The First Night Feature: Avenue Q

Published April 17, 2008

It has been described as Sesame Street for adults, but new musical Avenue Q is much more than that. The show, which originated off-Broadway before leaping onto the Great White Way and collecting a handful of Tony awards in the process, features puppets and humans living side by side on the eponymous run-down street. The stateside success opened at the Noël Coward (formerly the Albery) last night. Matthew Amer was there…

Avenue Q is probably not a place to live if you have the money to live elsewhere. Anna Louizos’s set looks like a downmarket version of the exterior shots from American sitcoms such as Friends and The Cosby Show. Yet it is the only place college graduate Princeton can afford. Luckily for him, there are a host of colourful characters who take him straight to the heart of their community as he searches for his purpose in life.

Anyone who has ever seen children’s television will recognise the style in which much of the show is performed; the old learning-through-song routine. The songs here, though, are more relevant to the world of twenty- and thirty-somethings finding their way in the world. What Do You Do With A BA In English?, Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist and The Internet Is For Porn are just some of the tunes that help the residents question and understand the world a little bit better.

And what residents there are… Kate Monster (voiced by Julie Atherton) provides the love interest for our young man lost in the world, Trekkie Monster is obsessed with the carnal delights of the internet, Rod lives with his best friend Nicky but has trouble coming to terms with his sexuality. And then there are the humans; Gary Coleman – the American star of Diff’rent Strokes who lost his millions, played by Giles Terera – Brian and Christmas Eve, the Japanese immigrant whose therapist business is yet to take off.

The show is very much an ensemble production, with performers swapping puppeteering duties throughout the night, though Ann Harada (Christmas Eve), the only cast member to have transferred from the New York production, gets many of the evening’s loudest laughs. Interestingly, the puppet-toting performers’ faces and bodies are almost as intriguing to watch as the puppets themselves.

The joy with Avenue Q is that it is unique. There is no other show in the West End in which Bad Idea Bears taunt characters into buying beer. Its youthful exuberance warmly pokes fun at its genre and at the situation while still telling a full-hearted love story. With full frontal puppet nudity and gratuitous furry sex Barney and Big Bird would probably not recommend it for young children, but Avenue Q is packed with heart, humour and humable tunes.

MA