AVENUE Q AT THE BELGRADE THEATRE, COVENTRY
Theatre Run: Monday 28 May - Saturday 2 June 2012
Performance Viewed: Monday 28 May 2012
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
Almost 10 years since becoming a surprise hit during its initial release over in America (for which it bagged a number of prestigious Tony awards, including ‘Best Musical’ over perennial musical favourite Wicked), audiences nationwide are once again getting the chance to experience the brilliantly postmodern and supremely entertaining bricolage of Avenue Q as it embarks on it’s second UK tour. Leave any misconceptions behind and any presumptions at the door, for despite the colourful overtone and combination of live actors and puppetry, with running homage and parody to the likes of Sesame Street throughout, Avenue Q is as intelligent, hilarious, meaningful, and even emotionally resonant, as musical theatre gets.
Following the lives of a group of residents of the titular rundown New York backstreet, the cast is an abundance of oddballs, misfits and minorities, from the likes of endearing ‘monsters’ Kate and Trekkie (the latter delightfully obsessed with pornography), a chinese/japanese/don’t-call-her-oriental immigrant named Christmas Eve, closeted republican investment banker Rod and his well-meaning but decidedly not-gay housemate Nicky, a truly side-splitting and scene-stealing duo of borderline-demonic teddy bears, a failed comedian and even ex-TV star Gary Coleman. Yes, that Gary Coleman. Into this cultural melting pot comes central protagonist Princeton, who in typical Sesame Street style is dealing with his big word of the week, ‘purpose’ and a question particularly prevalent to the youth society of today, “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?”
If any of this sounds to be somewhat politically incorrect, that’s because for the most part Avenue Q is precisely that, though rarely gratuitously or without reason. Instead, much of it’s strength and impact comes from the conviction of its messages and the honesty with which the entire show conducts itself. Where other musicals aggrandise and romanticise the trivial, Avenue Q bravely and deftly takes a completely polar vantage - giving us refreshingly blunt musical numbers illustrating the likes of how “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, “The Internet is for Porn” and the brilliantly unconventional and pragmatic summation of how everything in life, be it good or bad, is only “For Now”, a curtain-closer with more resonance and maturity in just the one number than most musicals can muster in their entire run. It also takes time to comfort us that even Justin Bieber won’t be around forever. Like any great comedy, much of Avenue Q is grounded in truths social, personal and emotional and it tackles these in a consistently brazen (and subsequently hilarious) manner.
The execution of the show is a masterful and inspired blend of live action performance and puppetry, and any fears of distraction or confusion are allayed within the first few minutes. Whilst the initial visual style and choice of puppets may at first dissuade some, it cannot be emphasised enough how immediately these characters engage and how smart and assured the choice of puppetry is. A superlative cast bring to life the myriad of characters with remarkable charisma and presence, giving supremely confident puppet performances not only comedic but also tender and surprisingly truthful. Special mention must go in particular to Sam Lupton, who performs both Princeton and Rod, and having only graduated from Theatre School last year demonstrates the comedic timing, presence and versatility of a performer of far greater experience and years. Likewise, Katharine Moraz is a real revelation - equally convincing in the didactic roles of tender, naive Kate Monster and brash, bombastic Lucy the Slut, she is particularly adept at providing a bravura, theatre-friendly performance yet one with remarkable nuance and restraint through her work with Kate Monster in particular. In fact it is notable that, with the exception of a vibrant Julie Yammanee as Christmas Eve (who surprises in Act 2 with a superb vocal in “The More You Ruv Someone”) it is generally the non-puppet characters who have the slightest impact, and it is the puppets you will be remembering (for all the right reasons) long after the curtain has fallen.
Whether you are jaded with the abundance of revivals, pastiche and unoriginality that is perpetuating throughout the theatre landscape, or just fancy an unapologetically entertaining night out, Avenue Q is a terrific option. It is an almost deceptively adult show, yet one which for all of its morals and messages (the second half in particularly leans more towards sentiment and loses a little of the first half's spark) still mantains a genuine laugh-out-loud tone throughout and even offers some wonderfully postmodern audience interactivity. Even if one or two of the musical numbers veer dangerously close to filler or bring the progression of the show to a noticable halt (again, Act 2 suffers mostly with a number about college feeling particularly redundant despite its character beats), the comedy is so relentless and well-judged and the characters so brilliantly realised and endearing that you won’t regret any extra time spent with them on the brilliant, inimitable and completely unique adult playground of Avenue Q.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * (4 out of 5 stars)
AVENUE Q is running at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry from Monday 28 May to Saturday 2 June 2012.
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Press tickets for this performance of Avenue Q were provided courtesy of the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.