Review – Avenue Q

February 8, 2012 | By More

* * * *

Edinburgh Playhouse Tue 7 – Sat 11 Feb 2012

Rude, crude and breaking all sorts of politically correct taboos, Avenue Q stomps out into the vast Playhouse space as it it had been born to play there.

Chris Thatcher and Katherine Moraz as the Bad Idea Bears - photo from last Autumn's touring production.

It is hilarious stuff which easily justifies its gimmick – that only three of the characters are played by people. The rest are puppets, manipulated by a surprisingly small number of onstage singing puppeteers.

Any fears that this touring production would not be able to scale up to the 3000 seats of the Playhouse are completely unjustified. The puppets are large enough to be visible right to the back, although the detail of their creation isn’t, while the singing voices of the cast are easily powerful enough to fill the hall.

Despite the puppets and X-rated scenes, Avenue Q turns out to be standard musical theatre material. Princeton, a 22 year-old lad fresh out of University, moves into a new neighbourhood to discover that life is just a little bit more complicated than he thought. Indeed, he isn’t really anyone special at all – no matter what he learned on Sesame Street.

That Sesame Street reference is important as Avenue Q is set in a fictional outer borough of New York where monsters and talking Bad Idea bears are the norm. More to the point, human characters and puppets interact without batting an eyelid. And Princeton quickly finds himself falling in love with fresh-faced Kate Monster – and irresistibly drawn to local sex pot Lucy The Slut.

Add a dumb-ass American comedian Brian and his Japanese fiancé Christmas Eve who live next door, Rod the closet gay Republican with his slacker roommate Nicky, Trekkie Monster surfing for porn upstairs and Gary Coleman, once a child actor but now a smiling building superintendent with a chip on his shoulder, and you have a mix more volatile than an Absinthe Daiquiri.

One of the biggest laugh-out-loud musical numbers around

Princeton

As for the songs, they rise like a surgeon’s scalpel to descend on social mores and dissect them sharp wit and a blunt and pugnacious refusal to pussyfoot around.

It starts out with a mere titter-raiser in asking What Do You Do with a B.A. in English? – hurling lumps at the secondary education system – before getting down to the hard stuff with Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, as Princeton asks Kate whether she and Trekkie are related.

All of which pales when Kate Monster outlines her plans to teach her kindergarten class about the internet. Big mistake. Trekkie is under no illusions as to the reality of online life, pointing out that The Internet is for Porn. An assertion supported by all the other male characters in one of the biggest laugh-out-loud musical numbers around.

None of which would be any good if the cast were not able to deliver. And this new cast for the new Spring tour certainly do that.

Katherine Moraz stands out vocally as the puppeteer behind both Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut. Notably voicing conversations between the two with utter finesse. Although she is disconcertingly visible when manipulating Kate, that might be more to do with the level of detail to the puppet than anything else.

Sam Lupton is right up there too, in his manipulation of Princeton and Rod. Both Lupton and Moras have great voices, but Lupton edges it slightly in his characterisation of the puppets. Not that there is anything between them when Princeton and Kate have had a few drinks on their first date – and full-frontal puppet sex is underway, live on the stage of the Playhouse theatre – while Gary defends their own vocal accompaniment to their athletic romp with his big number: You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want When You’re Makin’ Love.

Chris Thatcher and Daniella Gibb fill in the secondary puppet characters with equally eloquent hands, ensuring that there is never a noticeable slip in the unfolding narrative.

Of the human characters, Matthew J Henry is all cheery-but-glum smiles as Gary and a mop-haired Edward Judge is utterly believable as failed comic, Brian. But it’s Julie Yammanee as a forceful Christmas Eve who remains most in the memory, with her vibrant voice and beautifully timed performance.

There is a slight dip of energy in the second act, but what’s there is immense. The special effects are wisely used and hint at rather more spectacle than they actually give. The side-screen introductions and interjections are erudite and witty. And the whole hits a resounding ding on a nerve which needs it.

Great stuff for musical fans and those with a non-too-uptight funnybone over the age of 12.

Age advice: If your happy to laugh along with your child at songs about sex, drinking, and surfing the web for porn, then get them a ticket. Otherwise, get them a babysitter.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.
Run ends Saturday 11 Feb 2012
Shows: Tue-Thurs 7.30pm; Fri: 5pm, 8.30pm; Sat: 4pm, 7.30pm.
Further details on the Playhouse website: www.atgtickets.com

Avenue Q on tour to Summer 2012:
13 – 18 Feb Cheltenham
Cheltenham Everyman
01242 512 515 Book online
21 – 25 Feb Cardiff
Cardiff New Theatre
029 2087 8889 Book online
28 Feb – 3 Mar Wolverhampton
Wolverhampton Grand
01902 429212 Book online
5 – 10 Mar Rhyl
Rhyl Pavillion
01745 330000 Book online
20 – 24 Mar Stoke
Stoke Regent Theatre
0844 871 7627 Book online
26 – 31 Mar Swindon
Wyvern Theatre
01793 524 481 Book online
3 – 7 April Dublin
Grand Canal Theatre
01677 7999 Book online
10 – 14 April Cambridge
Cambridge Arts Theatre
01223 503333 Book online
16 – 21 April Canterbury
Marlowe Theatre
01227 787 787 Book online
23 – 28 April Oxford
New Oxford Theatre
0844 871 3020 Book online
30 April – 5 May Leicester
Leicester De Montfort Hall
0116 233 3111 Book online
8 – 12 May Salford
Salford Lowry
0844 815 4873 Book online
14 – 19 May Glasgow
King’s Theatre
0844 871 7627 Book online
22 – 26 May Newcastle
Theatre Royal
0844 811 2121 Book online
28 May – 2 June Coventry
Belgrade Theatre
024 7655 3055 Book online
4 – 9 June Brighton
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7627 Book online
11 – 16 June Liverpool
Empire
0844 871 3017 Book online
18 – 23 June Southend
Cliffs Pavillion
01702 351135 Book online
25 – 30 June Nottingham
Theatre Royal
0115 989 5555 Book online
2 – 7 July Hull
New Theatre
01482 300 300 Book online
9 – 14 July Southampton
The Mayflower
023 8071 1811 Book online
16 – 21 July Leeds
Leeds Grand Theatre
0113 245 6014 Book online
23 – 28 July Dunstable
Grove Theatre
01582 60 20 80 Book online

ENDS

 

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