Avenue Q

All theatre requires some degree of “suspension of disbelief”. Avenue Q’s biggest “ask” of audiences isn’t just to accept that a majority of the show’s characters are puppets; it’s that these puppets’ operators are clearly visible beside them on stage.

It helps, of course, that Avenue Q provides a really solid foundation on which to base any musical: a witty, acerbic and – above all – intelligent script, fused with a quality score and catchy songs by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez

It helps, of course, that Avenue Q provides a really solid foundation on which to base any musical: a witty, acerbic and – above all – intelligent script, fused with a quality score and catchy songs by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez – the man responsible for the vocal heart of Disney’s Frozen, and co-creator of The Book of Mormon. This second UK national tour by Sell a Door – directed and choreographed by Cressida Carré – is also well served by a great ensemble cast.

Nevertheless there are several stand-out performances from Richard Lowe, Stephen Arden and Sarah Harlington, who between them carry off with real aplomb the show’s “tradition” of each performing two or more quite distinct characters. In Harlington’s case, she easily switches from the nasal tones of shy teaching assistant Kate Monster to the husky promise of the all-too-literally named Lucy the Slut; Lowe, meantime, hits exactly the right tones for naive young graduate Princeton and repressed gay Republican banker Rod; Arden’s strong voice covers not just Rod’s room mate Nicky, but also the porn-mad Trekkie Monster, and one of the chaotic Bad Idea Bears which cause so much trouble during the show. This cast’s clear talent, energy and enthusiasm are not without an obvious danger, though; given that they mirror the puppets’ expressions and movements, it’s all to easy to start watching the actors rather than the puppet characters that we’re suppose to be keeping our eyes on.

Perhaps if the puppets were larger, this might not be quite such a problem; but this does feel like a show that needs to be physically bigger in some respects to fill a venue even on the scale of Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre. For example, the Sesame Street-styled graphics are uncomplicated enough, but the two screens on which they’re seen, hanging from above the stage, nevertheless feel somewhat small in proportion to the rest of the set, especially when you’re at the back of the Circle.

The whole show is, of course, heavily influenced by iconic American educational children’s TV show Sesame Street; Marx and Lopez undoubtedly extract real musical theatre gold from its sweetly positive view of the world, as well as utilising its trademark interweaving of puppets, real people and actors as pretend characters. Yet, I still wonder just how much of this genuinely resonates with British audiences, especially those generations for whom Sesame Street wasn’t a regular aspect of their television viewing as children. Perhaps it’s time for a properly grown-up British musical inspired by Camberwick Green and Trumpton?

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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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.

Created by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez (Co-creator of Book of Mormon) 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.

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