Avenue Q, the brainchild of Jeff Marx and Bobby Lopez, may be a musical about puppets but it has a very different tone than that of other puppet entities such as the Muppets and Sesame Street. Whilst still being full of life lessons, Avenue Q is very much a musical for adults. It’s hilarious, it’s witty and even manages to make you feel sorry for characters at various points. This show definitely has it all with its clever lyrics, hummable tunes, joyously talented young performers and the filthiest puppet sex scene you will ever (hopefully) see in your life.
The puppets are purposefully caricatures and the puppeteers are plainly visible, acting and singing alongside their characters. There is no attempt to suspend reity. And yet, somehow, when bespectacled Rod, played expertly by Lawrence Smith, wrestled with his feelings for his best friend Nicky and had his heart broken, the whole audience sighed along with him. It’s a tiny cast, who often rotate whose controlling the puppet as the main puppeteers smoothly switch between characters. There is a charming quirkiness to the way the actors are in full sight while operating the puppets and both the actors and puppets are always in sync. It looks effortless as the handmade puppets really seem to come to life and that takes a lot of skill. Puppet Maker Paul Jomain’s previous work with Jim Henson is easy to recognise in the look of the puppets. I thought, in particular, the difference shown between characters Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut, was very impressive and for me, Cecily Redman was the stand out of the show. It’s worth noting however that the whole cast is excellent, fizzing with energy and everyone gets their chance to shine. Fittingly they all, ahem, come together on the truly outrageous You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love). I still can’t quite get some of the images conjured up on the stage out of my poor mind.
This is a touring production, so the staging is fairly simple and serviceable. The set was made up of a street of three houses, with drop down box models of their apartments appearing from the set making it clear to the audience whose apartment we were looking into it. However, this helpfully fits the rather old-school TV children show concept, albeit this concept is also heavily aided by short animations in the style of childrens shows that appear on drop down tv screens above the stage that portray short life lessons for main character, Princeton.
Overall, we absolutely adored the show and the production. I would highly recommend it for anyone in Southampton looking for a laugh over the next few days. For a musical that has been around since 2003, I was worried it would be a bit dated, but I was proven wrong with the message of the show being meaningful even now. It’s worth getting down to if you get the chance.
Avenue Q is on at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton from the 27th August till the 31st August.