‘Avenue Q’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by March 1, 2016

‘Avenue Q’ is a wicked musical for adults, based on the semi-autobiographical book by Jeff Whitty. ‘Ave Q’ was originally a television series, inspired by the much-loved ‘Sesame Street’. In 2002 the stage show had music and lyrics added by the American team of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. This parody won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Employing three or four of ‘Sesame Street’ puppeteers, the show had an astonishing 2,534 performances on Broadway.

Youngsters nowadays have been brought up to think they are perfect and always right. This show demonstrates, with blatant honesty how, despite the admiration given by people close to you, along with most of the idealistic images created by TV programmes, have lied and that life is in fact a bloody hard struggle. It tackles topics like racism, homosexuality and sexism with taste (?).

This hilarious two and a half hour, light-hearted fantasy, a Dark Psychic Production can be seen at the Phoenix Memorial Hall, 435 Carrington Street, Hamilton Hill, at 8.00 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until 19th March. There is one matinee, on Sunday 13th March at 2.00 pm.

 

The eleven, large puppets are operated and voiced by neutrally dressed puppeteers, who are constantly in full view of the audience, mingling with three human actors. However, the strength of the puppets’ characters, and their complex but smooth operation, quickly help the audience forget about the operators.

The colourful set is the exterior of a block of flats in rural New York City (design assisted by Pat McMahon, Kerron and Danial Muller). Constructed by the designers, with further help from Wayne Gale, Leon Dekker and Aubrey Cason. The stage management was smooth, totally unobtrusive all thanks to Alison Kovacs and Nikita Harwood.

Alex Coutts-Smith’s lighting was colourful and very well designed.

The Musical Director, Lee Wilson, operated the music and sound. It is often tricky for a cast to follow a pre-recorded musical track as there is no leeway for error, but this cast was perfectly rehearsed and well advised by Lee.

 

      On graduating, young, naïve Princeton (Darren Bilston), decides to search for his purpose in life. After discovering that accommodation in Avenue A in central New York is atrociously expensive, he finds himself in the suburbs at Avenue Q, where he meets the tactless Nicky (Ryan McNally). Nicky says that there is a room to let in his block of flats; a block that is supervised by Gary Coleman (Bernadette Ward) who was Arnold Jackson in TV’s ‘Diff’rent Strokes’.

     Whilst living in the flat he meets the other tenants, there is the svelte therapist, Japanese girl, Christmas Eve (Jayde Clark) and her fiancé, ‘Blian’ or Brian (John P. Gray) who is a poor stand-up comic. Upstairs is friendly but tight-fisted, Republican banker, Rod (Andrew Dawson) and Trekkie Monster (Sean Williams) who spends most of his time watching porn.

     One day Princeton meets an old school friend, Kate Monster (Danni Close) a kindergarten teacher who wants to leave her boss, Mrs Thistletwat and open her own Monstersorri (sic) school. They rekindle the love of their youth. However, in the ‘Around the Clock Café’ the big busted, sex mad singer, Lucy T Slut (Elouise Eftos), and two of her friends, the charismatic, Bad Idea Bears (Sally McMaster, Ruby Reye) are determined to lead Princeton astray. The couple do have some good friends – Ricky, Jumper and Suzi (Dan Rooney, Em Rose, Chantal Kerkhof).

    Will Nicky and Kate Monster find their lifelong loves?

 

Confession time. I have never been a fan of ‘Sesame Street’ or ‘The Muppets’, often finding them infantile and annoying, but this show has warmth and demands empathy from the audience. The content is definitely for adults only – the first Act ends in raunchy hilarity, whilst depicting half the positions of the Kama Sutra.

Thanks to the supreme skills of the operators, the puppets are mesmerising. The puppeteers have to work the immaculately made and dressed puppets (assembled by ‘Cursed Creations’), whilst speaking in an American accent, and capturing the nasal, squeaky voices of the TV characters. The result was amazingly accurate.

When a production opens with a powerful and happy chorus, you know that the show is going to be well above average. The opening number was magic.

There was a couple of dozen musical number and songs, which were required to be sung in the strange voices, and once again with brilliant presentation and perfect enunciation.

Directed by Jayde Clark, with solid production assistance from Gabriella Guidone and Bethsaida Tapsall, the show was fast moving throughout. The songs were delivered with plenty of power and feeling – fabulous singing voices. Special mention for performers Darren Bilston, Danni Close, Ryan McNally and Andrew Dawson, their voices were amazing. Sean Williams’ gruff Trekkie voice was incredible.

The quirky songs were accompanied a soft-shoe shuffle and such convincing puppet arm movement that at times you would swear that the facial expressions were changing too.

This must be Dark Psychic’s best production yet – and over the years, they have had a very high standard. Slick, professional and great fun. Highly recommended, the type of show you could see again.