The Orange Tree Theatre continues to ring the changes under Paul Miller’s reign with their Orange Tree Extras, a series of varied one night theatre, comedy, music and spoken word events. This week has already seen Barb Jungr sing Nina Simone and Tim Crouch reprise his I, Malvolio but it was the promise of cabaret from original Avenue Q cast members Simon Lipkin, Jon Robyns and Giles Terera that tempted me out to Richmond.
Avenue Q is a show that I loved with all of my heart when it arrived in the West End, making seven trips across the four years of its various cast and theatre changes. And though I have enjoyed the touring versions that have emerged since, there’s nothing quite like the original and so the news that Lipkin and Robyns would be bringing along Princeton, Nicky, Rod and Trekie Monster along with them was music to my ears, YAYYY as the Bad Idea Bears might have said!
And what a fun evening it was. The affection that these guys have for each other, and for musical theatre, was evident from the off in a couple of parody numbers poking fun at the industry in which they’ve all managed to establish enduring careers – with lows as well as highs, I Can’t Sing anyone? And the second half saw their playful sides kick in with a witty ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ sung one word at a time by the three of them and a raucous ‘Jailhouse Rock’ seeing them switch between piano, tambourine and lead vocal every time an audience member honked a horn.
Solo sections for each offered up real delights. Terera – my Best Actor in a Musical from last year and currently doing great things to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – more than proved his worth with a gorgeously jazzy ‘Pure Imagination’ and a hugely affecting, low-key ‘Tomorrow’ from Bugsy Malone. Robyns looked back to Memphis with a rousing The Music of my Soul from the piano and Lipkin thoroughly indulged his comic chops, though stood out most with the quiet emotion of William Finn’s aching ‘I’d Rather Be Sailing’ and a lovely rendition of ‘The Rainbow Connection’ along with Terera, their harmonies sending lovely shivers down the spine.
An unexpected high point of the show was Terera’s impersonation of Dame Judi Dench’s ‘Send in the Clowns’, right down to the shoulder (and not just because the song contains a shout-out to the name of this blog, or should that be the other way round…!) which was fortunately good enough to avoid being a treasonable offence. But as we were blessed with a trio of songs from the show that made at least two of their names, it was thoroughly fantastic to be reminded just how much I loved Avenue Q and how much I loved these guys doing the show.
From ‘If You Were Gay’ (I’M NOT BEING DEFENSIVE!) to the harmonies of ‘I Wish I Could Go Back To College’ to the hard-earned wisdom of ‘For Now’, it was all I hoped it would be and more or less the perfect end to a cracking evening of cabaret, with sterling support from Musical Director Alex Williams on the piano. You kinda hope that this is the first of many times that the hugely musically talented Lipkin, Robyns and Terera do this sort of thing as their stars, both collective and individual, deserve to continue to rise and rise.