It was another musical theatre coup at Edge Hill this week, as Preston-born West End star Julie Atherton took to the Arts Centre stage, for a fun and enjoyable one-night event.
She set out her stall with parody number Portrait of a Princess (perhaps better known for its repeated comic lyric, ‘not in a Disney way’). It’s a kooky, American-as-apple-pie schtick that helped to make her name as one of the original cast members of the West End transfers of Avenue Q, and sure enough one of her puppet characters, Kate Monster, makes a welcome appearance at the end of the first act. There’s a Fine Fine Line was her break out number in that show, but the audience was also treated to a cheeky rendition of Wicked’s Popular, certainly the biggest show tune of the evening.
It was never going to be a night of old favourites – presented as it was by Perfect Pitch, a collective that promotes and develops new British musical theatre talent. Contemporary songs are clearly Atherton’s passion; through the organisation, she has recently directed Edge Hill students and gave them a platform as support for the evening’s show.
The setlist was a mix of the kind of breezy and comical numbers she sells so well – Taylor the Latte Boy, My Party Dress – and heartrending, all-the-feels ballads, including the brilliant I’ll Be Here (from the musical Ordinary Days), Christina Aguilera’s Say Something (I’m Giving Up on You), and an album track penned by Atherton herself. Whether making the audience giggle or sniffle, what’s clear is she has an exceptional talent for storytelling and taking listeners on a journey with her.
With more of a full-on rock band than subtle accompaniment behind her, this did not always lend itself to the venue and occasional screeches of feedback were harsh; but Atherton’s easygoing, uncensored charm and natural flair for performance went a very long way. [I said something similar, it turns out, in the Liverpool Daily Post back in 2008, when she took the lead in one of the Playhouse’s culture year productions, Once Upon a Time at the Adelphi. Praise be to Wikipedia I had forgotten all about any of this; and the state of my review was flipping shocking.]