Review: Avenue Q, New Wimbledon Theatre

Avenue Q first hit the stage in 2003: an offensive romp of a musical comedy that invites you down to Sesame Street, after hours. It’s the story of Princeton, a 22-year-old, BA English graduate, fresh out of college and trying to make it on his own in New York.

Nothing out of the ordinary here.

Oh, wait, also, he’s a puppet. As is the majority of the cast – with the exception of Princeton’s new neighbours, Brian and Christmas Eve, and the superintendent…Gary Coleman. The show blends the humans and puppets together in a world where puppets are essentially a race of their own.

One of the original shock comedies, the show was originally risqué. Having aged 16 years since conception and having had no major adjustments made, it bears thinking about whether the jokes will do quite so well in 2019. However Avenue Q proves that jokes about racism, sex, pornography, and suicide pack much less of an offensive punch when coming from the mouths of fluffy puppets…and caricatures of outdated celebrities, especially in a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The show is both funny, as it should be, and just a generally fun time, while also being surprisingly emotional and relatable.

Having been quite well-acquainted with the cast recording ahead of the show, I was surprised to discover that the musical is all-but sung-through. The songs are clear, separate pieces that don’t seem as though they should connect when you listen to them on their own. Yet, on stage, the movement from song to song is fluid.

The cast is superb, with all the actor/puppeteers portraying their fuzzy counterparts with aplomb and some fun performances from the human characters. Lawrence Smith’s bubbly bright-eyed energy works perfectly for Princeton and, though she is the only cast member without a solo, Megan Armstrong shines; her puppet and voice work consistently brought a smile to my face.

While everyone brings their A-game to the stage, Cecily Redman is positively magnetic as Kate Monster; her rendition of ‘There’s A Fine, Fine Line’ is a definite stand out point of the show.

This re-staging of Avenue Q has done a pretty good job at remaining relevant but the real joy of the production lies in the performance. With a cast this strong, the production was never going to go too far wrong. I have no doubt that they’ll bring a lot of laughter to the country as they tour, as long as their audiences get a kick out of onstage puppet humping, that is.

Avenue Q is touring the country until 10 August 2019. For more information and tickets, see the Avenue Q website.