With its many adult themes and, sometimes, graphic nature, this ‘Sesame Street for grown-ups’ is proof that one should never judge a book by its cover (or poster, in this case).
For, while the imagery of cuddly and fluffy puppets may suggest otherwise, Avenue Q is rude, crude and risqué … and is neither for children nor the easily offended.
However, beneath the shock value of its rudeness, and with its central theme of searching for a purpose to one’s life, Avenue Q is, essentially, a coming of age musical in which the characters learn a lot about life (including their own lives) and come to terms with the fact that nobody is special and that life is not as easy as they were led to believe it was going to be when growing up.
Winner of the Tony Triple Crown for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, the show features a mix of human and puppet performers and tells the story of the innocent and fresh-faced college graduate, Princeton, who moves into a shabby city apartment on run-down Avenue Q, where he meets lots of colourful characters who help him discover his true purpose in life.
Despite all of its characters being alternate versions of those found on Sesame Street, Avenue Q is, in every sense, on the opposite side of the block to the family friendly Street, but it is worth a trip down the block to see this production of this unique show. The characters include: the nice and wholesome wannabe teacher, Kate Monster; laid-back Nicky; up-tight closet gay, Rod; the antisocial puppet porn pervert, Trekkie Monster; the lewd, seductive and promiscuous Lucy The Slut; the crabby and unfortunately-named Mrs Thistletwat; the malicious and manipulative Bad Idea Bears; henpecked Brian; highly-strung Christmas Eve and Gary Coleman, who is a caricature of the late television celebrity.
With a great sense of community in their run-down neighbourhood, these characters do allow the individual players to perform the show as an ensemble piece and all play important roles in the story.
In terms of performances in this local amateur premiere production, full marks go to everyone, including Jonathan Brown, Rachel Keys, Joshua Martin, Ben McDaid, Vincent Vyce, Rachel McAdam, Rachel Hume, Ben Logan, Tara Lally, Raya Smith and Mark McClean.
I was particularly impressed with this cast – as I was a few weeks ago with a similarly young and dedicated cast in another local amateur premiere, Starlight Express – because each took on, and succeeded, with learning an additional discipline for its production … roller skating and the art of puppetry, respectively.
Using a mix of hand and rod puppets, the puppeteers were never hidden from view, but dressed in black to distinguish them from the show’s other ‘human’ characters.
There was much more skill here than just the operation of the puppets and maintaining such perfect timing, as this cast had the ability to truly bring their fluffy and cuddly characters to life, while also keeping up a high standard of acting, singing and stage movement.
Staged on a solid, practical and authentic street (or avenue) set, complete with steps, doors, mail-boxes, bins and numerous windows, this challenging show also called for so many lighting and projection cues that (Stage Manager) Michael Gorman and his entire stage and technical team certainly earned any amount of credit that we can offer them.
Due to obvious restrictions with the nature of the performances, Emily Olive Boyd’s choreography and movement was, by necessity, more effective than energetic.
This was a demanding challenge in itself, but one that was well executed throughout in this slick and fast-paced production.
Indeed, the choreography of the singing boxes during the song, Purpose, was a highlight as, unlike any other musical, it is difficult to put this show in a box, yet these singing boxes had no such problem with fitting in here.
As one would expect from a show with puppets, the score was generally light and happy sounding (even if the lyrics didn’t always match this bouncy American pop style) and Musical Director, Wilson Shields, and his small band made everything sound so much bigger and better as the show bounced along at a fine old pace.
The musical highlights included: My Girlfriend, Who Lives In Canada (which must take some sort of prize for its lyrics alone); and, in the middle of all of the up-tempo numbers, the gentle ballad, There’s A Fine, Fine Line; and the big ballad, I Wish I Could Go Back To College with its outstanding harmonies for such a small ensemble.
Other songs with titles like If You Were Gay, Everyone’s A little Racist, The Internet Is For Porn and I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today highlight just how unconventional this piece is, as was breaking the fourth wall during The Money Song and watching puppets date, drink, dance and even have sex.
However, despite my personal reservations (I am neither a prude nor was I offended, but I just don’t rate comedy that aims for cheap laughs with shock tactics), my job is to review the production rather than the show and, this show does have morals, lessons, a message, a heart and a sense of community and, thanks to this skilled company of young performers and Shane Johnson’s mature direction, this production achieved the right balance and it was all of this that shone through here and it is this that I took away with me… and, surely, that was the ‘purpose’ of staging the piece … wasn’t it?
Belvoir Players Amateur Dramatics Society
Belvoir Players Studio Theatre
Tue 26-Sat 30 Sept, 2017
Photos: Melissa Gordon, Gorgeous Photography