When Avenue Q won Broadway’s Tony Awards triple crown in 2003, some people were surprised. This deceptively simple musical (more a series of vignettes) which features “full frontal puppet nudity and other vulgarities” wasn’t the usual stuff that hit musicals were made of, but Robert Lopez and Jeff Mars channelled their inner kids to give us an Adults Only Sesame Street, and turned expectations upside down. Thirteen years later this new production proves that a good show is a good show, regardless of style or fashion. In fact, it seems that the rest of Musical Theatre has finally caught up with AQ in innovation and irreverence.
This new production has more energy, more ‘oomph, than the original Australian production and, dare I say it, better voices and more talent.
Nothing is tentative and the vitality is contagious, yet there’s plenty of subtlety and gentleness when needed. An integral part of this is Trevor Jones leading of a fabulous band with just the right amount of light and shade and great music chops; and Jason Bovaird’s marvellous lighting design, filled with colour and movement, snap precision timing and great storytelling.
The cast is stupendous. A young theatre goer next to me (American) googled the names in the interval because she couldn’t believe they were Australians. But we no longer have to play second fiddle to overseas talent (we never did, but that was the perception) – each performer was amazing in their own right, and surely this show has never been sung better. Ross Hannaford, as Princeton, the nerdy graduate looking for his purpose in life, and as Rod, middle-aged and still in the closet, gave us two totally different voices and characters, and sang beautifully. Small wonder he’s always in demand. Vincent Hooper was a sheer delight as Trekkie Monster and Nicky, and a standout as a Bad Idea Bear, partnered with the luscious and devilish Lulu McClatchy, whose comic timing is perfection.
Sophie Wright (Kate Monster & Lucy the Slut) showed why she is a hot property as a leading lady right now. Surely ‘It’s A Fine Fine Line’ has never been sung better. Andrew “Hondo” Hondromatidis (Brian) and Sun Park (Christmas Eve) were completely believable, funny, and added great vocals. You can’t ask for more than that.
Minor niggles are that the screen - for the wonderfully cheesy videos - could have been bigger, and the set might have been a little more adventurous; but Peter Snee’s direction is smart and electric charged, and the pace never lags. In the quieter moments Snee allows the emotion and the underlying message of friendship, family, being different and helping others, to take centre stage. This makes for a fully realised and three dimensional show - there's subtext galore for those who look for it and an abundance of laughter for everyone.
Avenue Q is a winner on all levels and Peter J Snee is a welcome addition to the Australian theatre scene.