Kevin McCollum Robyn Goodman Jeffrey Seller
Vineyard Theatre The New Group
Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Book by Jeff Whitty
Based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Directed by Jason Moore
Puppets conceived and designed by Rick Lyon
Noel Coward Theatre
28 June 2006 - September 28, 2008
A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!
This quirky, popular musical began its life in 1999 as the BMI workshop project of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx who met while they were on the course together in New York and decided to join forces. Although their ‘adult puppet’ show had been written with a possible television series in mind, when it was staged off Broadway for one performance, only theatre people came to see it. Among them were Broadway producers Jeffrey Seller and Robyn Goodman, who decided to stage the show off Broadway. In 2004, during its successful Broadway run, Avenue Q won the Tony Awards for Best Musical and Musical Score.
Avenue Q is the street you wind up on if your wallet doesn’t stretch to Avenue A, which is why Princeton ends up renting an apartment there. His BA English doesn’t qualify him for much of anything and he’s been downsized out of a job before he’s even started it. Neighbour Kate Monster isn’t where she wants to be either and can’t understand why she doesn’t have a boyfriend. Christmas Eve would be able to work in a Chinese Restaurant if only she wasn’t Japanese, and her boyfriend Brian can’t make a commitment. Rod won’t come out of his self-imposed closet, and his roommate Nicky is unceremoniously heading for the skids. Gary (Coleman), who was the ‘What chew talkin’ bout’ Willis?’ kid on sitcom Diff’rent Strokes is sick of being a janitor and worries that his fifteen minutes of fame may have well and truly passed. Upstairs neighbour Trekkie Monster is obsessed with internet porn. And Lucy the Slut is, well, Lucy the Slut.
The puppets in Avenue Q may look like Muppets, but they certainly don’t act like them; their idiosyncrasies and insecurities are much too human. Which, makes them refreshing, in an off the wall kind of way. The humour in the show is of the typically dark US of A at its best variety, so though belly laughs are sporadic, irony abounds. The show’s comic aspects are further enhanced by childishly banal animations, intermittently projected on twin screens, which, to a mind raised on Muppetry, make perfect sense.
Rebecca Lock has the kind of powerful, emotive voice that seems tailor made for Broadway, and she belts out her characters’, (Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut) numbers with great verve and passion. Daniel Boys likewise throws himself into his acting and singing as Princeton and Rod. Christopher Fry makes a very likeable, ‘big kid’ Brian. And at the performance we attended, Jackie Sanchez was very funny and in fine voice as his stereotypical ‘Asian-American’ girlfriend Christmas Eve. The voices Mark Goldthorp uses in the roles of Trekkie, Nicky and Bear rival those employed on the original Muppets show, both in tone and, ironic bent. Personal favourite among the many unexpectedly humorous theatrical devices were the two, hilariously naughty ‘Bad Idea Bears’, who innocently appear whenever anyone has a weak moment to gleefully encourage them to do the wrong thing.
In the long run though, it’s the songs that are the real stars of the show, with their foibles of the human condition laden lyrics and typically Broadway bounce. Issues touched on include sex, racism, homophobia, love, hate, loneliness, rejection and pornography. From ‘It Sucks to Be Me’ to ‘Only for Now,’ which inspired a spontaneous burst of applause when George Bush’s name was included on the temporary list, the songs generate generous laughter of recognition, which, is undoubtedly, one of the most informative types of fun to be had in the theatre.
There’s not much dancing in the show, apart from a few soft shoe type shuffles. However, most of the actors vigorously dash across the stage, serving as puppeteers at the same time as they act out their puppet’s roles, further enabling their little counterparts to get their points across. The fact that the puppets seem like familiar characters from the outset of the show is, no doubt, one of the other keys as to why this nonsensical, yet cleverly logical musical has become so popular. Suffice it to say that the pandemonium generated by a ‘sex scene’ between two plush characters whose ‘bodies’ only extend to their waists, has to be experienced to be appreciated!
The versatile set, designed by Anna Louizos, embodies resourcefulness to the max, starting off as a somewhat down at heel group of brownstones on Avenue Q. As the show progresses, windows and doors open, and/or slide revealing mini-puppet sized apartments within them, and, alternatively, a ‘pub’ bar and a string of New York tourist attractions. In some scenes, the roof of one ‘building’ is transformed into the viewing deck of the Empire State Building. Lighting, courtesy of Howell Binkley effectively shifts from day to dusk, midnight to dawn, streaking dappled light over set and characters in between. At the show’s end, the windows slid open revealing an amicable looking band of musicians who cheerily wielded their instruments.
Lopez and Marx wrote their ultimately award-winning musical when they were, as they describe it, ‘dirt poor’ and they’d decided to use their feelings about their own lives, and life in general at that time as the basis of the sentiments (or lack thereof) of their characters. As students of musical theatre composition, they were themselves, acutely aware of the fact that many theatre-goers in their own age bracket didn’t generally ‘like’ blockbuster type musicals, mainly because they couldn’t relate to their subject matter. Their successful creation is an affectionate parody of the type of theatre Lopez and Marx love most – the musical. The Tony award winning team are currently collaborating on a new Broadway musical with South Park creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The mind boggles.
If your mail is full of bills and your life is low on thrills, visit Avenue Q for some light hearted entertainment with a street wise edge.
The performance lasts approx 2hrs 15 mins (including a 15 min interval).
Monday – Thursday 8pm
Friday 5.30pm and 8.30pm
Saturday 5pm and 8.30pm
0870 850 9175
In person: Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2
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