Robert Lopez’s career is genuinely fascinating to me; as both the songwriter for Disney’s mega-hit ‘Frozen’ and the risque, raunchy puppet show ‘Avenue Q’ he proves that he has fantastic artistic range, and this production fully embraces all of the silliness that he has filled each song with.
The story follows a handful of residents who live on Avenue Q in New York City, each with their own hardships that they are desperate to overthrow. Princeton (Lawrence Smith) has a useless college degree and wants to find his ‘purpose’, Christmas Eve (a delightful Saori Oda) is a qualified therapist without any clients, and Nicky (Tom Steedom, whose versatility is extremely impressive) is trying to get his best buddy back. Imagine that ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ had an illegitimate child with The Muppets and you’ve got a good understanding of how everything turns out. The characters are deeply flawed, however maintain an element of charm as an extension of their design. Although you would probably not want to be friends with any of them, you can’t help but find delight in their total misunderstanding of the world and social relationships. They even sing a whole song about that exact feeling.
The majority of the actors have the opportunity to demonstrate their talent as they double-up on characters, and the ensemble cast create a cheeky, enjoyable atmosphere that keeps the show going during potentially slower moments. However, Cecily Redman is undoubtedly the star of the show. Her performance was so good that I completely ignored the puppet she was controlling just to watch the much more expressive actress behind it. She manages the switch between the wide-eyed optimist Kate and aloof Lucy the Slut effortlessly, and is immensely fun to watch, especially during scenes where she must essentially converse with herself.
The design of the show (by Richard Evans) is cute and effective, as the street literally unfolds to reveal the internal decor of each character. The puppets pop up from windows, doors, and balconies all over the stage, further emphasising the prevalent feel of playfulness that the soundtrack’s quippy keyboard bops compliment.
My only complaint about the show is that the narrative and the songs don’t always match up, and it sometimes feels as though the songs were written first before the storyline. Character relationships are also hastily rushed. For example, all of the development between Kate and Princeton seems to happen off stage during an assumed time jump, and as a result it is hard to care for them as a couple.