Avenue Q: A Monster Hit


IT may look like The Muppets, but Avenue Q is not your average children’s show.

NOR is it your average parody of a children’s show. This Tony award-winning musical, largely inspired by Sesame Street, is a politically incorrect, shamelessly sassy crowd-pleaser about making a difference in the world. And it’s doing a good job of it.

Protagonist Princeton, the bright-eyed graduate puppet (voiced by Jon Robyns), is on a mission to discover his ever-elusive ‘purpose’ in life. As the newest arrival in a gritty New York neighbourhood, he finds himself surrounded by struggling compatriots, of both the human and puppet kind.

Among the former, there’s wannabe comedian Brian (Sion Lloyd), his fiancée, Christmas Eve (Jennifer Tanarez) and a landlord named Gary Coleman (Giles Terera) named after the has-been actor whose unfortunate career arc has been made into an official running gag. There’s also blonde vixen puppet Lucy The Slut and sometime girlfriend Kate Monster (both superbly voiced by Julie Atherton).

A lack of funds and employment lead Princeton on a hilarious story of self-discovery as he desperately struggles to follow his dreams. All to an infectious soundtrack of profane ditties like “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, “Schadenfreude”, “The Internet Is for Porn” and “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)”.

Archly educational animated clips flash words and phrases like ‘commitment’ and ‘one-night stand’ on plasma screens on either side of the stage. But it is the twinkly songs and outstanding performances (most notably from Atherton, Terera and Robyns) that sharply demonstrate that ambivalence, indecision and low expectations can be the basis for a thoroughly enjoyable musical.

There is your prerequisite uplifting message about ethnic and sexual diversity and living for the moment, but, undoubtedly the funniest creatures were two blissfully obnoxious Bad Idea Bears who, with their wide eyes and passive pleasantry, appear from nowhere to lead the other characters astray with Absinth Daiquiris all round.

The set is designed by Anna Louizos who created the original Broadway production of Avenue Q, and her ‘Sesame’ streetscape provides a cosy urban setting for the furry friends, with its row of welcoming old tenements setting the scene for over two hours of feel-good fun. But what elevates the show is the way in which composer/creators Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx cut right to the simple truths in life. With its compelling characters and unflinching truths, Avenue Q is definitely the most human of comedies.

First published on The London Word, August 2007.
© Abbey Stirling