Avenue Q’s Australian season opened a few nights ago at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre and has been greeted with hilarity and laughter from very appreciative audiences.
First things first. Avenue Q may well involve puppets, but this is no kids show. It’s more like Sesame Street for mums, dads and elder brothers and sisters.
Originally opening Off Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in March 2003, Avenue Q’s season was extended four times, eventually moving to Broadway’s John Golden Theatre, where it is still playing six years on.
Conceived by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who began writing the show’s catchy score way back in 1999 for a possible TV series, Avenue Q won three Tony Awards after arriving on Broadway, of which the following should give you an idea of the cailbre of this great little musical:
AVENUE Q BEAT WICKED TO RECEIVE THE 2004 TONY AWARD FOR BEST MUSICAL.
Now while some readers may argue that’s not such a tremendous feat, as Wicked is not the best show on Earth, since that time Wicked has definitely proven to at least be the world’s most popular musical, arguably since The Phantom more than 20 years ago. Perhaps it was Avenue Q’s unique blend of humans and puppets that gave it the edge over the almighty Wicked.
Avenue Q has a cast of 11 performers, but on stage we only see 7 of them on stage. The Australian production has Michala Banas operating two of the main puppets (roles) in Kate Monster and Lucy T. Slut. Local audiences will easily recognise Banas from her many television appearances. She is perfectly suited to this show with a strong singing voice and wonderful facial expressions.
All of the puppets (here we go again … roles) in Avenue Q are comic ones. We follow the trials of Princeton, who after receiving his BA in English, finds himself unemployed and without a purpose in life. The set is NY tenement housing and the other puppets all live in the neighbourhood.
Avenue Q’s most popular songs are the Trekkie Monster’s (parody on the Cookie Monster) “The Internet Is For Porn”, Princeton’s song “It Sucks To Be Me” and “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”. The adult themes should be relatively clear by now, but just in case they’re not, we also get to see puppet sex on stage and ‘full puppet nudity’ (one of the show’s many taglines).
Don’t be fooled into thinking this show is just a little bit of fluff. Rather, it’s more than a little bit clever (but thankfully not overly so) with catchy tunes, many funny lines and a simple but interesting plot. How can 1.6 million people possibly be wrong (and that’s just on Broadway)? To date the show has grossed over $116 million.
Most of Avenue Q’s puppets are operated by performers who although dressed in muted clothing, are nevertheless in full audience view. With no attempt to hide the puppeteer, one has to decide who to watch at various points in the show? While it takes a while for some to realise the puppet is an extension of the performer’s body, it is at least clear the performer is portraying the same feelings as the puppet. But as puppets can’t show facial expressions, it is here the puppeteer rules.
There are moments of one performer with two puppets, or puppets speaking but the performer’s voice is not the puppeteer (the voice is from another performer elsewhere on stage), two puppeteers per puppet and even one performer who never uses a puppet at all! It definitely keeps the audience on their toes, but is in no way hard to follow.
Avenue Q has genuine moments of sadness followed by deafening comedy. This is a gem of a musical with a neat little twist in the use of puppets. The homage to Sesame Street will be clear but you don’t have to be a fan of the show (or puppets for that matter) to enjoy this musical. While Avenue Q is definitely not recommended for Drama teachers to take their students to on a school excursion, it is however, highly recommended for a great night out with your colleagues! You won’t be disappointed.