REVIEW: AVENUE Q (New Wimbledon Theatre)
Opening on Broadway in 2003, Tony Award winning Avenue Q is a coming-of-age tale, satirising the trials and tribulations of entering adult-hood. Growing up with TV shows such as Sesame Street being told you can be “whatever you want to be” and to “shoot for the stars to reach your goals”, the characters of this musical come to terms with life adjusting to the idea that they’re not “special”, their real world options are limited and they’re, in fact, just like everybody else. This is all set to a brilliantly upbeat score by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (Disney’s Frozen) and a hilarious book by Jeff Whitty.
The musical was so well received it won 2004 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score and has had productions mounted in Stockholm, Israel, Brazil, Madrid, Argentina, Paris, Netherlands, Hong Kong, Mexico among many others. Having been a fan of the show since getting the cast recording on CD in 2004 (when CD’s were still a thing), I saw and loved the original Australian tour in 2010 and jumped at the chance to review Sell A Door’s UK touring production. I was ready to meet ‘Princeton’, ‘Rod’, ‘Kate and Trekkie Monster’ (not related), ‘Lucy’ and the ‘Good Idea Bears’ all over again. Oh, and I should probably mention all these characters are puppets!
As the musical begins, the audience is introduced to Richard Lowe’s ‘Princeton’. A young man just out of college and looking for a place to live. He explains what brings him to Avenue Q, “I started on Avenue A but so far everything’s out of my price range. This neighbourhood looks a lot cheaper though!” Lowe’s ‘Princeton’ is charming and his naivety believable. We then meet young teacher ‘Kate Monster’ and wannabe comedian ‘Brian’ (a human) as they lament their lives, singing “It Sucks To Be Me.”
Sarah Harlington’s Kate Monster is sweet, lovable and easily relatable in her search for love while Richard Morse’s Brian is goofy and fun. The audience is then introduced to closeted “homowhatever” investment banker ‘Rod’ and his carefree roommate ‘Nicky’, who just wants the best for his friend. In dual roles, Richard Lowe’s also plays ‘Rod’ to perfection and Stephen Arden’s ‘Nicky’ is the quintessential best friend, diligent and caring. Next up is a character audiences know and love, ‘Gary Coleman’ (another human). Yes, “What you talkin’ about Willis?” Different Stokes, ‘Gary Coleman’. Etisyai Philip hilariously plays ‘Coleman’ and explains what the former child actor is doing somewhere like Avenue Q; “I made a lot of money that got stolen by my folks… but I’m here the Superintendent of Avenue Q”. Finally we meet ‘Brian’s’ wife, ‘Christmas Eve’ (again, human) who sings of her journey to Avenue Q “I coming to this country for opportunity. Try to work in Korean restaurant… but I am Japanese!” As ‘It Sucks To Be Me’ comes to a close and we’ve met everyone, the cast welcomes the audience to Avenue Q, ensuring them, “This is real life!” As the show progresses we meet ‘Trekkie Monster’ who believes and justifies why “The Internet Is For Porn” and Lucy who comes in between the developing love between ‘Princeton’ and ‘Kate Monster’. Playing dual roles Stepehn Arden and Sarah Harlington play each character respectively with expert skill, hitting each joke and putting the audience in fits of laughter.
All actors do such an excellent job manipulating their puppets, that the audience shifts from watching the actors to only see the puppets, making the characters easily relatable and drawing us into their furry story. With songs like ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’ and ‘Schadenfreude’ (which is German for happiness at the misfortune of others) coupled with puppet’s swearing and having sex, Avenue Q gloriously lives up to the caution given on the front page of it’s programme- ‘Not for little monsters.’ An adult’s Sesame Street, is it easy to see why Avenue Q has been loved the world over and this production is no exception. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s score, now thirteen years old, is still as charming and hilarious as it was upon premiering in 2003 and Jeff Whitty’s book articulates the lives of a generation just looking to find their purpose.
During interval I heard some comments saying that due to the high energy of the show and American accents, some of the lines/lyrics were missed. I found that the band overpowered the vocals at times. This wasn’t a case of the band being too loud, however the way the sound was projected. For me, it sounded like the vocals and some of the sound effects were projected from the back of the stage, rather than out in the auditorium. Knowing the show well, this didn’t mar by appreciation or enjoyment of the show. However, hopefully this can be fixed for the rest of the run so everyone can enjoy the score and book.
The last song in the show is entitled ‘For Now’. A positive, uplifting message as the cast reflects that ‘Everyone’s a little bit unsatisfied. Everyone goes ’round a little empty inside. Take a breath, look around. Swallow your pride for now’. They then list a myriad of things that occur in life, but are ‘only for now’ including temporary things like sex… and your hair. As the song started I wondered who they were going to replace original lyric ‘George Bush’ with as only being for now and had hoped they would make reference to current American Presidential candidate, Donald Trump. As the song progressed and we were told that discomfort and friendship were ‘only for now’ the moment came and to my delight the cast announced that “DONALD TRUMP is only for now’. I was ecstatic and started a very enthusiastic (and somewhat overtly musical theatre fangirl) clap which erupted and the audience cheered. Because hey, ‘Don’t stress, relax. Let life roll off your backs. Except for death and paying taxes. Everything in life is only for now’.
Sell A Door’s 2016 UK Tour production of Avenue Q does not disappoint, was well received by the audience and expertly performed by the cast. I urge everyone who grew up with Sesame Street and an unfounded sense of entitlement to see Avenue Q.
Reviewed by Stuart Wimsett
Photo Credit Matt Martin Photography
Avenue Q is on tour around the UK. Click here for tour dates and to book tickets