Broadway and West End hit, now on it’s second UK tour, Avenue Q’s reputation precedes itself; an adult puppet show, dirty songs, politically incorrect. Essentially this is the story of what happens when Sesame Street puppets grow up and have to deal with the problems of the real world; relationships, confusing sexuality, trying to find a job armed only with a useless degree. All put to song.
It’s a beautifully simple concept that creates a multitude of comic possibilities, which, on the whole, are exploited to the fullest. There is an instant thrill in seeing puppets behaving badly and this cheeky subversion of expectation creates huge goodwill, which gives the show instant momentum. This would only last so long however if there wasn’t another layer to the production.
This is found in Avenue Q in the quality of the songs and the talent of the performers. All gimmicks aside, the musical numbers in the show are brilliantly crafted, more often than not going beyond mere genre pastiche and standing on their own as great examples of modern musical theatre composition. Although, on occasion there are songs that don’t push the narrative forward and seem to be included just to allow another naughty subject matter to be put to music.
Little effort is made to hide the performers behind the puppets which can be a distraction simply because they are so mesmerising to watch. It is one thing being able to sing show tunes to a high standard but to do it while operating a large, furry puppet is captivating. The most impressive exponent of this art is Katherine Moraz, who not only possesses a superb singing voice but also often flips vocally between multiple characters in the same scene with incredible dexterity.
Ultimately, Avenue Q isn’t quite as naughty as you may have been led to believe (although I would question it’s suitability for 12 year olds as the promotional material suggests) but that isn’t to the detriment of the show. Of course, it is an intrinsic aspect of its USP but the show has so much more going for it than that and deserves to be respected as simply a very well put together piece of musical theatre. Smutty puppets are a bonus of course.