REVIEW: Avenue Q (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★★

After a hugely successful previous runs in the West End and on tour, triple Tony award-winning comedy musical Avenue Q is on tour again, arriving at Sunderland Empire this week

Created by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez (co-creator of Book of Mormon and Frozen), the production follows the trials and tribulations of a group of puppets living on Avenue Q, including Princeton, a college graduate who is looking to find his purpose in life and Kate Monster, who dreams of opening her own monster school.

With a whole host of puppets and songs, Avenue Q has all the ingredients for a family-friendly show. However, the cheerfully mischievous tone and crude humour of the production makes this anything but. Think of it as a homage to Sesame Street, but a lot more risqué. With characters such as Lucy the Slut, Trekkie Monster and the Bad Idea Bears.

Lawrence Smith, Cecily Redman, Tom Steddon and Megan Armstrong have the difficult role of bringing their puppet counterparts to life. Despite being visible at all times, the actors are almost invisible as the spotlight and the attention of the audience becomes fixed upon the puppets. It’s a very difficult skill to master, though one the cast achieve with the utmost ease (or so it seems).

The puppets are also joined by human characters: Brian (Oliver Stanley), Christmas Eve (Saori Oda) and Gary Coleman (Nicholas Mclean). Each one is brilliantly integrated into the storyline and has their fair share of laughs and moments. This is an ensemble with no weak links, and it clearly shows.

Avenue Q tackles issues such as homosexuality, racism and sex in a way that is not normally done on stage: with the use of puppets. These issues are given a comical spin as part of the soundtrack, which is equally as funny as it is catchy – highlights include Everybody’s A Little Bit Racist, If You Were Gay and The Internet Is For Porn.

Whilst the second half is more subdued in comparison to the first (presumably to concentrate on moving the plot forward), Avenue Q is a flawless production that is bursting with heart.

If you are easily shocked then this is not the show for you. Puppets having very loud, very physical sex is not a sight that everyone wants to see. But if you want to have a good laugh and hear song lyrics that your life can relate to then this is the show to see.

Reviewed by Lindsay Sykes

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