Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Avenue Q’ which is at Clwyd Theatr Cymru till Saturday 30th May and Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn in February 2016.
The hype is true. If you liked ‘Sesame Street’ as a child, you’d be a ‘Muppet’ to miss ‘Avenue Q’ now you’re grown up.
The puppets are now twenty-something and discovering the seamier side of life…homosexuality, pornography, racism, infidelity, poverty. It’s a coming of age process and their loss of naivety is the source of much of the comedy in the show, which actually is a little tamer than I expected.
They’re also discovering cheese. This is fundamentally one of those very cheesy American musicals; and I’m talking Gorgonzola with a very thick rind. So there are snappy songs with cute tunes and brazen titles. “It sucks to be me” sets the tone for the evening; swiftly followed by “The Internet’s for Porn” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”.
Unlike their TV cousins, the “Avenue Q” creatures are not shy about their operators and, for me, the joy of the show was seeing puppet and puppeteer acting in perfect harmony.
With huge versatility, the garish, sponge half-figures are manipulated before our very eyes by British actors in black, who provide their transport and transatlantic cartoon voices. Ventriloquism is out of the window. We not only see their lips move but also their pronounced emotional expressions. At times it was like watching a perfectly synchronised duet; and as the puppets are straight faced, the temptation to watch the human was too much for me.
The outstanding Sarah Hartington, for example, voices both the women our yellow hero’s life, Kate Monster and Lucy The Slut; providing both sides of the quick-fire conversation when the rivals meet. At other times, the slickness of the show demands an off stage actor voice a puppet in the hands of a colleague. It’s mesmerising stuff.
The story line is standard musical fare. Sponge meets sponge. They fall in love. Sponge leaves sponge to seek his purpose in life. Sponge and sponge live happily ever after.
There is also a tear-jerking, gay sponge subplot with its own curdling anthem ‘It’s Okay To Be Gay’.
But director Cressida Carre neatly avoids undermining the genre. The humour owes a lot to the sincerity of it all. The puppets don’t know they’re puppets and neither do the human characters they interact with.
The award for star turn must go to the two ‘Bad Idea Bears’ who have a naughty knack of saying exactly what the audience is trying to avoid thinking, whilst looking as cute as Valentine’s presents.
‘Avenue Q’ is a wicked night out.