Avenue Q
  • By Pete Shaw
  • |
  • 29th Apr 2014
  • |
  • ★★★★★

Freshly-graduated and bright-eyed Princeton arrives in Avenue Q looking for his purpose but lacking the funds to afford anywhere better to stay. His new neighbours are closeted Republican investment banker Rod plus flatmate Nicky; failing stand-up comic Brian who’s engaged to Asian-American therapist Christmas Eve; internet addict Trekkie Monster; sweet-as-syrup teaching assistant Kate Monster (no relation); Lucy the Slut (no further description required) and building superintendent Gary Coleman. Yes, that one. Well, okay, not him, but someone acting as him.

Cressida Carré’s direction is microscopic in its attention to detail and sublime in its choreography.

An unashamedly un-PC Sesame Street spoof, Avenue Q features puppet sex, racial stereotypes, alcohol abuse and full-frontal (puppet) nudity. And it’s fantastic. Like Sesame Street, there are lessons to be learnt; helpful video animations such as how to count down from five nightstands to a one nightstand and admirable assistance from the Bad Idea Bears to encourage you to have another beer, or even better, a Long Island Iced Tea.

This thoroughfare is packed with irreverent musical numbers that match the characters that inhabit it. Titles like ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’, ‘The Internet is for Porn’ and ‘I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today’ should give you some clues. But these aren’t just fluff. Penned by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez (Lopez going on to compose The Book of Mormon), these are some of the most highly infectious tunes in musical theatre. Just try and stop humming the melodies the next day. You just can’t.

This production kicks off a 23-city tour by prolific producers Sell A Door. However I have this niggling feeling that someone at Sell A Door may have forgotten to mention this to set designer Richard Evans as he’s built a impressively immense world for these characters to populate. How are they going to get this all in a van and ship it off to Torquay in a couple of weeks? Just when you think you’ve seen all the tricks the set can pull, Evans trumps it with something even bigger.

Cressida Carré’s direction is microscopic in its attention to detail and sublime in its choreography. There’s a challenge with this particular show of how to deal with the line between puppet and performer. Carré embraces the best of both, focusing us in on the puppet when needed, but fully exploiting the physicality of the actor with a kick-step flourish to underline a gag.

Most impressive though, is the cast. Jaw-droppingly so. In particular Stephen Arden, Tom Steedon and Lucie-Mae Sumner who all take on multiple lead roles to bring believable life to these felt friends. It’s not a huge problem to find a diva who can belt out a Jerry Herman number, but someone who can vocalise two distinct cartoon style voices, sing like them, pull off technical choreography whilst all the time operating a puppet deserves praise. That’s not to say the ‘human’ characters on stage are pushed into the shadows. Jacqueline Tate’s exaggerated Christmas Eve and Ellena Vincent’s assured Gary Coleman regularly brought the house down.

I first popped my Avenue Q cherry in Las Vegas of all places. It’s a city where they purpose-build theatres for a single show and have production budgets that make a lavish Cameron Mackintosh gala look like it had been done on the fringe with three students and a whippet. But I can honestly say I enjoyed this Sell A Door version no less. The sheer talent of the actors, slickness of direction and high standard of production make this as authentic as any Avenue Qs you may have skipped down before.

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The Blurb

Winner of the TONY “Triple Crown” for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, Avenue Q is part flesh, part felt and packed with heart.

Avenue Q is a laugh-out-loud musical that tells the story of a recent college graduate named Princeton who moves into a shabby New York apartment all the way out on Avenue Q. There, he meets Kate (the girl next door), Rod (the Republican), Trekkie (the internet sexpert), Lucy The Slut and other colorful types who help Princeton finally discover his true purpose in life!

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