Writers Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx initially workshopped this show in New York back in 1999, and five years later it won a trio of Tony Awards.
Avenue Q is not the most salubrious of New York districts but it is there that the audience meets an unusual combination of humans and puppets as they search for their ‘purpose’, face up to their insecurities, learn how to treat both friends and lovers and accept that compromising their dreams a little is not the end of the world.
It sounds schmaltzy – and it is – but the combination of Lopez and Marx’s irresistible score with Jeff Whitty’s clever and saucy libretto ensures that reality creeps in on the sentiment once in a while. Slightly taboo lyrics about being gay, internet porn and everyone being “a little bit racist” go down a storm as does the tender quality of ballads like There’s a Fine, Fine Line.
Comic timing is the key as performers stroll and dance about the stage with the puppets on their arms, providing all the voices as well as gesturing, singing and dancing aside them. Bizarre though it may sound, thanks to inspired work from director Jason Moore and choreographer Ken Roberson, it is not long before you find yourself completely involved in the emotions and problems of the puppets (inspired by Jim Henson and brilliantly conceived and designed by Rick Lyon).
Within an extraordinarily talented ensemble Julie Atherton and Jon Robyns are quite brilliant in creating these puppet personalities. The former shows great versatility in the roles of both girl next door Kate Monster and her rival in love Lucy the Slut, while Robyns offers witty and sensitive portrayals of young graduate Princeton, the object of their affections, and closet homosexual Rod. American accents are so convincing that it is a surprise to discover that almost all the cast are British. The only original cast member is Ann Harada, great as Japanese neighbour and ‘tell it like it is’ therapist Christmas Eve.
Anna Louizos’ set emphasises the cuteness of the whole affair with inspired touches revealing the puppets’ apartments and, best of all, the viewing platform at the Empire State.
Avenue Q celebrates the art of musical theatre and at the same time demonstrates what an utter joy the genre can be.
Noel Coward Theatre, London, June 28 onwards
- book by Jeff Whitty, music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
- Jason Moore
- Kevin McCollum, Robyn Goodman, Jeffrey Seller, Vineyard Theatre, The New Group and Cameron Mackintosh
- Cast includes
- Julie Atherton, Jon Robyns, Clare Foster, Ann Harada, Simon Lipkin, Sion Lloyd, Giles Terera
- Running time
- 2hrs 15mins