Friday, 2 May 2014

Review: Avenue Q, Greenwich Theatre

“You gotta go after the things you want while you're still in your prime..."

Since co-writing Avenue Q in 2002 with Jeff Marx and book-writer Jeff Whitty, Robert Lopez’s career has sky-rocketed with the mega-musical The Book of Mormon and Disney behemoth Frozen so the opportunity to revisit life with the puppets in the less salubrious parts of New York is a welcome one. Sell A Door’s production opens at the Greenwich Theatre and then will go an extensive tour of the UK, visiting 19 more theatres across the country to spread its often outrageous but always warm-hearted tales of the trials of day-to-day living in the big city.

So we follow fresh young graduate Princeton as his idealism gets slowly crushed by temp jobs and mounting bills and relief can only be found in booze and casual sex. Told in the style of an adult version of Sesame Street, the show is blessed with a brilliant witty score from Lopez and Marx which keeps a welcome edge to the show’s gooey heart and songs like ‘The Internet is for Porn’, ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’ and ‘If You Were Gay’ are instantly memorable classics which sit easily next to the bittersweet emotion of ‘It’s A Fine Fine Line’ and ‘Fantasies Come True’. 

A more unforgiving eye might spot that there’s still some work to be done on fully mastering the puppets but given that the many of the cast are required to be quadruple threats, the level of singing, acting and dancing alongside the puppeteering is at times phenomenal, especially once they start doubling up on characters. Lucie-Mae Sumner shines brightly in playing the sweetness of Kate Monster and the sultriness of Lucy the Slut – in the same scene on more than one occasion – really capturing the wryness of Kate’s straightforward nature.

Tom Steedon nails the all-American charm of leading man (or is he a muppet) Princeton as he bluffs his way through young adulthood and is particularly good fun as the highly-strung, closeted Rod. And Stephen Arden is on triple-duty as the filthy gruff-voiced Trekkie Monster, a devilish Bad Idea Bear and the hapless Nicky. Of the ‘straight’ actors, Richard Morse brings a lovely warm comic generosity to the overgrown kid that is Brian and Ellena Vincent’s Gary Coleman is a wonderfully supremely confident presence. 

Carré’s production has rough edges elsewhere though, not all of which it can charm its way out of quite so easily. Lighting cues went awry, there were sound balance problems and a general slickness in manipulating the set was missing – all issues that can be corrected as the show finds its feet as this run progresses and also in preparation for the tour but cumulatively, here, perilously close to a distraction…it’s a fine fine line indeed. The quality of the show, and the acting, keeps things firmly on track though, making it a genuine pleasure to revisit Avenue Q, if only for now. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th May then touring to Torquay, Crewe, Londonderry, Manchester, Bracknell, Leeds, Edinburgh, Inverness, Buxton, High Wycombe, Crawley, Blackpool, Poole, Lincoln, Sunderland, Winchester, St Helens, Lichfield, Croydon and Guildford
Originally written for The Public Reviews

NB: such the Avenue Q am I, that I was surprised to see that the graphic for the 'one night stand' has changed from tumbling knights to the much less funny nightstands - this is a change of which I do not approve

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