In the year that Jim Henson’s Muppets got their big screen revival and Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey – the story of Kevin Clash, the man behind the infamous puppet – hits UK screens, it seems appropriate that the award-winning Broadway puppet musical Avenue Q should embark on its first UK tour.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Broadway smash hit, imagine that the muppets from Sesame Street grew up, discovered booze, sex and swear words, and sang about it. The show follows the trials and tribulations of young Princeton, fresh out of college with no idea about the world, and the residents of the rundown estate of Avenue Q.
The show is hilarious, the songs are as catchy as they are rude, but best of all it is heartwarming, and a clever homage to the man who reinvented the sock puppet into one of the world’s best-loved characters all those years ago.
It is easy to see the links with childhood favourite Sesame Street, from the two room-mates – the uptight, closeted Rod and the sweet but bumbling Nicky – to the loud, overbearing Trekkie Monster, the innocent Kate Monster, and the washed up janitor Gary Coleman. Avenue Q even teaches important life lessons through some of its brilliant songs, including “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet is for Porn.”
However, the true brilliance of the show may lie in the production techniques; each puppet is either controlled by one or two people, and many of the cast play two or more characters, often conversing with themselves on stage.
The actors perform alongside the puppets, giving a personality and expression to their furry exterior. It is an incredible feat, one that should be admired.
It is hard to pick out anyone in particular who shone brighter than the rest; whether it was Sam Lupton as the preppy straight-faced Princeton and the overly camp conservative Rod, or Katharine Moraz as the sweet Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut (I’ll let you work out that one).
Chris Thatcher played some of the best characters, from the perverted Trekkie Monster to the bumbling Nicky.
Out of the human cast (the ones who don’t have a puppet on their arm), it was probably Matthew J Henry as down-and-out Gary Coleman who had the audience in the most giggles.
The true joy of Avenue Q is that it is as funny as it is sweet, as camp as it is ridiculous, as controversial as it is innocent, but really there is nothing quite like watching puppets talk about sex, booze and masturbation in the form of song.
Avenue Q was on at the Lowry Theatre between Tuesday 8 May and Saturday 12 May. More details of the tour can be found here.