Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 28th February, 2012
On the surface, this is Sesame Street for grown-ups but this show is much, much more than cute puppets saying rude words. Now on its second national tour, Avenue Q is a surprisingly piquant musical that says more about modern life and the human condition than a million Legally Blondes ever could.
Fresh out of college with a (useless) degree in English, Princeton (the hard-working, excellent Sam Lupton) rents a house on the eponymous thoroughfare and meets a motley bunch of neighbours, ranging from the human (Edward Judge as wannabe stand-up comic Brian and the brilliant Julie Yammanee as Christmas Eve) to the puppet (Kate Monster, Rod and Nicky) to the, I don’t know what it is, Trekkie Monster. This latter is not addicted to cookies – unless it’s the internet kind. This is all overseen by handyman Gary Coleman, former child star off of Different Strokes (an exuberant Matthew J Henry).
Video screens play animations to support the ‘lessons’ of the story. If you’ve seen Sesame Street, you’ll know the form; if you haven’t, it doesn’t matter. Princeton embarks on a tentative courtship with Kate Monster (a thoroughly brilliant Katharine Moraz, who also doubles as Lucy the Slut) and we follow their ups and downs and, indeed, their ins and outs. Down-to-earth guy Nicky wishes his room-mate Rod would just own up and come out of the closet, but Rod isn’t ready and Nicky ends up down-and-out. .. Characters are led astray by the Bad Idea Bears, a pair of evil angels who cajole you into having yet another drink, or even to hang yourself if things get really bad.
Along the way, the residents of Avenue Q and we the audience learn life lessons, mainly through a stream of catchy songs (a marvellous score by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx). “Everyone’s a little bit racist” one song avers, and we have to agree because we have been laughing at Christmas Eve’s mangling of the English language. “The internet is for porn” – but you knew that already. “The more you love someone, the more you want to kill them,” goes another song, along with “There’s a fine line between love and a waste of time,” – the showstopper that ends the first act, belted out by Katharine Moraz. The show moves from happy-go-lucky sing-a-long fun in the second act as the characters’ problems reach crisis point. Of course, everything is resolved and everyone’s happy; the show closes with an affecting number that points out the transient nature of life and life’s troubles. Even Justin Bieber, the gleeful cast promise, is only for now.
This is a hilarious, life-affirming show, a real tonic. The puppetry is skilful –unlike the Muppets, no attempt is made to conceal the puppeteers – and the singing and characterisations are delightful. Chris Thatcher and Daniella Gibb provide sterling support but the two leads, Lupton and Moraz are astonishingly good, sometimes operating one character while voicing another. These two young performers at the outset of their careers have bright futures ahead, if the word on this street is anything to go by.