Quirky, queer and quintessentially American, this Broadway and West End smash hit puppet musical is now on tour and showing at the New Theatre, Oxford, until Saturday 16th. If I could rate it Sesame Street-style, I’d say the premise, acting, puppetry and production would be Big Bird (with a ruffled feather or two), the storyline and script somewhat Oscar the Grouch.
What’s it about? According to creators Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez (co-creator of Book of Mormon and writer of the songs for Disney’s Frozen) Avenue Q is a 'dirty little show' that deals with the trials and tribulations of life through the eyes of a bunch of loveable puppets living on a downtown New York street. Princeton, a college graduate with a BA in English, wants to find his ‘purpose’, and moves into a shabby rental all the way out on Avenue Q. There he meets teaching assistant Kate and a motley crew of others who help him on his voyage of self-discovery.
What’s there to say about this show that hasn’t already been said in its scores of rave reviews? Well, according to the programme, its director Cressida Carré had not seen the original West End production, so in that sense it’s something fresh. Not having seen the original either, I couldn’t comment, but I assume the storyline is the same. Which is where your taste buds might find it akin to Marmite.
If you’re looking for highbrow or genteel humour, this ain’t it. This is a particularly American combo of smut, schmaltz, First World angst, political correctness and puritanism, generously topped with lashings of earnest idealism and sprinkled with incisive social commentary and occasional laugh-out-loud wit. Adult themes ('racism, anxiety, drunkenness, internet porn and gay love, to name a few') abound, although I suspect they might have been considered more ‘edgy’ both across the pond and when this was first produced over ten years ago. In many ways, though, you leave wondering whether society has really overcome this stuff, even though the points felt a bit laboured at times. Either way, don’t bring the kids.
However, for me it was the superb acting and puppetry that made it worth watching. Tip: look at the puppets. The more you look at the puppets rather than the actors (although observing the actors trying to project all the focus onto the puppets is quite something in itself) the more amazed you will be at just how expressive they are able to be. Unusually, there was no single person/puppet who stole the show – a testament to the skills and talents of the whole cast (although I should commend the understudy who played Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut tonight). Great accents, extremely versatile singing, acting and puppetry, good direction, great score, quotable song titles and a redeeming, feel-good ending are what would make you go and see this, if it were up your street.
This review was brought to you today by the letter ‘Q’.