Avenue Q at the New Wimbledon TheatreCultureTheatre
Everyone has to grow up and adapt to the real world; this is what the coming-of-age musical comedy Avenue Q tells us and yet, ironically, like all popular and successful plays, it stays more or less the same. Naturally the actors and directors change with each new tour but the Tony award-winning work of author Jeff Whitty and songwriters Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx takes us right back to 2004 when the production debuted. The songs and characters are delightful, the audacious mixing of puppets and human actors utterly charming, astutely realising the satire of TV shows like Sesame Street that fail to prepare generations of children for the disappointment and confusion of adulthood. There are even video interludes throughout that, as in said TV show, try to educate the audience on the meanings of certain words – although here the words are more ominous and difficult to break down: “commitment”, “schadenfreude”, “purpose”.
The titular avenue hosts all the principal characters and their stories, whether puppet or person. The central romance is between new arrival Princeton (Richard Lowe) and big-hearted kindergarten teacher Kate Monster (Sarah Harlington), who dreams of founding a school just for little monsters where they won’t be bullied because of their fur. Other pairings include the would-be comedian Brian (Richard Morse) and his fiancée, the heavy-accented Christmas Eve (Arina Li), who works in a Chinese restaurant, despite her multiple degrees. Upstairs are Rod (also Lowe), a closeted banker, and Nicky (Stephen Arden), his laid-back, straight best friend who he pines over. Rounding off the cast are the perverted Trekkie Monster (Arden) and superintendent Gary Coleman (Etisyai Philip), the former child actor. The cast all nail the perky Americanisms, and the puppetry is smooth enough to think decades of practise went into it, making for a superbly performed show.
There’s not much that Avenue Q does wrong, yet the passage of ten years from its creation is somewhat apparent in that we have seen comedies such as Family Guy, South Park, Team America and others weave darkly hilarious material off the spindle of essentially childlike genres. When Avenue Q relies on shock humour such as seeing puppets swear, fellate each other and sing about casual racism and internet porn, what would once have been a scream in 2004 is more of a chuckle now. Thankfully as the play progresses it taps into emotional depths of a universal flavour that no human or puppet could resist it for long. It’s so likeable and generous-spirited hat you are sad when it is over but grateful to have experienced it at all – like the innocence of childhood.
Avenue Q is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre from 14th until 19th March 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Avenue Q here: