Avenue Q – Milton Keynes Theatre

Book: Jeff Whitty

Music/Lyrics:Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx

Director: Cressida Carré

Reviewer:Maggie Constable

After five very successful years in London’s theatreland, Avenue Q has once again ‘hit the road, Jack’, arriving in Milton Keynes today. This part human and part puppet musical romp has won none other than the Tony Awards ‘Triple Crown’ among many other accolades and has become a bit of a cult hit here and in the US, where it started life in 2003.

Young Princeton has only just received his English degree from uni and is set to start his life’s journey in New York. Naīve and full of ideas, looking for his purpose, he is desperate to find somewhere he can afford to live when he chances upon Avenue Q. There he finds much more………what life is really about and how very important love and friendship are. And a few other lessons besides.

This is a laugh-a-minute show which takes you on an extraordinary ride, with sentimentality and poignancy thrown in, but just the right amount. Oft raunchy too, but no spoilers here. They get away with it because they’re puppets, because of the skillful puppeteers and because of the clever lyrics. And that’s to say nothing of Cressida Carré’s sharp direction and choreography. Initially, one watches the puppeteers but as the story progresses it is the actual puppet that is so engrossing with all its twitches and gestures. Puppeteer and puppet become one. Slick and subtle movements, along with clever diversion, help when changing puppets. It’s that ole magician’s trick.

Sarah Harlington as both Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut is brilliant. How does she manage to switch from one to the other so rapidly without mixing up the voices? Lucy is beguiling and that voice really brings out the character. Harlington’s singing voice is powerful and she has a good range. Richard Lowe brings us the loveable Princeton and Rod, the oh-so-camp closet gay, and he does so with energy and panache. He moves between the two diverse characters with ease. Like Harlington, he has real power in his voice and controls it well. Both actors exhibit great comic timing.

Stephen Arden plays Nicky, Bad Idea Bear and the perverted, porn-loving Trekkie Monster, all very different and all very engaging, each with its own definite character. Some feat!

Jessica Parker needs special mention, not only for taking on three rôles but also for her ‘second arm’. She and Arden work so well in tandem puppeteering Nicky, including leaping around the stage in perfect synch. Rhiane Drummond stands in as and is on top form as Gary Coleman

Snappy songs there are a-plenty and witty, with one or two cutesy ballads. Most memorable and drole are: The Internet is for Porn, andIf You Were Gay. Need one say more?

Richard Evans’ set is simple but effective, especially the way in which interiors are revealed.

All in all, a pacy and fun evening’s entertainment which will give its audience much to talk about on the way home. Not hard to see why this musical has a cult following.

Runs until 21 May 2016 | Image: Matt Martin

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