Fur characters and no knickers! Avenue Q is a hilarious look at life in the back streets of America, told through the medium of multi-coloured puppets. It’s no wonder this hit has won so many awards; including best musical at the 2004 Tony Awards. This was the third production of this incredible musical I have had the privilege to witness, and what a spectacle it was. It’ll make you laugh until you’re out of breath, cry until you’re dry and smile as broad as possible - it really is that diverse.
Book written by Jeff Whitty, Music and lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez. Robert Lopez is fast becoming one of the greatest song writers of the modern age having co-written the musicals Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon and ‘Let it Go’ from the Disney smash hit ‘Frozen’.
As a musical it really does toe the line between brilliant slapstick and near the knuckle giggles. You wouldn’t get away with a hardcore sex scene in most musicals - but make them yellow puppets, and you’ll be surprised what a sea of middle aged women will laugh at! It’s one of few occasions where I’ve seen the partners who have been ‘dragged along’ rolling about in full belly laughter.
Was this my favourite production? sadly not. Some of the scenes and songs seemed a little rushed, including cutting a whole verse from 'Schadenfreude', a few of the lines deviated from the original broadway script (and flopped), and the laughs didn’t come straight away as they had with the previous 2 productions. But the show was far superior in other areas.
The stage was phenomenal, so grand and impressive from the off set. Richard Evans had done an outstanding job, but is well versed in stage design after working on the West End Premier of Seussical and Guess How Much I Love You. The Puppets were also incredible, but of course they were. Design by Paul Jomain, and we have all seen his work, from ‘The Muppets’ to ‘The PG Tips Monkey’.
Tom Steedon was set to return to the wonderful world of Avenue Q after playing Princeton/Rod in the 2014 tour (Yes, he was incredible then). However, understudy Ellis Dackombe filled the ginormous boots of the characters Nicky / Trekkie / Bad Idea Bear. Usually a member of the chorus, Ellis easily stole the show with his rendition of ‘If you were Gay’ and ‘The internet is for porn’. His vocal ability, showmanship and likability factor brought the audience together and was able to break the tensions and get the first big laugh of the night. During one scene he improvises with the audience as Trekkie Monster, which was the highlight of the show - and so refreshing as a modern theatre technique.
Heading up the female lead was Cecily Redman, a relatively new actress, but winner of the Spotlight Prize of ‘Best Stage Actor’ in 2017. A well deserved award on her prize shelf it is too - her character vocals really shone and gave me chills during the song ‘Fine, Fine Line’. Filled with excitement and enthusiasm throughout the show she really was a strong asset to the cast.
Princeton and Rod were played by the wonderful Lawrence Smith, his performance was captivating and hilarious and managed to do justice to (my favourite character) of Rod. However one of the bugging issues at the start of the show was the puppets mouths not being in time to the singing. Isn’t it important to have the illusion in place from the off set?
Nicholas McClean played the character of Gary Coleman, often performed by a woman, this change threw me to begin with. Some of the notes in the songs were too low, rendering Nicholas almost inaudible on occasions. Oliver Stanley played Brian at a passable level, though has clearly never heard the phrase ‘Show don’t tell’. The characters sexual innuendos were forced and made my toes curl, however he’s the best Brian I’ve seen in terms of vocal ability, excitement and he really embodied the character perfectly and believably. His show wife Christmas Eve, played by Saori Oda was fantastically funny, and brought so much physicality to the show, where puppets can often limit movement. Saori was dipping in and out of her Japanese accent, which was hard to follow. We missed some of the jokes in the songs, as pronunciation was the cost of having a spectacular, truly jaw dropping vocal performance in ‘The More You Love Someone’.
I am politely assuming the person operating the spotlight was either drunk, or had never attended a rehearsal? The actors were sporadically lit and with a very unsteady hand - which was distracting for an audience member. Especially as spotlights are used as a focus during more emotionally difficult scenes. The rest of it however sung beautifully with the meticulous staging.
The musical as a whole is very clever and cheeky extravaganza. If laughter is the best medicine, this show really will cure some of the deepest illnesses (Scientific proof needed). This musical is full of memorable tunes, which will have you singing them all the way home— though it’s best not to sing ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’ through the town centre. As a show it is not to be missed, as a production it is well worth looking at director Cressida Carre’s interpretation.
Avenue Q the Musical is in the middle of it’s UK tour. Performed at the Nottingham Theatre Royal July 15th - 20th 2019. The tour continues throughout the United Kingdom, closing in Manchester on the 26th of October 2019. Tickets at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham range from £19 - £41.