Gary Naylor (BroadwayWorld)All seven actors are superb, individually and collectively.
Furry monsters? Check. Puppets indulging in an energetic kama sutra of bedroom pleasure? Check. Gary Coleman? Check. One of the many delights of Avenue Q (at Greenwich Theatre until 11 May and on tour) is its raising of the bar re the joyful absurdity of musical theatre - after all, if it can accommodate a Mother Superior bursting into song to implore a novice to "Climb Every Mountain", the form can handle pretty much anything.
The genius of Avenue Q, however, is in its integration of all this craziness into a believable, sweet, philosophical meditation on urban life. The puppets become real people, but are able to get away with saying and doing the most outrageous things - as is the case with a drag act, there's licence in disguise.
The inhabitants of Avenue Q are some distance, literally and metaphorically, from the bright lights of Fifth, but that doesn't stop them dreaming. Unemployed English graduate Princeton (puppet) is the new kid on the block and he soon catches the eye of kindergarten teacher Kate Monster (puppet), whose confidence is bolstered by Japanese part-time therapist Christmas Eve (human). Meanwhile, uptight banker Rod (puppet) is coming to terms with his feelings towards flatmate Nicky (puppet), while Gary Coleman (human) tries to run the whole street as its landlord. You got that? Well, there's a whole lot more, but that'll do for now.
Long runs on Broadway and in the West End are testaments to the fact that this unique set-up works - but it places enormous demands on its performers who must sing, dance, mime, act and clown - probably plenty more! Sell A Door's producers have been very fortunate to find a cast that not only do all that, but appear to be having a good time too. All seven actors are superb, individually and collectively, sometimes swapping puppets, sometimes throwing their voices to another puppeteer, sometimes carrying on an emotional conversation with a piece of cloth. Special praise must be reserved for Jacqueline Tate's beautiful singing and the sheer joie-de-vivre of Lucie-Mae Sumner as Kate Monster - we ended up loving Lucie-Mae as much as Kate!
If the story disintegrates a little in the second half, I don't think I've ever known a couple of hours pass so quickly in the stalls, so relentless is the entertainment, so funny are the gags and so pleasing are the resolutions. It seems that Real Life would be all the better for a few more puppets, a monster or two living upstairs and an acceptance that we are who we are: green or furry or plain old human.