Brisbane Arts Theatre
October 17 – December 19
Avenue Q. You’ve probably heard of it; it’s adults only puppetry, ‘like Sesame Street on crack’. And the parallels are clear from the moment the show begins with a multicultural mix of neighbouring characters: live actors, puppets, monsters and someone in role as former child actor Gary Coleman (Natalie Mead) joined on the street stage, surrounded by mail boxes and fire-hydrants, ready to sing.
Once the lyrics begin, it becomes clear that despite the imitation iconography, this is clearly not a street upon which everything is A-Ok, as characters share lament in ‘It Sucks to Be Me”. Brian (Thom Gregg) is broke and unemployed and Kate Monster (Lara Boyle) is pretty and smart, but single. Enter puppet protagonist Princeton (William Toft), wondering what he’s going to do with a B.A. in English and love soon blossoms for Kate, despite attempted intervention by busty pole-dancing puppet Lucy The Slut (Lauren Ashlea Fraser). With the Bad Idea Bears (most notably Connor Clarke) trying to influence events to follow their ‘more drinks, more fun’ mantra, who knows if the puppet/monster mixed race romance will survive, especially as Princeton becomes more focussed on finding his purpose?
Relationship uncertainty is also apparent with Bert and Ernie-esque housemates, the well-groomed, obsessive, uptight and slightly hysterical closeted Rod (Gary Farmer) and his former College roommate and best friend Nicky (Trent Richards), leading to Act One’s memorable ‘If You Were Gay’. Clearly “Avenue Q” is like “The Book of Mormon” in that it thrives on the initial shock value of its content, in particular its skilfully written lyrics. And while it loses momentum a little in Act Two, its mix of upbeat catchy songs such as ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’ and sentimental reflections like ‘I Wish I Could Go Back to College’, make for a balanced soundtrack. And it isn’t all mockery, with ‘The Money Song’ making message of how when you help others, you can’t help helping yourself (if you ignore Gary Coleman’s gun). Indeed, the merit of the show’s three Tony Awards, including Best Musical, when it opened on Broadway in 2003, is evident and judging by the plentiful and appreciative audience, it is easy to see why Brisbane Arts Theatre has brought it back as part of their 2015 program.
Performers showcase various levels of talent, particularly vocally and initially music overplays some singing, but there are standouts, particularly amongst the primary puppeteers who make their characters relatable and forgivable, despite their other-worldliness. Toft does a commendable job as Princeton, however, it is Richards who conveys the most commanding presence both through and behind the puppets, dominating the stage in every instance, particularly as perverted Trekkie Monster making addiction admission in ‘The Internet is for Porn’.
The show offers a puppet cast of all shapes and sizes, including cameos from some familiar felt and furry favourites. It is a shame, however, that audience members seated in the balcony are unable to see the appearances of those most atop the stage. The choreography is engaging and staging, although always active and busy, is effective, allowing for subtle transitions of puppeteers to capitalise upon Richard’s characterisation talents, Everyone is visible, and although eyes may wander back and forth between puppet and human, it is of credit that, like in the recent “Thank You for Being A Friend”, it is not long into the two act musical before handlers are almost forgotten and audiences are focussed on the inanimate stars.
Offensive in its racist caricatures, say-it-as-it-is songs and puppet-on-monster sex scene montage, “Avenue Q” is as hilarious as it might be disturbing. Audience members who figure that inappropriate humour is often the best kind, will surely find this show right on Q and have at least one probably insensitive song on repeat in their head as depart ready to rave to friends to get themselves along to the lively, witty and mischievous work.