Pictures: Christiaan Kotze
DIANE DE BEER
DIRECTOR: Timothy le Roux
CAST: Ashleigh Harvey, Ryann Flynn, Daniel Geddes, Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri, grant Towers, Rebecca Hartle, Nieke Lombard, Graeme Wicks, Songezo Khumalo
PUPPET AND SCENIC DESIGN: Kosie Smit
MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Dawid Boverhoff
VENUE: Pieter Toerien’s Main Theatre at Montecasino
DATES: Until July 15
Especially in musical theatre where so much of what we see is stuff we’re familiar with, Avenue Q comes like sneaky fresh breeze – cool as a cucumber.
It’s the production – a musical play of puppets steered by a sassy group of actors – that keeps this one turning on a dime as they tell a story of disillusionment as they leave their comfy enclaves of learning to find their way in the world.
It’s wise as the ages but with a youthful exuberance which is firmly stamped into every slinky move made and musical note warbled as they push a story as cynical as they come. And yet, at the heart, it’s all marshmallow soft as the boy and girl walk off into the sunset.
Of course, a few things are turned on their head, as this one is wont to do. The sex and the talk (about sex, race and gender mostly, but also about finding a purpose) are more raucous and slurpy as the puppets find their inner soul, and the talent pops all the time which it needs to do in a show where singing a song is taken to new levels – and that’s part of the fun.
It’s a show that asks you to engage from the start and once you’ve taken that leap, it’s a treasure trove on many diverse levels.
It starts with the originality, which keeps it current because of the themes but also because of the way it is presented. It’s about the puppets and the way they look and perform with the help of a cast who have found hidden skills and turn every performance into so much more than just a sing-and-dance number.
Even though they make the puppets come alive, the actors never disappear and what they achieve is part of the magic of the show. The audience is engaged in a way that adds to the excitement and exuberance.
You can sit back and smile your way through this one and wallow in the wonder of local talent, beginning with Timothy le Roux, who has put together a show that is razor sharp in the tiniest detail. And it has to be precisely that, or it wouldn’t work. If you can’t buy into the premise, you will lose much of the magic but when you do, it’s a wild and joyous ride. That’s what Le Roux has skilfully managed in near-miraculous fashion.
But then there are the puppet masters and that’s exactly what they are. They don’t dominate their puppet, yet they become part of the experience in a way that adds depth and delight to every character. It’s incredibly charming to witness and part of the marvel is the way each one on stage pulls it off and adds layer upon layer to the show.
Starting with the main guy and his gal or it could be the other way round – it’s absolutely that kind of show. Everyone is embraced whether you’re a slut or a Republican senator, there’s place for you on Avenue Q, a neighbourhood where the other becomes just another of this tightly-knit community of oddballs.
But back to the gal (Harvey) and her guy (Flynn). Harvey has done her musical rounds and yet, it’s as if this one fits her like it was written for her. Her performance is rich in emotion, and with her singing simply extraordinary. Her main character, Kate Monster, steps aside when she’s slutty Lucy, but sometimes you have both characters on stage and that simply defies description, the deftness so delicious. She simply soars into the stratosphere with this one.
And that goes for Flynn too, who is starring in his biggest musical role to date and simply embraces every challenge. Also flicking between Princeton, the main guy on the lookout for purpose and a recent college graduate, and Rod the Republican senator, who is battling his rigidity, Flynn simply grabs hold of each one’s personality – sometimes at the same time.
It’s exceptional stuff and part of the hilarity of watching this one is revelling in the star power that emerges. The rest of the cast, each and everyone – from the gruff Trekkie Monster (Geddes) to Coleman, desperate to be the comeback kid (Mahaka-Phiri) – they all have to deliver or it just won’t have the zing.
It’s the tiniest gem this one but if you are blessed enough to catch the shine, it brings a new musical happiness that celebrates being different – not just as people but also in performance.
That’s rare in musical speak!