An English Lit graduate searching for purpose in his life; a closet homosexual banker with repressed feelings for his straight roommate; a porn obsessed monster; an idealistic kindergarten assistant who wants to open a school for monsters; a self-proclaimed slut and Different Strokes' Gary Coleman, are only some of the characters populating Jeff Whitty, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx's Avenue Q; where humans and puppets live in supportive harmony in a less than salubrious New York neighbourhood which bears more than a passing resemblance to Sesame Street.
Though still relatively fresh in the memory after a West End run and two national tours, it's no surprise that there's been a recent rush to re-stage this show, sharing as it does a composer (Robert Lopez) with the much-touted The Book of Mormon. Despite their similarities, Avenue Q, for all its naughty irreverence, is the less controversial and more gushingly sentimental musical relation. Unlike its mega budget big brother, Avenue Q's Off-Broadway origins are perfectly suited to fringe theatre.
Slightly leaner, this version of the original is impeccably put together and the production values are as high as you're likely to see on a fringe stage: the set retaining its downbeat charm whilst including a pleasing amount of detail to keep the audience visually engaged. As expected from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, this is an assured and well-drilled cast whose unremitting energy throughout drives the story along at a cracking pace. Conor Scully as recently graduated and directionless Princeton, who familiarly cries, ‘What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?’ achieves the impressive feat of making you believe his puppet alter-ego is entirely human. Danny Holmes elevates the usually over-looked character of unemployed comedian Brian to new heights with his powerful vocals. Less successful is the decision to voice porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster by a (Scottish) woman, whilst a good idea in principal it loses much in execution: Marie-Anne McGrattan's diction is indistinct and the impact of Trekkie's big song ‘The Internet is for Porn’ is lost. The rest of the cast though are highly polished and skilfully breathe life into this New York street.
The once genre-busting musical celebrates its tenth anniversary this year and whilst retaining most of its naughtiness, time has robbed Avenue Q of its edge. Songs like ‘Everyone's a Little Bit Racist’ and ‘The Internet is for Porn’ once eliciting gasps and guilty laughter, only raise a knowing chuckle now, and the references to 70s and 80s child star Gary Coleman go largely unrecognised by the youthful audience. The story with its audience-relatable daily dilemmas and its desire to deliver a feel-good ending for both characters and audience also feels like boundary-pushing opportunity lost.
This production though, still retains enough laughs and charming irreverence to satisfy today's audience. Impressively infectious, impeccably put together and ultimately life affirming.