Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Avenue Q

Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty
Theatre Royal Bath / Cameron Mackintosh
The Lowry, Salford

Kate Monster and Trekkie Monster

The phenomenon of Avenue Q seems to divide audiences. On the Manchester Theatre Awards panel last year, we had a split between those who couldn't imagine anyone not liking it and those who didn't understand how anyone could like it. The first night audience at The Lowry was firmly in the former camp, as the laughter and applause throughout and the standing ovation at the end showed.

Conceived as an affectionate send-up of Sesame Street and created specifically by the writers to appeal to their twenty-something friends who claim not to like any musicals, it is set on the titular street inhabited, like Sesame Street, by a mixture of puppet and human characters. New resident Princeton arrives fresh from college wondering "What Do You Do With A BA In English?" and is given an apartment by the superintendant, former child TV star Gary Coleman.

There is a growing romance between Princeton and Kate Monster—some of the puppet characters are monsters, leading to the realisation that "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist"—plus there are room mates Rod and Nicky, one of whom may be gay, porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster (who strongly believes that "The Internet is For Porn") and human couple Brian and Christmas Eve. Oh, and the very cute Bad Idea Bears who cause havoc whenever they appear.

It can't be said that the book has a strong plot exactly, but there is enough story and wit in it to keep everything moving along nicely with some moments that are very funny or very rude (often both), but where it scores most highly is with the songs. There are some very well-crafted lyrics that can have you rocking with laughter, such as those mentioned above or "Schadenfreude", or those that that are quite moving, such as "Fantasies Come True" or "There's A Fine, Fine Line", or even those that manage to do both at the same time; "I Wish I Could Go Back To College" never fails to leave me with a tear in the eye.

Avenue Q is touring with a strong cast, some of whom have toured with it before and some newcomers, all trained in puppeteering by the great Nigel Plaskitt who has worked on everything from The Muppet Show and Spitting Image to several Muppet films, Labyrinth and Little Shop of Horrors, and was even the famous (at the time) Malcolm in the old Vicks Sinex ads.

The two key pairings are Sam Lupton as Princeton and Rod and Katharine Moraz as Kate Monster and night club singer Lucy the Slut, both of whom give great performances. Great support also from Matthew J Henry as Gary, Edward Judge as Brian, Chris Thatcher as Nicky and Trekkie and Julie Yammanee as Christmas Eve, with Daniella Gibb as several others.

For me, this is a great night out with characters you can care for, great songs, lots of very funny moments and sex between consenting puppets, but, as they say, your mileage may vary.

Reviewer: David Chadderton