BWW Review: AVENUE Q, Theatre Royal Brighton
"What do you do with a BA in English?" What is "Schadenfreude"? How does one find their "Purpose" in life? The hit musical comedy Avenue Q comes to Brighton Theatre Royal as part of a new UK tour.
The three-time Tony award-winning show opened on Broadway in 2003, which only very recently closed this year. It has also enjoyed a 5-year run in the West End 2006, and this is the third time the show has toured the UK.
Avenue Q follows the puppet residents who live on the street of the same name. The show opens with newly minted graduate Princeton (Lawrence Smith) looking for accommodation to start the next chapter of his life.
He tries to find meaning in his life with his neighbours: wannabe-comedian Brian (Oliver Stanley) and his fiancée Christmas Eve (Saori Oda); niggling roommates Rod (Smith) and Nicky (Tom Steedon); Kate Monster (Cecily Redman), a kindergarten assistant looking for love; and local pervert Trekkie Monster (Steedon).
Smith's portrayal of Princeton is wide-eyed and wonderful, and he then ramps up the campness when he switches to playing Rod, a closeted finance worker. He is suitably irate towards his annoying roommate Nicky, played by Steedon.
At times his character voice slips, but Steedon gives a delightfully whimsical performance as Nicky. He also plays a gravelly voiced Trekkie Monster and one of the high-pitched Bad Ideas Bears and, overall, shows off impressive versatility with his voice and character performances.
Megan Armstrong is also hilarious as the other Bad Ideas Bear, with a saccharine and high energy personality that could convince even the most sensible person to make poor life choices.
She also plays the amusingly grumpy Mrs T and ably assists her colleagues with some of the more complicated puppets that require two puppeteers, lovingly credited as "2nd arm" in the programme.
Cecily Redman gives a stand-out performance as sweet and naïve Kate Monster and transforms into the sultry seductress Lucy The Slut. Conversations between the two female puppets were particularly entertaining to watch. Redman gives a smashing, emotionally charged performance of "There's a Fine, Fine Line", probably the most solemn song of the show, to end Act I.
Saori Oda milks some rather acute stereotypes of Asian women as Christmas Eve, garnering some of the biggest laughs from the audience while Stanley is wonderfully endearing as her ever obedient fiancé, Brian.
Nicholas McLean plays ex-child star Gary Coleman with the perfect balance of charm, cheese and cheekiness. His well-written entrance explains the context of his character to audience members who aren't familiar with the US sitcom, Different Strokes.
The cast has good chemistry and seamlessly slip from one character to the next. Their vocal harmonies create a dazzling wall of sound combined with the lively score played by the pit band, directed by Dean McDermott. All of this is perfectly balanced thanks to Chris Bogg's sound design.
The design of the puppets by Paul Jomain is bright and colourful, perfectly parodying characters of a certain children's franchise and the cast seem at ease performing with the puppets.
Director and choreographer Cressida Carré has developed hugely larger-than-life performances from the cast to complement their puppets' limited expressions with simple choreography that allows the audience to focus on the puppets and their interactions with each other.
Richard Evans' design of a rundown New York avenue whisks you away to the Big Apple. There are plenty of windows and doors for characters to pop in and out of, and a steaming waste pipe is a nice touch.
The technicolour costumes (supervised by Samantha Murphy) on the puppet and human characters present a rainbow on stage, contrasting with the puppet operators in black which effectively draws the focus of the audience to the puppets.
Charlie Morgan Jones' lighting ensures you know exactly where to look, with dramatic spotlights on puppets, and windows outlined in colourful LEDs for certain numbers.
Although the narrative around Christmas Eve's character and a joke about suicide do not seem appropriate for 2019, the vast majority of the show's jokes haven't aged. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx's score is catchy. The extremely witty lyrics have the audience in stitches from the very start.
Jeff Whitty's book, while humorous in its handling of race, sexuality etc., also touches on some poignant aspects of the human experience such as our longing for love, acceptance and the nostalgia of simpler times.
Avenue Q has real heart and outrageous humour and is a thoroughly entertaining evening. Don't be fooled by the posters; this hoot of a show is definitely not for children.
Avenue Q at Theatre Royal Brighton until 8 June
Photo credit: Theatre Royal Brighton