UPDATED, Fri 17 Feb 2006 @ 1.00pm: London casting and further creative credits have now been added to the end of this story.

As previously tipped (See The Goss, 12 Jan 2006), the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Avenue Q will receive its UK premiere this summer, now coming directly into the West End. It will be the first production in Cameron Mackintosh’s refurbished and newly renamed Noël Coward Theatre (currently the Albery), where – in keeping with its word-of-mouth success in the US - it starts a lengthy preview period on 1 June 2006 ahead of a press performance on 28 June.

Avenue Q began its life at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre before transferring in July 2003 to Broadway’s Golden Theatre, where it went on to win three 2004 Tonys including Best Musical. The offbeat show features a cast of just seven humans – three of them playing humans, the rest manipulating multiple puppets that include a closet gay puppet called Rod, a porn-addicted puppet called Trekkie Monster, and a puppet looking for love called Kate Monster.

It’s billed as a musical form of “Sesame Street meets South Park” and, despite its sending up popular kids TV shows, it carries the warning \"full puppet nudity, not suitable for children.\" With a score by Broadway neophytes Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and a book by Jeff Whitty, songs include \"Everyone\'s a Little Bit Racist\", \"The Internet Is for Porn\" and \"You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You\'re Makin\' Love)\". It’s directed by Jason Moore.

Originally, Avenue Q was intended to receive its London premiere at Theatre Royal Stratford East in an eight-week season starting this month ahead of a West End transfer care of Cameron Mackintosh and his American partners (See News, 21 Jul 2005), but those plans were shelved because it was deemed too expensive to produce the show for two separate venues.

Confirmation of Avenue Q’s London opening comes a day after US producers announced that the Las Vegas production of the musical will close after just five months – to make way for last year’s Tony Award winner Spamalot, which receives its West End premiere at the Palace Theatre in October (See News, 20 Jan 2006).

Speaking in today’s Evening Standard, Cameron Mackintosh said that mounting the London production of Avenue Q is “totally a gamble”. He explained that the show would succeed or fail on “purely word of mouth”. According to the impresario, “the only marketing we’re going to do is get as many people in to see it at the lowest price that is humanly possible in the first few weeks and hope they tell their friends that they’d be fools to miss it.”

The Las Vegas production has reportedly been playing to 65% in 1,200-seat theatre. In the West End, the musical will find a more intimate home at the Noël Coward which, at 870 seats, is much closer in size to the 796 Golden Theatre, where Avenue Q is still running on Broadway. Currently at the Albery/Coward, Peter Stein’s production of David Harrower’s two-hander Blackbird, starring Roger Allam and Jodhi May, opened this week and is booking until 13 May 2006.

The London production of Avenue Q has been auditioned in collaboration with Theatre Royal Stratford East. The cast of newcomers and seasoned West End performers includes: Whatsonstage.com Award nominee Giles Terera (Jailhouse Rock, The Rat Pack) as Job, Julie Atherton (Notes from New York) as Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut, Jon Robyns (as Princeton/Rod), Simon Lipkin (Nicky/Trekkie Monster), Clare Foster (Mrs T), Naoko Mori (Christmas Eve) and Sion Lloyd (Brian) as well as Luke Evans, Matthew J Henry, Gloria Onitiri, Gabriel Vick and Yanle Zhong.

Avenue Q has puppets conceived and designed by Rick Lyon, musical supervision by Stephen Oremus, and choreography by Ken Roberson. Scenic design is by Anna Louizos, costume design by Mirena Rada, lighting design by Howell Binkley, and sound design by Acme Sound Partners. The musical is produced in the West End by Kevin McCollum, Robyn Goodman, Jeffrey Seller, Vineyard Theatre, the New Group and Cameron Mackintosh.

Public booking opens on 13 March 2006.

- by Terri Paddock