If you haven’t heard of Avenue Q, it’s been a global smash hit, picking up the Tony Award for Best New Musical in 2004, even beating Wicked to the coveted prize. It arrived in the West End two years later, and there have been productions touring the globe ever since. Now, for the third time Avenue Q is on tour in the UK, directed and choreographed by Cressida Carré, and it’s just as funny, cheeky and utterly joyous as ever.
Anyone who’s ever watched Sesame Street or the Muppets will recognise the set up, because the musical by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, with book by Jeff Whitty, is a pretty perfect parody of those childhood favourites. The story is set on a fictional street (there are Avenues P and R, but the street in between has been named under different conventions) on the far outskirts of New York City. The rent is cheap, the characters are colourful, and former child star Gary Coleman is the superintendent.
Richard Evans’ design effectively captures this run down area of the city, with the apartment buildings providing the backdrop to the action, occasionally we get a peek inside the apartments as parts of the buildings open up. But in the main it’s out on the street where the inhabitants of Avenue Q share their life experiences together.
Those residents are a mixture of puppets and humans, and within the puppet community there are ‘people’ and monsters. Kate Monster, a teaching assistant isn’t related to Trekkie Monster (who you always feel should be eating cookies) which cues ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’, one of the many wildly funny songs which actually carries a much deeper meaning. ‘If You Were Gay’ and ‘Schadenfreude’ are further examples of this instantly recognisable American score, which shocks and delights in equal measure, even if at times the voices feel a little drowned out by the music.
The puppets don’t behave in the way that you would assume. In Avenue Q there’s liberal use of profanity, a sex scene involving naked puppets and a whole song about using the internet for porn. The puppeteers are not concealed, and apart from wearing black in contrast to the human character’s colourful outfits, they are just as visible. But what this musical has always succeeded in doing is focusing the audience’s attention on the puppets, the puppeteers who each cover a number of roles, and sometimes at the same time, are completely ignored by everyone on stage.
While the audience focus on the puppets, they cannot ignore the talented voices bringing the cast to life. Lawrence Smith gives a particularly strong vocal performance while manipulating Princeton and Rod, and Cecily Redman as Kate Monster and Lucy The Slut, is equally as commanding. Tom Steedon has the biggest vocal range, from the high pitched Bad Idea Bear to the gruff Trekkie Monster.
What Avenue Q does particularly well is take some of the biggest issues in society, and portray them in the style you might see on a children’s TV show, it allows us to look at things in their simplest form, laugh at them and then reflect. This production is full of energy and hits the tone just right, the cast and creatives have found their purpose in bringing this musical back in to audience’s lives, because with the world the way it is, I just want to ask – can you tell me how to get to Avenue Q?