Ever been slapped with the realisation that your life might not turn out like the adults you looked up to in your youth had promised? Ever felt the pang of uncertainty that comes with the onset of adulthood? Avenue Q , the family-not-friendly puppet show of shows, takes on the anxieties inherent in the transition into adult life from a world full of naïve promises and disappointing realities, and deals with them with a healthy dose of cynicism, nihilism and razor-sharp clever humour.
With human and puppet characters, operated by unconcealed puppeteer actors, Peter J Snee’s Avenue Q still feels as observant as it must have when it first hit Broadway in 2003. It hits the quirky, sometimes shocking, comedy on the head while finding the show’s heart.
First impressions are that it’s a small-feeling show in a big context, and director Peter J Snee maintains the feeling of it being both important and personal. From the opening, the harmonies of the ensemble and the sound of the band, led by musical director Trevor Jones, are equally impressive, as is the set that mimicks a Sesame Street that’s seen better days, designed by John Kerr.
Sophie Wright’s idealistic Kate Monster is sweetly funny, but her truly impressive moment is Act 1’s surprisingly moving “Fine, Fine Line”. She’s breathtaking with her powerhouse vocals filling the auditorium. Ross Hannaford’s Princeton is an adequate wide-eyed dreamer opposite for Kate, but in his secondary role of Rod, the closeted send-up of Sesame Street’s Bert, Hannaford is eccentric and downright hilarious.
Sun Park as Christmas Eve brings the house down with her comedic chops from her first appearance in “It Sucks to Be Me”, but one of the biggest surprises of the night is her transformation into soulful torch singer in “The More You Ruv Someone”; in a show littered with kinky puppet sex and taboo topics, this says something. Alongside Park, Andrew Hondromatidis as Christmas Eve’s deadbeat fiancé Brian was the perfect stereotype.
The entire cast’s comedic timing carried the show, with cast members often making seamless transitions from character to character, puppet to puppet, voice to voice. Vincent Hooper as Nicki, Trekkie and one of two Bad Idea Bears – a side-splittingly wrong satirisation of the Care Bears – and Zuleikah Khan as a bizarrely camp version of Gary Coleman were incredibly well cast, playing their characters to their clear comedic and vocal strengths.
In between the clever punch lines and laugh-out-loud I-can’t-believe-they-did-that songs, there are a few poignant moments. “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” resonates as characters’ longing for a simpler time in the face of a difficult search for themselves adds heart to the production. And with all of their hysterical pessimism, the residents of Avenue Q ultimately band together.
If the success of a comedy can be gauged by the frequency and quality of genuine laughs, Avenue Q is a winner. And if the audience comes away with one message, chances are it’s “Donald Trump is only for now”.