Avenue Q was created by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and still feels like a new groundbreaking musical even though it has been around for 16 years. Lopez and Marx met at a Musical Theatre Workshop which left them with a need to write something people who didn’t like musicals would want to see.
Avenue Q is basically Sesame Street for grown-ups but pulls no punches as it gleefully sends up the format. It deals with relationships, prejudices, obsessions, the meaning of life, what the internet is really for – and does so with irreverently wicked humour. It is not for the easily offended – even though most of the non-PC-ness and bad language is mainly delivered by muppet style puppets who can say (and do) things live actors could not get away with. When one character is called Lucy The Slut you are left in no doubt that this show is not intending to be subtle or coy.
But if this sort of humour is your thing, this show is very, very funny!
It is set in a neighbourhood well outside New York – apartments get cheaper as you move outwards from Avenue A. Princeton, a young man looking for his first apartment can afford to live here and through him, the audience meets the other residents and learns about their hopes and dreams. He also falls in love with Kate, a Monster with yellow fur.
The three main performers, Lawrence Smith, Cecily Redman and Tom Steedon take on seven of the puppet characters and all of them are convincing and highly entertaining. Steedon’s Trekkie Monster is especially amusing and he plays the part with relish. They are ably supported by a very talented ensemble.
The relationship between roommates Rod (Smith) and Nicky (Steedon) is very well portrayed and their duet ‘If You Were Gay’ was a highlight.
All the puppeteers are excellent and expertly manipulate their puppets with perfect synchronicity so that the audience doesn’t really look at the actors. This is assisted by the actors who don’t have puppets who all convincingly react and talk to the puppets rather than the puppeteers. The only slight downside was that occasionally some of the dialogue was unclear.
The show is fast-paced and slickly done with great visual humour and moments of dark humour too, mainly courtesy of the often unhelpful Bad Idea Bears. There is clever use of TV screens providing animated commentary of daily life. These were also used at the end to show the 5 piece band led by Musical Director Dean McDermott who provided the excellent score.
The songs are catchy and very witty – with titles like ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’, ‘You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)’ and ‘Schadenfreude’ providing more than a hint of what to expect. The scene where two puppets make mad passionate love had the audience in hysterics but is not for the fainthearted!
The energy and enjoyment from the performers is infectious as they slickly animate their puppets sometimes switching puppets mid-scene or providing a voice for a puppet temporarily controlled by another actor. There were several occasions where Redman had a conversation with herself as she was playing both Kate Monster and love rival Lucy The Slut. Her character voices were so good there was never any doubt who was speaking.
There are also several more poignant moments as the downside of relationships is explored too, notably by Redman as Kate Monster in the lovely ballad ‘There’s A Fine, Fine Line.’
The set was very effective, showing the apartments and detailed models of the interiors so it was always clear where the action was taking place. Clever use of coloured lights also added to the impact and reinforced the parody of Sesame Street. The New York skyline in the background was a nice touch too.
Avenue Q is a riot of irreverent fun and will have you howling with laughter. It earned a standing ovation from many in the audience on this opening night’s performance.