Book: Jeff Whitty
Music and Lyrics: Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Director: Rosie Thomas
Reviewer: Christy Ku
First created in 2003, this upbeat coming-of-age musical staged by students will appeal to anyone who has ever been a student. Shotgun Theatre, an award-winning drama group from the University of Exeter, bring their community production of Avenue Q to Exeter Phoenix.
The show follows Princeton, a broke graduate fresh from college, as he moves into Avenue Q. Finding himself thrown into reality and a neighbourhood full of colourful personalities he begins the search for his purpose – when he remembers.
Typically summarised as “Sesame Street for grownups”, the show manages to deliver more than crass puppets swearing and yelling sex jokes (although both are plentiful). Avenue Q features a mixed cast of humans and puppets, with the puppeteers in full undisguised view. Dressing the actors in similar colours as their puppets is a brilliant move as the two mirror each other and become one. Manoeuvred expertly, the fuzzy felt characters are surprisingly expressive.
Avenue Q is intensely feel good and this production brings a strong cast who are as enthusiastic as the energy of the show. The students bring life to their characters perfectly among an unusually impressive set for a limited budget. From Hannah Bloom delivering Kate Monster’s girlish charm to Alice Kenny’s mature and rich voice, they are individually strong singers. However, at times, they fail to harmonise especially in I Wish I Could Go Back to College.
The show’s youthful fearlessness is unrestricted in the catchy songs that would be inappropriate to sing aloud to yourself at the bus stop. Highlights include If You Were Gay, a great crowd pleaser that generates a lot of laughs. A deliberately controversial show, the characters are constructed from stereotypes for uncomfortable laughs. However, the eye makeup for Christmas Eve (Stephanie Fongheiser), an Asian immigrant caricature, distracts from the show rather than adding to it. The winged eyeliner suggests an attempt to make the Asian actor’s eyes more pointed. This instead creates the disturbing appearance of a white actor attempting to have Asian eyes.
The optimism that continues through to the end can become irritatingly soppy and naive, particularly the “live for now” sentiment. Almost relentlessly upbeat, Avenue Q is a hilarious show you should not bring your children or your granny to – the puppets having a one night stand is something to recover from.
Runs until 21 Jan 2016 | Image: Contributed