MusicalNorth WestReview

Avenue Q – Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent

Music and Lyrics: Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Book: Jeff Whitty
Director and Choreographer: Cressida Carré
Reviewer: Steve Davies

 

With the obvious comparisons to popular puppet-based TV shows from our youth, Avenue Q has friendly monsters, life lessons, morality issues, songs, comedy and animation. The big difference on the stage is that all of these carry adult themes. Indeed the production programme carries the warning “Caution! Not suitable for little monsters”

The show is based on Avenue Q – because the property on Avenues A, B and C etcetera are far too expensive for our characters – in New York. Designer Richard Evans has created a clever two storey set that depicts the row of houses perfectly. It’s a single set throughout the show but with very clever miniature rooms opening up to depict each inhabitants’ living space. It’s a simple story that starts with a young man fresh out of college who is looking for a room to rent and wanting to find his purpose in life. On his journey, he meets and makes friends with neighbours on his street, some of them human and some of the puppets.

Director Cressida Carré has taken a great production and re-worked it with neat choreography, executed by a strong, multi-tasking company of singers, actors and puppeteers. Leading the cast is the excellent Sarah Harlington as both Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut, switching effortlessly between the two characters and showing her versatility in characterisation in particular with the songs Special as Lucy and There’s a Fine, Fine Line as Kate. Richard Lowe is great as Princeton but he positively sparkles as Rod, the camp, closeted gay man in love with his flatmate. The song If You Were Gay between Rod and Nicky (Stephen Arden) is one of the highlights of the first act.

More great comedy is provided by Richard Morse as Brian, Etisyai Philip as Gary Coleman and particularly Arina II as Christmas Eve. The vocal characterisations of many of the puppets are excellent and true to the original production, (Jessica Parker as Mrs T is particularly hilarious) however it does take the audience a while to ‘tune in’ to some of the zany cartoon voices used by some of the characters. That along with some slight sound mixing issues results in one or two missed jokes.

This production manages to get away with jokes about racism and homosexuality, have a hilarious song about sex – You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love) –and address issues of politics, porn and finding your purpose in life. And all because it’s addressed by cute and cuddly puppets! The show deserves to run and run – and with a production as strong as this one it’s future is guaranteed.

Runs until 26 March 2016 | Image:Matt Martin

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