Newest Review: ... clever lighting and a few concealed compartments they really gave the space life, allowing it to be either Avenue Q itself, 5th Avenue be... more
Avenue Q-uite Brilliant!
Member Name: IainWear
Advantages: Wonderful lyrics
Disadvantages: Nothing special musically
Over the three years of the show's run, everyone I know who has been to see "Avenue Q" has told me that I should go and see it because I would love it. Everyone from best friends to ex-girlfriends were telling me the same thing, so when I got the chance to check it out, I couldn't turn it down. It certainly says something for the show that of the people I went with, four of them had seen it before and were still willing to pay £20 to see it again. It is testament to how well people know me that I not only enjoyed the show, but also would happily pay my £20 and go again.
Surprisingly, for all the hype, the basic idea is a simple one. "Avenue Q" is a snap shot into the lives of a group of 20- and 30-somethings who live on a section of a street called Avenue Q. They have their own struggles, many of them have no money, their jobs and lives aren't generally going well and their landlord is 1980s child TV star Gary Coleman. What makes "Avenue Q" a little different from the norm is that the majority of the cast are in fact puppets. It makes the whole thing feel a lot like "Friends" meets "Sesame Street", only with more singing and swearing than both put together.
Looking for a cheap place to live after recently graduating from college, Princeton arrives in Avenue Q, where he finds just what he's looking for. Finding a place to live, he meets the neighbours who are also struggling with their lives; Brian is an unemployed comedian whose fiancée Christmas Eve is a therapist with no clients and Gary Coleman is based on the child actor, who worries he is past his peak and will never have another shot at fame. There are also Nicky and Rod, two flatmates, the latter of whom is a closet homosexual with secret desires for the former. Other characters he meets include the internet porn addicted Trekkie Monster and Lucy T. Slut, who is a sometime singer and full time exactly what her name would suggest.
Princeton quickly starts a relationship with Kate Monster, but soon finds himself unemployed and struggling to figure out what his purpose in life is. After a night together, which results in Kate losing her job, Princeton gets cold feet at Brian and Christmas Eve's wedding and he and Kate split up. Things aren't going well for some of the others, either, after Nicky outs Rod, who throws him out of their flat and after staying with pretty much everyone on the block; Nicky ends up with nowhere to go. Still, on the plus side, Gary Coleman seems relatively happy for a change, even if that is only because he delights in Nicky's misery. Kate isn't entirely happy either, as she misses Princeton and, like him, she ends up unemployed. But in life, hope isn't always gone and things can get turned around sometimes.
It's a simple story and not terribly original, but the beauty of it is that most of the cast are played by puppets. In the whole cast, there are only three human characters; Gary Coleman, Brian and Christmas Eve, with all the rest being puppets. If you've ever seen "Sesame Street", you may find you recognise some of them, with Trekkie Monster being very similar in many ways to Cookie Monster and Rod and Nicky taking the place of Bert and Ernie. This is where the similarity ends, though, as "Sesame Street" was never like this.
Although the backdrop is largely very simple, being little more than the frontage of Avenue Q itself, there's plenty happening on stage. Much of the show has the characters interacting with each other and so it's very rare that there is only a single character on stage at any given point. Although many of the songs have solo sections, very few of them are genuine soloist songs, so even during those sequences you have multiple characters on stage at once, often in different places that require you to always keep an eye on what's happening. Added to this with only three of the cast being human, for every other character there is at least one puppeteer on stage, so it's a show you really can't take your eyes off for a second.
The puppeteers themselves are dressed in a drab grey, whilst the puppets are dressed in brighter colours and the human characters are even more brightly dressed; Christmas Eve's kimonos are always eye catching, as are Brian's shirts and Gary Coleman is usually wearing a bright baseball cap or a bright t-shirt under his overalls. This means you're never unsure of who the main characters are and it's quite often easy to forget about the puppeteers, although because they augment things with facial expressions that the puppets themselves aren't capable of, they're worth keeping an eye on. However, because some of the puppeteers voice more than one character, it can get a little distracting when you happen to catch one puppeteer's mouth moving when a puppet over the other side of the stage is the one singing. To be fair, that only happened to me a couple of times in a two-hour show, so it's not a major issue.
The performances are spot on, although admittedly the puppets aren't exactly responsible for their own actions. But the puppeteers have clearly been doing the job for a while and none of them missed a step, even in some of the trickier sequences such as when Rod or Trekkie Monster, who are controlled by two puppeteers working in tandem at some points, are moving quite quickly around the stage. But the singing is also note perfect, with special mention needing to be made of Julie Atherton, who has the job of voicing both Kate Monster and Lucy T. Slut and does so wonderfully, despite their two voices being completely different. The same goes for Mark Goldthorp who has a similar task with voices ranging from the deep growl of Trekkie Monster, through the very Ernie sounding Nicky, to the high-pitched squeak of one of the Bad Idea Bears. I was also highly impressed with Joanna Ampil, whose high-pitched pidgin Japanese-English is so consistently present, even in her singing voice, that I ended up wondering if she always talks that way. The amusement value increases with the irony that Edward Baruwa, playing a character based on the diminutive Gary Coleman, is actually one of the taller members of the cast.
Of course, being a musical, even if all these things are perfect, the show wouldn't survive if the songs weren't any good. Fortunately, this is one of the real strengths of the "Avenue Q". Musically, there's not really anything new here, with the songs being fairly typical of what you would expect from a West End musical. They range from the upbeat "Avenue Q Theme" and "For Now", which open and close the show, through the jazzy and smooth "Special" to the big ballad-type numbers like "Fantasies Come True" and "There's a Fine, Fine Line". That said, if you were looking for something different, there are plenty of musicals around now based on rock and pop acts, so there's always "Mamma Mia" or "We Will Rock You" if you're just looking for a musical experience.
"Avenue Q" isn't aiming at people who want to see any old musical, as it claims to be the show for people who hate musicals. The basis of its appeal is not the music, but the songs themselves and in particular, the lyrics. Where else are you going to find a show with song titles like "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist", "It Sucks to be Me", "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today", "The Internet is for Porn" and, possibly the finest song title anywhere, ever, "You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love)"? There are no tunes that you're going to be humming for weeks afterwards like in some shows, but there are lyrics that will stick in your memory and be making you laugh for ages. The first thing I did when I got home after the show was put the Original Cast Recording on my Amazon Wishlist, purely because I wanted to hear some of them again.
Admittedly, there's a chance that some of the lyrics here may offend some people, especially if you're a New York taxi driver. However, if you can just relax and see the humour in them, as suggested in "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist", they're generally a lot of fun. Those who are offended by swearing may not be overly impressed either, but for someone like me who enjoyed the fact that the first swear word comes from a kindergarten teacher, that only adds to the fun. As it's more my kind of thing, I enjoyed the more upbeat songs a lot more, with my favourite being the up-tempo "Schadenfreude", largely because it was a fun song, but it's also one of my favourite words. "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" reminds me of They Might Be Giants' "Your Racist Friends", in that it's an unexpectedly light and peppy given the subject, much like Spamalot's "He's Not Dead Yet".
Trekkie Monster's big moment on "The Internet is for Porn" is a lot of fun as well, as it explains why you rarely see the character as well as cutting straight to the truth of what the internet largely consists of. "You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love)" is accompanied by the only sex scene I remember seeing involving puppets outside the film "Team America" and it's actually funnier here than it was there, purely because it's accompanied by this song. Generally, the slower songs are less amusing and I enjoyed them a little less as a result, so things like "Mix Tape" and "Fantasies Come True" were never going to be my favourites. That's not to say that the slower songs are completely without merit, as there are some fun lines in "I Wish I Could go Back to College" and "The More You Ruv Someone". Although my personal favourite lyric, or at least the favourite one I could quote here, was Rod's description of his imaginary girlfriend as "She cooks like my mother / And sucks like a Hoover" on "My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada"
I went to see "Avenue Q" without really knowing what to expect, except that people who knew me well thought I would enjoy it. As I said at the start, I left wishing I could turn around and go and see it again. It's a simple idea and, musically speaking at least, it's a fairly simple musical. But the puppets and the songs make it a novel way of presenting old ideas and it's these aspects that make the show as much fun as it is. You may not walk away singing any of the songs, but you will walk away talking about some of the things you've seen and it's not a show that will disappear from memory quickly. Unfortunately, it is a show that is due to disappear from the Noel Coward Theatre soon, with the run due to end on March 29th, 2009. There are rumours of a tour to follow this, however, so if you can't get to see it in London before it closes, I would thoroughly recommend keeping an eye out for information in your local area, as this is a show not to be missed if you get the chance. If you're not easily offended and can handle a little swearing and some non-PC jokes, especially if you're of an age where the thought of "Sesame Street" brings back memories, you must see this show, at least once. Although, I suspect you may end up wanting to see it again, like I hope to and like several of my friends already have. There aren't a lot of things in this world worth paying for twice, but "Avenue Q" is certainly one of them.
Summary: If there's an Avenue more worth walking down than Avenue Q, I'm yet to find it.
More reviews in the field of Theatre / Musical National
- The Ultimate Family Theatre Experience
- Mary Poppins - A Magical Night Out!
- Will get you up rocking...
- Roller coaster of emotions
- Local theatre provides plenty
- The Woman In Black at the Fortune Theatre
- IT'S WICKED
- Gloomy, deep, intense and impressive!
- A wonderful production of the Gruffalo's Child
- Alan Davies - so much taller than Jonathan Creek!