Sometimes on paper a show looks like it will never, ever, ever work. For example a two act show mixing humans and the top half of fluffy puppets singing, dancing and going down roads that are not discussed in polite society is never going to be more than some ‘on the fringe of the fringe’ once seen instantly forgotten production isn’t it? Nope not if that show is the awesome “Avenue Q” currently at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley.
Having just graduated from college, Princeton (Richard Lowe) is looking for so many things, including a purpose to his life. However before concentrating on that, he needs to find somewhere to live in New York City. Having started at Avenue A, he has moved through the alphabet until he finally reaches Avenue Q where the rents seem to be in his price-range. The avenue seems really friendly with with its mixed bag of humans and monsters living cheek by jowl in their small apartments. There’s Brian (Richard Morse) unemployed and living with his dominating fiance (Christmas Eve). In the same building we have the lovely, but single, Kate Monster (Sarah Harlington) out there looking for her Mr Right. Then we have best friends Rod (Richard Lowe) and Nicky (Stephen Arden) sharing a small apartment with each other and possibly the biggest elephant ever. Next door is the elusive Trekkie Monster (Stephen Arden) who spends most of his spare time examining the intricacies of human relationships. Looking after the entire block is former child star Gary Coleman (Etisyai Philip) who welcomes Princeton in with open arms. Settling quickly into the Avenue Q environs, we follow Princeton on his various travels aided and abetted by the people he meets on the way, such as the vivacious Lucy the Slut (Sarah Harlington) and the loveable Bad Idea Bears (Michael Woolston-Thomas and Jessica Parker). Will everyone finally achieve their aim and will Princeton ever find his elusive ‘purpose’, only time can tell.
OK, I’m going to be honest. This is the third production of “Avenue Q” I have seen over the past few years and it is one of my favourite shows – I often sing along to the Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx soundtrack from the Broadway production on the bus – so I had high hopes for this touring production and I was not disappointed in the least. Richard Evans’ wonderful New York street set really hits you as you enter the auditorium being reminiscent of another New York street I grew up with as a kid. It looks authentic with the gleaming towers of Manhattan in the background and really sets a wonderful tone for the piece. As the lights go down and the Bad Idea Bears talk briefly to the audience about the use of mobile phones during the show, a kind of magic starts to build up. The music starts and Brian appears followed by Kate Monster. Now, although Kate and all the other puppets are accompanied by their operators, you very quickly find yourself concentrating on the character itself rather than the human by the side or behind it, and it’s so easy to do as each of the puppeteers – who also voiced the character – makes each puppet very ‘human’. It is obvious, even from the back row, when a puppet character is happy, or sad, or displaying any of the emotions we expect from a human actor, and this is reflected not only in the movement of the puppet but also their operator who becomes just a part of the overall persona on stage. A magical piece of theatre.
The cast were – to a man/woman/monster – fantastic and Director Cressida Carre has got an amazing group of actors together for “Avenue Q” who are great in their parts and play off each other really well. Special mention to Sarah, Richard and Stephen who played two major characters each sometimes – as in Kate confronting Lucy – doing the voices and mannerisms of both characters at the same time which is an amazing thing to see from an audience viewpoint.
The story itself is seemingly simple – a young chap looking for his purpose and having some fun on the way – but through the text and songs, a number of highly controversial subjects are looked at in quite a detailed and at times quite graphic way – love, romance, racism, one night stands, alcohol overindulgence, coming out, heck even the Kama Sutra seemed to be in there at one point. All of these topics and more raise their heads and are tackled by a group of puppets that can get away with saying and singing anything they like because they are cute and furry. As a way of raising awareness of issues, without getting all up in your face, “Avenue Q” can’t be faulted.
My companion for the evening had never seen the show before so was, possibly unlike me, completely unbiased in her appraisal and she absolutely loved the whole show. In the interval she was pestering me to find out what was going to happen in Act II. I, of course refused to tell her.
So, “Avenue Q” is loud, crude, vulgar but never offensive. It shouldn’t work but it does and ends up as being one of the best and funniest nights at a theatre that you can ever have.
Review by Terry Eastham
Following five years in the West End and sell-out runs worldwide (packed with mischief, bad behaviour and political incorrectness) this hugely entertaining show is hitting the road on a brand new tour!
Created by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez (co-creator of Book of Mormon and writer of the songs for Disney’s Frozen) Avenue Q is an irresistibly charming musical which tells the story of the loveable characters on a downtown New York street trying to make sense of life’s burning issues.
Hilarious, cheeky and uproariously entertaining, with a terrific batch of songs performed by a cast of hugely talented performers and puppets, Avenue Q is the musical like no other.
So don’t let your life suck – book your tickets today!
Suitable for audiences 14+
Wednesday 9th to Saturday 12th September 2015
Wednesday 9th September 2015