Broadway blockbuster Avenue Q, the 2004 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, is due to receive its hotly anticipated British premiere at the Theatre Royal Stratford East next year. According to a theatre spokesperson, speaking to, the musical will, subject to final negotiations, have an eight-week season starting in February 2006 (exact dates tbc) at the east London landmark, ahead of an expected West End transfer (See The Goss, 14 Mar 2004).

Avenue Q began its life at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre two years ago before transferring to Broadway’s Golden Theatre in August 2003. 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.

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, who is expected to reprise his creative duties on the UK production. Prior to London, a second staging of the show will open later this year in Las Vegas at the new Wynn Hotel.

If, following its UK premiere at Stratford East, the London production of Avenue Q then moves on to the West End as expected, it will mark the east London fringe theatre’s second transfer in less than year. Its own homegrown musical, the critically acclaimed ska-inspired The Big Life, about Caribbean immigrants to the UK, opened at the West End’s Apollo Theatre in May 2005, after its 2004 world premiere and a return season this past February at Stratford East.

Avenue Q has previously been mooted for a West End run at a theatre controlled by Delfont Mackintosh. Impresario Cameron Mackintosh recently confirmed that it would indeed be opening at one of the theatres in his stable next year (See News, 28 Jun 2005) - and it would appear that the Strand (now renamed the Novello), the Albery (to be renamed the Coward from late 2006) or Wyndham’s might be suitable candidates for a West End home.

The Avenue Q development renews an association Mackintosh began with Stratford East in 1990 when he transferred the theatre’s production of the Louis Jordan musical revue Five Guys Named Moe to the West End’s Lyric Theatre (where it chalked up a run of over four years), and two years later, to Broadway’s Eugene O’Neill (where it ran for just over a year).

Stratford East’s newly announced autumn/winter season will see Avenue Q preceded by: Rikki Beadle-Blair’s controversial new play Bashment, originally premiered at the theatre in May 2005, which will return for three weeks in October; Tanika Gupta’s new play Gladiator Games, produced in partnership with Sheffield’s Crucible Studio where it will run first before transferring to Stratford East for two weeks in November (See News, 23 Jun 2005); and the annual pantomime, which this year will be Pinocchio, running for a Christmas engagement in December and January.

Bashment, directed by the author, is set against the backdrop of homophobia in rap music, while Gladiator Games dramatises the case of Zahid Mubarek, an Asian teenager who was killed in a racist attack by a fellow inmate in 2000 when both of them were resident in the Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution.

Following Avenue Q’s premiere, the Stratford East autumn/winter season will culminate next year with a new stage version of the cult 1972 Jamaican film The Harder They Come, opening in April 2006. Jimmy Cliff, who starred in the film and also wrote songs for it including the title number, has already given permission for his music to be used in the stage version.

- by Mark Shenton