Book: Jeff Whitty
Music &Lyrics: Robert Lopez &Jeff Marx
Director: Cressida Carré
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
Often described as Sesame Street for adults, the fantastically funny Avenue Q arrives in Blackpool this week as part of a national tour, eleven years after premiering on Broadway and winning three Tony Awards. In 2003, theatre had seen nothing like it and this new production proves the show remains as unique and fresh as ever.
Avenue Q introduces us to Princeton, a recent graduate desperately searching for his ‘purpose’ in life while struggling to pay rent, find a job and falling in love. What sets Avenue Q apart is that the characters are mixture of human and puppet, styled in homage to The Muppets but very much original designs. Do not be fooled by their cute appearance, Avenue Q carries an age restriction for a reason and is not for the easily offended. However, Jeff Whitty’s perfectly structured book tackles themes as serious as racism, prejudice and poverty in an accessible and realistic way. Instead of preaching to the audience the show is packed with hilarious one-liners and this, combined with witty lyrics and eye-catching visuals, has the audience in stitches throughout.
Robert Lopez has achieved more recent success with music and lyrics to The Book of Mormon and Disney hit Frozen, but his score with Jeff Marx for Avenue Q arguably remains his finest work. The songs are equally strong whether they be the laugh-out-loud satire of Everyone’s a Little Bit Racistto the heartfelt poignancy of There’s a Fine, Fine Line. Indeed what elevates Avenue Q beyond mere musical parody and into a truly great musical is the fact that beyond the innuendo and jokes is a show with real warmth and heart.
Not all characters may be human, but their hopes, dreams and fears feel as real as any other and one cannot help but marvel at the skill of the puppeteers in making the interactions with these cartoonish creations as believable as any other. The cast make no attempt to disguise themselves and yet in testament to their extraordinary prowess, it takes mere minutes to realise your focus is entirely on the puppet and not the person.
Tom Steedon brings likeable charm to the dual rôles of Princeton and Rod and Stephen Arden gets a lot of the laughs in multiple rôles as Trekkie Monster, Nicky and an ingeniously named Bad Idea Bear. Lucie-Mae Sumner sings beautifully throughout as Kate Monster but it is when conversing with herself as the vampish Lucy the Slut that she really shines. It is an ensemble show however and there are no weak leaks in an extremely talented cast.
Designer Richard Evans’ set situates the action firmly in New York, with the skyline and Empire State Building acting as backdrop to a replica street serving as the run-down neighbourhood of Avenue Q. The show is intrinsically American and although the majority of the humour translates perfectly, there are some references (such as ‘busboys’ and ‘frat boys’) that don’t quite work and would perhaps be better updated for an English audience.
Regardless of this however, musical comedy still rarely gets better than Avenue Q and there is something for everyone to relate to in this coming-of-age tale. The ingenuity of the puppetry is worth the ticket alone and it is a show guaranteed to shock, surprise and above all, make you laugh. A musical like no other, do not miss the opportunity to take a trip down to Avenue Q.
Runs until 5th July