The Alexandra, Birmingham, Tuesday 12th February, 2019
The brainchild of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (who wrote the music and lyrics) and Jeff Whitty (who wrote the book) Avenue Q is one of those shows I never tire of going back to. It always feels like a treat, and this new tour is no exception. For those that don’t know, it is modelled on Sesame Street, but here the lessons are most definitely for grown-ups, lessons that contain a few uncomfortable truths we need reminding of every now and then.
Unlike the TV classic, and The Muppet Show, here the puppeteers are clearly visible. On the one hand, you sort of turn a blind eye to them and focus on the characters they operate; on the other, you pay direct attention to them and you are blown away by the skills on display. You want multi-tasking, this is the musical theatre equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your tummy while emoting and belting out songs.
The excellent Lawrence Smith is newly graduated Princeton, seeking his purpose in life. Through Princeton we are introduced to the other inhabitants of this thoroughfare. He falls for Kate Monster (the astonishing Cecily Redman) and they go out – leading to some harsh life lessons for both of them. He meets Nicky ( the brilliant Tom Steedon) who is thrown out by room-mate Rod (also Lawrence Smith) who can’t bring himself to come out of the closet, leading to a life lesson for us all about helping others, the homeless in particular. Steedon also performs as the hilarious Trekkie Monster who has an addiction to the internet – Cookies don’t come into it! Redman also operates sleazy nightclub singer Lucy The Slut (subtle, isn’t it?) and when Lucy and Kate have to appear together, she has to converse with herself, slipping from one voice to the other with apparent ease. It’s a wonder to behold.
Among the puppets live human characters. Oliver Stanley makes a likeable Brian, Nicholas McLean is a mass of energy as Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman) but it is Saori Oda’s fierce and feisty Christmas Eve whose larger-than-life characterisation almost steals the show.
The songs are great, the book is funny, and in the hands of director Cressida Carre, this production shows that the material has lost none of its edge, none of its relevance, and none of its power to educate and amuse.
I enjoy my trip down Memory Lane but if it’s your first time in this neighbourhood, I envy you the surprises you’re going to have. You might also learn something about life you don’t know you need to know.