Leave your political correctness at the door. Gloriously inappropriate and brilliantly subversive, Avenue Q shows no signs of ageing. Debuting Off Broadway in March 2003, the show is midway through its first UK tour.
As perversely endearing as ever, the Sesame Street inspired musical introduces us first to Princeton, an English graduate searching for his purpose. The city is an expensive place to live, and Princeton’s budget is too small for the first sixteen letters of the alphabet.
His neighbours consist of a ragtag bunch of yuppies, monsters, racists, and the late Gary Coleman. The show requires a much greater suspension of disbelief than other shows. Ignoring the puppeteers, accepting the human characters, their puppet counterparts, and the presence of monsters is a slight strain on the imagination. Liberal helpings of deus ex machina may also discourage less forgiving theatre-goers.
Cardiff’s Millennium Centre employed the use of two flat-screen televisions hanging either side of the stage, which occasionally played certain skits and gags, and this worked with relative success. The transition of ‘purpose’ to ‘propose’, preceding Princeton’s nightmare on the subject, was one of the best uses. However, as even the stalls were far enough away to bring on mild eye strain, set design can’t have considered upper circle ticketholders, who must have squinted themselves into migraines.
Both entertaining and poignant, the songs betray deeper messages beneath the bawdy slapstick and unabashed toilet humor. If you look behind these you’ll find a rebuttal to Sesame Street’s assurance that everyone is special. Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty‘s musical refutes the ‘world is your oyster’ ideal, addressing the reality that everybody is equally insignificant.
Good: The very last word in satirical puppet musicals. Even the most precious of tastes won’t fail to be amused by Trekkie Monster’s night-time viewing habits.
Bad: If your ticket includes an oxygen cyclinder for the altitude sickness, the $10,000 puppets won’t look much more distinct than your average dust bunny.