Review: Avenue Q, New World Stages

This show was a delight to see and I’m grateful I saw it as my first show in New York. Avenue Q, the 2004 Tony Award winning Musical, is still, not to my surprise, entertaining audiences Off-Broadway, years on from its inception. Its uncomplicated storyline blended with its dark humour makes for an enjoyable and heart-warming night out. Although I saw this show in 2009, I still found myself laughing at the well delivered jokes and humming the score as I left the theatre.

This musical follows the lives of the residents of Avenue Q, a fictional outer borough of New York City. In particular we follow Princeton, the wide-eyed English graduate, as he tries to navigate his way through life after College and the challenges it entails. The opening number ‘It Sucks To Be Me’ perfectly introduces the predicament faced by the rest of the characters in the show. My favourites including: Kate Monster, the hopeless romantic; Brian, the unemployed aspiring comedian; Rod, the closeted homosexual investment banker and Gary Coleman the Superintendent.

The score, by Robert Lopez (written pre-Book of Mormon) and Jeff Marx, is hilarious in the way that it makes big musical numbers out of familiar themes and issues prevalent in society. A few of my favourites include ‘If You Were Gay’, ‘I Wish I Could Go Back to College’, ‘The Money Song’, ‘There’s a Fine, Fine Line’ and ‘For Now’. The cast recording is definitely one that I have listened to multiple times, and a joy to listen to live. It would be impossible to review Avenue Q without mentioning its unique and successful incorporation of puppetry. Within minutes of watching the show you find yourself directing your attention to the puppets rather than actors controlling them. But rather than making the show juvenile, it perfectly adds to the humour (particularly in one of the big musical numbers when two of the lead puppets have loud and wild sex).

One of my favourite aspects of New York Theatre is that the programmes are free! Skimming through the cast list, it became apparent that many of the actors were making their Off-Broadway debut. It truly is a merit to the show’s book that it does not need known actors for the show to sell well which is too often the case with theatre these days. The standout performance for me was Christmas Eve, played by Grace Choi. She brought a fresh injection of humour into every scene that she was in. This, combined with her powerful voice made it impossible not to look at her character whilst on stage. Ben Durocher had a tough job of playing both the lead character/puppet Princeton and Rod.  Although he wasn’t the strongest vocally, he was able to masterfully switch between the two characters. My other favourite was Gary Coleman played by Danielle K Thomas for her strong and soulful vocal chops.

As a new graduate, I found myself identifying with the themes such as relationships and ‘finding your purpose’, in this show so much more than when I watched it seven years ago. Particularly poignant was the finale ‘For Now’ which essentially provides comfort to all those in difficulty. It simply explains that there is no need to fret over any current trouble that you are facing as it will only be temporary. I surprised myself by feeling so swept up in this message of hope that I ended up shedding a tear or two.

I’m fairly certain that this show will enjoy a healthy run long into the future. Not only demonstrated by the fact that theatre was packed on the night that I saw it, but also that I often hear of touring productions in England. Interestingly enough I sat next to a consultant from Brazil who explained the production she saw in Portuguese perfectly captured the jokes of the English version. Due to the strength of the writing and the songs I have no doubt that I will be reviewing this timeless show in ten or so years time and still love it.

Rating: 7/10

Click here for my On the Spot Review of the show.


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