Aliya-Al-Hassan (Broadway World)A cast that sparkles with energy and enthusiasm
Avenue Q is an interesting show to describe to those who have never seen it. Naïve graduate Princeton comes to New York with big dreams and little money to match.
When he moves to Avenue Q he meets his neighbours, where he tries to find his purpose in life. Together they tackle various issues and learn to be happy with their lot in life.
So far, so straightforward, but Avenue Q is a little different. It is a musical puppet show for adults, featuring rude songs and outrageous jokes that touch on issues from internet pornography, being gay and puppet sex.
It's difficult to see how it could work, but it does and this new tour that comes to the New Wimbledon Theatre in hilarious and irreverent form.
Most of us are at least familiar with Sesame Street and the Muppets, but here creators Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty subvert the expectation of cute and cuddly puppets completely. On Avenue Q, Princeton meets a wide variety of weird and wonderful characters.
They include Rod, a Republican investment banker who is firmly in the closet, Julie Monster, a kindergarten teaching assistant who wants to run a school for monsters, Trekkie Monster who is obsessed with porn, Christmas Eve a Japanese therapist with no clients and the child actor Gary Coleman.
In a cast that sparkles with energy and enthusiasm, Cecily Redman is the standout as Kate Monster and Lucy The Slut, (yes that really is her name). There is brilliant definition between the voice and attitudes of the characters, especially when they talk to each other. She has a fantastic singing voice and looks incredibly comfortable on stage, particularly in the touching song 'There's A Fine, Fine Line'.
Laurence Smith is engaging and charming as both Princeton and Rod and has excellent puppetry skills. He has a great voice. His differentiation between Princeton and Rod is not always clear enough in Act I, but in Act II he thrives, especially as Rod.
Saori Oda has great fun as Christmas Eve, delivering some of the show's best lines with sarcasm and sparky wit. A slight criticism would be that her voice becomes too high pitched at points and some words are lost.
There is a charming quirkiness to the way the actors are in full sight while operating the puppets and both the actors and puppets are always in sync. It looks effortless as the handmade puppets really seem to come to life and that takes a lot of skill. Puppet Maker Paul Jomain's previous work with Jim Henson is easy to recognise in the look of the puppets.
Although the show has no association with Henson and Sesame Street, under Tom Steedon's excellent operation, Rod's flatmate Nicky sounds a lot like Kermit the Frog and Trekkie Monster is very reminiscent of the Cookie Monster, even if it is porn he is fixated on, rather than chocolate chips.
Musically the production remains incredibly bright and clever. Songs such as "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist", "The Internet Is For Porn" and "If You Were Gay" are now songs of musical theatre legend for a good reason. They are astute social observations, but also incredibly funny and the cast perform them with boundless enthusiasm.
Touring productions by nature often suffer restrictions with their sets and there is no exception here. There is a clever use of the roof as the observation deck of the Empire State Building and of all the windows in the building for various characters to poke out of.
However, Richard Evans' design is functional rather than innovative with the housing block being the constant focus of the backdrop, with scene changes being dictated by the props and lighting alone.
Avenue Q first opened Off-Broadway in 2003, before transferring to Broadway later that year where it won three Tony Awards. In 2006, it opened in the West End, where it ran for five years before a UK tour.
It is easy to see why the show has continued to be such a success. It may be crude, vulgar and have a slightly saccharine ending, but the spark and humour of the show create a fantastic energy and a brilliantly fun night.