jenden introduced Farr to musicals and, over the past decade, the pair had collaborated on Troy The Musical and The Nero Show. Their working relationship culminated in one final offering this year: C - A Musical, which dealt with Jenden's personal five-year experience of cancer, and starred his partner Louis Solino.

Farr visited Jenden at his hospital bedside and said it was heartbreaking to watch great talent be claimed by cancer.

"I don't think I ever thought that it would really be the big, terrible thing that got him. I thought that he would fend it off - he was just so defiant."

But even on his deathbed, Jenden showed a flicker of his theatrical self. As his friend hovered seemingly unresponsive on the edge of coma, Farr recounted a moment of high drama when his music-scoring fumble had thrown a composition for one of the pair's musicals into disarray, and Jenden was forced to conjure up a new chorus at the last minute.

The dying man said nothing, but suddenly stirred, Farr said.

"Something in him recognised my voice and he put both his hands in mine and I thought he could hear as I reminded him about the lyrics."

Veteran children's publisher Ann Mallinson worked with Jenden for 14 years on the Hairy Maclary shows, and said: "Paul's death is a huge loss to Wellington and to New Zealand. He was a brilliant man of theatre, and one of the best costume designers and makers in the world."

Prominent arts patron Bill Sheat said the arts community had lost one of its greats. "What a prodigious talent we have lost - choreographer, director, dancer, performer, costume designer and lyricist.

"His contribution to pantomimes and original works for the musical theatre will be remembered. While he will be chiefly remembered for his sense of fun, which he shared with audiences, he was capable of being serious, as his autobiographical work C showed."

Dominion Post dance reviewer Jennifer Shennan said: "The range of Paul's imagination and wit knew no bounds, and he danced across all the conventional boundaries within theatre arts.

"Great talent, great courage . . . and for us all now, a great loss. Our thoughts are with his family, and his partner Louis Solino."

The Dominion Post