The West End production of the American musical Avenue Q was a continuous success in its five year run, with a sell-out final performance on 30 October 2010 at the Wyndham’s Theatre. It has now been two years since the last UK tour of the show, so the next production was bound to be eagerly anticipated and it certainly didn’t disappoint when it arrived at Guildford’s G Live.
The show is a two-act musical comedy based on the original book by Jeff Whitty and developed for the stage by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx who wrote the music and lyrics. The story follows Princeton, a young college graduate who moves to Avenue Q ready to take on the world, chasing his dreams and fulfilling his purpose in life. He soon finds however, that life on Avenue Q isn’t as easy as it was in his college dorm room.
Although the majority of the characters are played by puppets, Avenue Q is not widely considered, ‘family friendly’ with an age 14+ guideline and so you might not see too many children in the audience. The humour of the show is aimed at a slightly older audience, as highlighted by songs such as, ‘The Internet is for Porn’ and ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’. The use of puppets as opposed to actors adds a satirical flavour to the show, allowing for hilarious performances that could not be achieved in any other musical.
Cressida Carré delivered a fresh take on the direction of the show. Having not seen any previous productions herself, Carré had the freedom to take Sell a Door’s Avenue Q in a different direction to that of previous West End and UK touring productions.
Particularly notable were the performances of Lucie-May Sumner as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut and Stephen Arden as Nicky/Trekkie Monster/Bad Idea Bear. Sumner’s comedic timing was impeccable; using subtlety to give Kate Monster a new-found dry wit that was not greatly exploited in the West End. This, matched with the over exaggerated character of Lucy the Slut, showed off Sumner’s versatility and ability to voice two on-stage characters, whilst simultaneously puppeteering one of them.
Arden also stood out for his flexibility; manipulating his voice and the physicality of each puppet to achieve three very different characters, all of whom were individually amusing and enjoyable. His portrayal of Trekkie Monster deserves particular mention for the comedic skill he exhibited throughout the show.
The set and staging of the production was very similar to that of the West End and UK tour. The simplicity of the set design was effective in that it mirrored the basic way that the residents of Avenue Q live. Whilst the puppets were all dressed in bright colours with distinctive styles, the actors controlling them all wore full black, preventing the audience from becoming distracted from the main focus of the show, the puppets. This eventually gave the illusion that the puppets were the ones talking, so much so that you found yourself ignoring the actors on stage, in favour of their puppet counterparts.
Sell a Door’s production of Avenue Q was witty, satirical and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. The direction and performances were intelligent and refreshing, making the production as a whole a joy to witness. If you can get hold of a ticket make sure you get to see this excellent production – just don’t take the kids!
Michael Goff and Helen Cohen