The pre-lit set, a row of red-brick houses and apartments overshadowed by a city skyline, greets the audience as they enter the auditorium. It is a street where one would imagine that the clatter of a dustbin lid and the wail of a stray cat would break through the silence of an otherwise deserted neighbourhood.
No, this is not the opening sequence of a 1950s Hollywood Film Noir: this is Avenue Q, where humans meet with puppets and puppets come to terms with reality.
Young, fresh-faced Princeton portrayed with great charisma by Richard Lowe is struggling to adjust to the fact that he is “broke, unemployed and turning twenty-three.” New to Avenue Q he meets an array of eccentric, larger than life neighbours including Trekkie Monster, Christmas Eve and, that’s right, Gary Coleman, parodied to great effect by Etisyai Philip.
But the apple of Princeton’s eye has to be kindergarten assistant Kate Monster played by Sarah Harlington whose characterisation is superb, her voice carrying a real strength of conviction, her puppetry clear and precise.
Avenue Q has been a sensational hit since it first opened in 2003 and it is not particularly difficult to see why. Having been around for several years it still manages to tap into the zeitgeist, tackling major issues facing society today; but it does this with a great big grin on its face and its tongue firmly in its cheek, creating real moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity nestled in amongst more poignant undertones.
It is the simplicity of some of the humour at times, however, that does leave the viewer wanting more. The plot isn’t particularly complex. It is, moreover, a typical Rom-Com but with the added twist of some exceptional song-writing and well thought-out puppetry. But whilst the small ensemble of actors do manage some excellent characterisation throughout the production, the size of the cast does tell at times as the sharing of puppets can be a little clunky, with actors exchanging their respective puppets or voicing each other’s characters onstage.
Avenue Q is a multi-layered satire with a big heart. Underneath the bawdy humour and the traditional love story lies a musical filled with hidden messages of purpose and morality, and it reminds us that in constantly striving for something bigger and better than the life we already have, we fail to take the time to appreciate and enjoy our life exactly as it is at the present moment.
If you like your puppetry packed full of outrageous comedy and unflinching morality, then this is the show for you; not for the easily-offended, Avenue Q still manages to reach out to its audience, leaving them with aching cheeks and laughter lines when the curtain falls and the residents of Avenue Q finally turn in for the night.
Review by Daniel Jenkins
DAVID HUTCHINSON AND PHILLIP ROWNTREE FOR SELL A DOOR THEATRE COMPANY LTD AND RICHARD DARBOURNE LTD
Music & Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Book by Jeff Whitty
Based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Monday 1st – Saturday 6th February 2016
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 Morman 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.