(Finally got around to reviewing this – I was at the April 5th show.)
It’s all very lovely. The curtain rises to the show’s peppy theme tune, and a brightly dressed man and an equally bright puppet (held by a sombrely dressed woman) stand on stage. They begin to sing. Everything appears to be shiny and happy, until the puppet utters six words that set the tone for the entire musical:
“FUCK! It sucks to be me!”
This is Avenue Q, and it does its utmost to take every notion you had about puppets and smilingly kick it out the door. Though they bear a striking similarity to the characters of The Muppets and Sesame Street, the Avenue Q puppets couldn’t be farther from the innocent puppets of our childhood. They’re rude, crude and absolutely shameless – but most of all, they’re just like us.
Therein lies the charm of Avenue Q. Beneath the colourful characters and lighthearted humour, the musical addresses real issues: racism, sexuality, relationships, poverty…the list goes on.
Avenue Q centres on the story of Princeton (played by Sam Lupton), a recent college graduate who is seeking his “purpose” in life. He moves to Avenue Q, where he meets Kate Monster (Daniella Gibb, standing in for Katharine Moraz) and falls in love, much to his surprise. Princeton begins to learn that real life is very different from college, but he is helped along by a ragtag bunch of friends: Trekkie Monster, a porn-obsessed puppet that slyly references Cookie Monster; Rod, an investment banker who is in denial about his sexuality; and Nicky, Rod’s roommate and self-confessed slacker.
The musical is riotously funny from start to finish. The Bad Idea Bears, two seemingly cute and cuddly teddy bears who pop up from time to time to provide Princeton with some exceedingly un-sound advice, were a comedic highlight. Props must also go to Chris Thatcher, who plays three of the most enjoyable characters in the show – Nicky, Trekkie Monster and Bad Idea Bear #1. The manner in which his voice changes from character to character (often in the same scene) marks a true talent. Daniella Gibb also does well as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut. Again, having to change characters several times in the same scene must be tough work, but she pulls it off amiably.
Musical highlights include “The Internet Is For Porn” which had the audience in stitches; “It Sucks To Be Me”, which introduces all the characters nicely; and “Schadenfreude” was stuck in my head for days after the performance. Sticking in “JUSTIN BIEBER!” in the final song “For Now” brought the musical’s pop culture references (which are in there by the bucketload) right up to date.
The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre (formerly the Grand Canal Theatre) is an excellent venue for Avenue Q. There’s not a seat in the house without a perfect view of the action on stage, and the sound is crystal-clear wherever you are. The set is cartoon-bright and infinitely adaptable. At one point in the musical, it even transforms into the Empire State Building. At another stage, a giant Kate Monster bride looms over the buildings of Avenue Q – this is all very impressive stuff from a touring production.
Overall, Avenue Q is an extremely enjoyable show, and this performance cemented it as one of my favourite musicals.