Haymarket Theatre, Leicester
21st May, 2019
‘What do you do with a BA in English?’
Never have I identified so much with a song lyric. Seriously, what do you do with a BA in English? The answer for me seems to be ‘become a PA for more successful academics working in a marketable scientific field…’. With theatre blogging as my (not-for-profit) side hustle. Honestly, it’s fine, I like my job and the people I work with, and I feel privileged to follow my interests in my spare time – but not once would I have thought that this would be my ‘purpose’ in life. Beneath the crudities, fuzz and non-PC wisecracks, Avenue Q expounds many home-truths for the down and out, ennui saturated Millennial. It’s bloody funny too.
Though this was my first time seeing Avenue Q, I was aware of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s score, here sung with giddy delight by a splendid cast (both human and ‘monster’). Cressida Carré’s production zips along with hit after toe-tapping hit as what is initially a bizarre concept soon draws the audience into the zany, sometimes seedy, but often loveable world of the residents of backstreet New York. Mimicking the likes of Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, and Elmo, we are taught adult life lessons in the stylings of Sesame Street, complete with on-screen graphics, spelling classes (S.C.H.A.D.E.N.F.R.E.U.D.E), and human/puppet heart-to-hearts. From being proud to be who you are – even if you’re a Republican investment banker (‘If You Were Gay’), to accepting our differences (‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’), and the personal benefits of helping others (‘The Money Song’); beneath the hysterical lyrics, political satire and razor sharp lacerations of social stereotypes, Lopez and Marx conceal a heart as big as Lucy the Slut’s bouncing chest and as fluffy as Kate Monster’s fur.
A tip top cast bring to life the characters in all their horny, corny, gross-out and kindness filled glory. Tom Steedon storms the stage with his shaggy haired, porn addicted Trekkie Monster, milking every second of his brief appearances. Nicholas McLean gets some zingers as the late faded child star turned superintendent, Gary Coleman, and Saori Oda is a powerhouse of surreal feistiness as struggling therapist, Christmas Eve. Doubling up as the guileless college grad, Princeton, and the anal and closeted whinger, Rod, Lawrence Smith excels in his characterisation. Standing out amid this quality company is Cecily Redman’s charming performance as loveable girl-next-door, Kate Monster. Her rendition of ‘It’s a Fine, Fine Line’ is a treat, infused with genuine emotion and pristine vocals. Yet Redman is equally at home playing Kate’s nemesis and local seductress, Lucy The Slut – all southern drawl, hair flicks and swaying hips. Several scenes feature Redman playing both characters bouncing off each other, a feat wherein the skill involved - and the effortlessness with which Redman performs it – only sinks in as an afterthought.
I feel I can’t praise the human cast without also mentioning the wonderful puppets that are quite literally the ‘face’ of the show. Cartoonish, but with just the right amount of human quirk and expression, I felt like a kid again, totally believing in these characters in all their felt-skinned, limbless splendour – that is, if you discount that fact they’re alternately demonstrating an array of positions from the Kamasutra, simulating masturbation, and telling racist jokes! The sight of bright yellow golf-ball sized, erect puppet nipples is an image that I won’t forget in a hurry!
Despite my assertion that Avenue Q is a sugar cube of ‘awww’ at it’s core, Lopez, Marx and Jeff Whitty (book) pull-off the unthinkable – a musical finale that is happy without being mawkish of cheesy, while also acknowledging the everyday reality that happy endings aren’t sustainable due to the ephemeral nature of life (and theatre). The affirmation no one really has a defined ‘purpose’, and that everything – all the good things, all the bad things – is ‘only for now’ is a refreshing philosophy that sums up the irreverent-yet-heartfelt tone of the show. This production is a true joy to watch.
Avenue Q plays at the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester until 25th May.
For full UK tour details please visit: http://avenuequk.com/tour-dates
|The company of Avenue Q.|
Credit: Matt Martin