Avenue Q has been in London’s West End for five years now. Hearing the news that the musical was closing in October and reading a brilliant, affectionate review of the show by Ian over at There Ought to Be Clowns http://oughttobeclowns.blogspot.com/2010/06/review-avenue-q-wyndhams.html finally convinced me to go and see it. It’s not that I’d ever really decided not to see Avenue Q, exactly, just that the show’s Sesame-Street-on-heat premise sounded rather gimmicky. But what’s striking about Avenue Q is how thoroughly it transcends its central conceit. Ultimately, this musical doesn’t so much satirise or subvert shows such as Sesame Street as embrace their tropes and expands them, giving both its puppet and its human protagonists adult characteristics and concerns including sex drives, relationship and employment woes, and marvellously foul mouths. The results are blissfully enjoyable; it’s not hard to see the reasons for this delightful show’s enduring popularity and appeal.
Musically, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s score stays mainly within the mode of upbeat kids’ show-esque cheerfulness but lyrically the duo smuggle plenty of barbed insights into the piece, along with genuine pathos, tenderness and a few very filthy gags. The songs offer pithy, often provocative musings on post-college uncertainty (“What Do You Do with a B.A in English?”), the pervasiveness of self-pity and prejudice (“It Sucks To Be Me,” “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”), coming out (“If You Were Gay”), modern technology (“The Internet is for Porn,”) and romantic disillusionment (“There’s a Fine, Fine Line”). The characterisation is strong and vivid throughout: the puppet characters in particular are hilarious and endearing, from the adorable pairing of Princeton and Kate Monster, to the saucy Southern Belle Lucy the Slut (introduced with the show-stopping number “Special”), the closeted homosexual Rod and the porn-addicted Trekkie Monster (who advises “Grab your dick and double-click…” ). They’re voiced and manipulated by an exuberant, watertight ensemble in this production, led by Cassidy Janson, Paul Spicer and Tom Parsons in the lead roles.
The overriding themes and concerns of Avenue Q make it very much a young person’s musical, one that brilliantly skewers early 20s/30s directionless-ness, but that might have also benefited from the inclusion of more protagonists of different age groups. The only character who’s much over thirty is Kate Monster’s horrible - though very funny - “crabby old bitch” employer Mrs. Thistletwat (!). I’m not sure just how much appeal the show would have for lovers of more spectacular musical theatre either, though the sight of Princeton and Kate Monster enthusiastically 69ing is certainly spectacular in its own very particular way. Witty, rude, warm-hearted, and thoroughly unique, Avenue Q is tremendous fun. London Theatreland will be a duller place without it.