Admin | 30 Jan 2014 23:28pm
Aside from the obvious perk of watching a lot of theatre, one of the best things about reviewing shows is experiencing new amateur dramatic companies and theatres that I would not usually come across. Tonight’s show was a series of firsts for me; first time at the Broadway Theatre, first time seeing a production from company Artform, first time of seeing Avenue Q.
Originally conceived as a TV series, Avenue Q is an American musical parable about the problems facing young people as they enter adulthood using both human actors and muppet style puppets, animated by unconcealed puppeteers.
Set around the dilapidated, fictional New York street Avenue Q, it tells the stories, trials and tribulations of its residents; newcomer Princeton, henpecked Brian and his screeching Japanese wife Christmas Eve, sweet Kate Monster, stuck-in the closet Rod, his best friend Nicky and porn mad Trekkie Monster. Throw in a sexy lounge singer known as Lucy the Slut, a couple of bad idea bears to lead the gang astray, “child celebrity” superintendent Gary Coleman and a lot of catchy musical numbers, and what you have is a thought provoking, touching, heart warming, laugh-out-loud evening of entertainment.
I think I must be one of the very few people that didn’t see the West End production, so I relished the opportunity to finally see this show. A musical AND puppets? What’s not to like?
The Broadway Theatre in Catford is a great space, comprising a 500 seat theatre and studio, with a lovely, spacious bar area and café. As for Artform, if tonight’s production was anything to go by, they are a great society, with a talented bunch of members, both on stage and off, who obviously enjoyed every minute.
It’s hard to pick highlights when a production is as strong as this. I can honestly say every member of the cast was a delight; vocals were strong, the puppetry looked effortless; hats off to puppet coach Richard Webb for his achievements with what one assumes to be an untrained cast. Personal favourites for me were Chloe Oliver as the sweet but sassy Kate Monster and Matthew Westrip as Rod who tugged at the heartstrings with his unrequited love, hidden under a brusque exterior….though I also loved Trekkie (Adrian Morrissey) and Christmas Eve’s song “When you Ruv Someone” by Penny Walshe was one of the strongest vocal performances of the night…but I enjoyed getting attacked by Nicky (Bobby Youle) for money in The Money Song…no, sorry, it’s just too hard to pick a stand out, when all the cast gave an A class performance.
The set was beautifully designed with a helpful TV screen to show the audience either where we were in Avenue Q or what a character was thinking. The different levels and windows which actors and/or puppets popped out of provided some nice dynamics, and clever use of spots and lighting, meant scene changes (kept to a minimum so as not to interrupt the action) were smooth. The show had a great pace from start to finish. Stage Manager and Set Designer Jon Arden (a pro in the field according to the programme, which most definitely came across) should be extremely proud of his accomplishments. Musical director Paul Berry had also obviously worked his cast hard to produce some tight harmonies that were right on the money.
Avenue Q is a challenging musical to stage. Singing, dancing and manoeuvring puppets to make them seem lifelike to an audience is a big ask for pro performers, never mind amateurs, but Artform pulled this off with apparent ease. Co-directors Larissa Webb and Sheila Arden should be congratulated for their work; the overall effect was of a cast working effortlessly together to produce a high quality, professional standard production.
Slick and stylish, this was one of the best shows I have seen for a long time. (I am reluctant to use the word “amateur” for a show that was pretty much of professional standard). As my companion said as the show ended “That was so good, I didn’t want it to end”. I very much look forward to Artform’s next offering; they have certainly set the bar high.