A student production, especially one written and created by someone my own age, requires a a strong, critical voice. Every element of the direction, cast, and plot should be questioned and I felt compelled and invested to do so. The production of Avengers: Ensemble felt perfetly handcrafted for the audience and I am pleased to share my positive experience of this comic book inspired spectacle.
Alan Menken is tasked with assembling a group – after being asked by the acclaimed composer and lyricist Steven Sondheim, to go after Andrew Llyod Weber for wanting to destroy the world and being oh so very evil.
How does one stop the composer, lyricist, and EGOT winner?
Only by bringing together the best musical theatre stars to defeat him, obviously.
Ross McFadden as Steven Sondheim, with a cane and perfect comedic timing, starts the show off on the right foot singing ‘Holding Out for a Hero’. Choosing Llyod Weber as the villain was the second, solely based on my own internal opposition for him and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
A full song about the colors of a coat? Really, Andrew, I can see why a group of musical acts must annihilate you.
Oscar Brennan with his wide-eyed expression, really encompassed my vision precisely of the whimsical, child-like composer and songwriter of Walt Disney Animation studios. The team he slowly gathers gives a glimpse into the life beyond the musical of some of the most iconic theatre characters. These characters include Dorthy now working in a shoe store, or Shrek, call him Sean though, striving for acclaim as a real actor.
Lauren Owen, playing Dorthy, has a beautiful voice and was delightful to watch interact with her co-stars, and plays blissfully off Elphaba (Tillie Quanttrone), also an incredible singer, comedian with a powerhouse vocal performance.
Nick Bond was meant for the role of Shrek – probably finding inspiration through his studies as a Drama student. Every step that he takes to be taken seriously, the more the audience giggled and enjoyed his comedic performance.
Becca Windsor (Jenna or Waitress) rounded off the group of musical superstars, not just because she played a pregnant woman doing a song from Sweeney Todd. Her performance was ultimately weird yet delightful.
Menken’s explorations of the lives of these stars is effortlessly interwoven with classics from a variety of musicals, film and theatre. The variety was so vast that I, a self-proclaimed musical fan, could not identify a few – sorry, Pippin, I’ve never seen you!
Regardless, the songs seemed perfect for their new plot and context. Even the original song ‘Believe In Me’, the lyrics created by co-director, Roman Armstrong, and music by George Parris, were so well-written, it camouflaged into the other acclaimed musical numbers.
Despite playing evil himself, Noah Matthews was a brilliant Andrew Llyod-Webber – arguably with better hair – playing a man settled between self-absorbed and dramatically flawed. His entourage completed his character. Phantom (Jack Holding), with his subdued craving to be apart of the outside world, made incredible punchlines, though I am not sure if the laughter was coming from the actual lines being said or the way Holding delivered it with his high pitch soft tone. Playing a cat from Cats, Samantha Grieve showed off her stand-out comedic timing as well as her robust physical humour.
The highlight of the show for me was the co-directors, Armstrong and Onnagh Johnson, mid-scene from the back of the room, stopping a scene. After which, both come on stage to tell the cast the show’s running overtime.
Script in hand, they cut scenes, quickly axing Shrek’s funeral scene. In this sequence, the fourth wall is broken as the actors complain about which scenes are being cut, and whether it was from their mistakes made earlier in the show, with Sam Grieves saying: “Was it because my cat ears fell off during ‘Money, Money, Money’?” My favourite line, and I know it was improvised. Pure meta perfection.
Talking to co-director Roman Armstrong after the show, he spoke of the collaborative process for the musical:
“We had a general idea, but when the cast came in, we discussed scenarios, worked through scenes and what they might look like. They mostly wrote it.”
He and his co-director Onnogh Johnson, wrote down almost every word that came out of the cast’s mouths – picking their favourite jokes and interactions for the final product.
Collaboration seems to be the cornerstone here. The show poked fun at musical theatre culture, the people behind it, and the actual musical itself. Watching, I glimpsed the cast’s enjoyment of performing together, and wished I was a part of the fun.
Avengers: Ensemble is truly a creative and innovative production. It calls out not only to musical theatre lovers but the wider public. It has longevity, and I applaud the entire cast and crew for handcrafting such a musical.