Emma Clarendon (Love London Love Culture)A quirky charm that gives the musical its heart’
Still going strong and proving popular with audiences, Avenue Q returns for a brand new UK tour and still has plenty of laughs curtesy of several foul-mouthed puppets. But it actually also has a new resonance in terms of confronting topics that are still high in the news – in particular racism and dealing with prejudice.
The musical follows Princeton on his journey to try and find his purpose in life after graduating from college. In order to help him do so, he moves into Avenue Q, where he meets and makes friends with a bunch of quirky characters including Kate Monster, Rod and Trekkie and having plenty of laughs and fun along the way.
Of course, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s musical, despite featuring puppets, isn’t family friendly (as you can probably tell with songs including ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’ and ‘The Internet is For Porn’) but it is lively, plenty of fun and offers a refreshing look at the world, confronting issues relating to racism for example with brutal honesty.
Meanwhile, Cressida Carre’s production is energetic and easily sweeps the audience into this world of quirky but intensely loveable characters. Despite the rude jokes and songs, Carre manages to ensure that the characters remain immensely likeable – particularly when it relates to Rod struggling with his sexuality or when Nicky ends up homeless: the way in which these moments are handled give the show its heart.
However, there are times when the crudeness of the humour become slightly wearisome and become slightly predictable. For example, although ‘The Internet is For Porn’ is funny to start with, as the song continues it slightly outstays its welcome and feels as though it is trying too hard to keep the audience laughing.
Yet despite this, there is still much to be enjoyed about the production. In particular, I particularly enjoyed Richard Evans set design, that cleverly conceals different residents apartments opening as needed offering a real glimpses of each resident’s life. Meanwhile, the way in which everything is choreographed is also extremely clever, making the puppets feel truly alive, particularly when they are all expressing themselves so vividly.
A lot of this of course depends on the performances of the cast, all of whom offer very vivid and memorable characterisations of these loveable characters. Lawrence Smith as Princeton offers a very grounded and believable performance as both both Princeton and Rod who are both tormented in their own ways. The way in which he uses the puppets is incredible to the point where you don’t see them as puppets but as real people. Meanwhile, Cecily Redman as Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut has an extraordinary range vocally – listen out for her renditions of ‘There’s a Fine, Fine Line’ and ‘Special’, while the differences in her characters are nicely defined. It is also clear the cast are thoroughly enjoying themselves – captured in the mischievous performances of Tom Steedon and Megan Armstrong as the Bad Idea Bears.
Yes it is crude and vulgar in places feels tiresome and not so shocking in 2019 – but despite this Avenue Q has a quirky charm about it that gives the musical its heart. It is a lively, happy and entertaining experience.