Optimistic Music Company
Amber Avenues a new musical by Helen and Alastair MacCulloch

Dates and Venue 24 - 27 November 2010, 8pm (matinee Sat. 27 November at 2pm) | Kay Meek Studio Theatre, 1700 Mathers Avenue, West Vancouver

Director David Mann Set Design David Mann Costume Design Alev Giannubilo Musical Director Helen MacCulloch Assistant Musical Director Gail MacDonald Stage Manager Sandra Yee

Reviewer John Jane

Amber Avenues is the unlikely title of a new musical that follows an even more unlikely romance between Yvonne (Cayla Brooke), a recent widow and mother to an adult son and daughter and Mathew (Alex Crabtree), a good-looking, much younger bachelor.

The title is derived from a song written seven years ago by co-creators, Helen and Alastair MacCulloch. When performed for a friend, it was suggested that it would be perfect in a romantic musical. That original song formed the kernel for this undertaking and is one of its showpiece tunes.

The play is set in the mid-sixties when conventional social politics were less liberal than today. Yvonne is encouraged by her ‘children’ to accept grief counselling and subsequently meets Mathew, the son of an old friend. Both find themselves lonely and alone having lost their respective “soul-mates.” When Yvonne embarks on an improbable ‘September/June’ relationship, she soon finds that social repudiation and self-doubt can be powerful obstacles. Nonetheless, with support from her son, Alan (Aaron Lau) daughter, Linda (Sheena da Ponte) and Mathew’s fortitude, all roadblocks can be removed.

The show offers a cluster of well-crafted songs that the entire cast gets an opportunity to sing with varying degrees of confidence. Aaron Lau in particular shows off the experience learned from many musical theatre productions with a strong solo rendition of Tell Them They’re in Love at the end of the second act. Leading actors Cayla Brooke and Alex Crabtree also acquit themselves well. While not possessing especially powerful voices, they perform with sublime sensitivity on Amber Avenues (the song) and More Than Just a Friend. Dale Jones as Yvonne’s busy-body sister-in-law Maureen and Linda Noble as Mathew’s mother Susan fare less well with their vocal contributions. Though, together they provide one of the show’s most entertaining moments in a musical dust-up with Contretemps. All ten songs actually serve to drive the story forward; howbeit the spoken dialogue is almost incidental.

Director David Mann, who doubles as the production’s set designer maintains an even pace throughout and overcomes the awkward theatre space of a wide, but shallow stage.

Amber Avenues certainly offers theatre-goers a charming piece of musical theatre with a back story that may titillate some avid golfers. While it has much merit in its present form, further development of the dialogue, could give it the potential to go national.

© 2010 John Jane