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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Avenue Q
Noel Coward Theatre 2006-2009; Gielgud Theatre 2009-2010; Wyndham's Theatre 2010

It's been called Sesame Street for grownups, and this Broadway hit musical-with-puppets is such a bouncy delight that you can forgive the occasional hint that they're trying a bit too hard to be naughty.  Go along and just give in to the fun.

As in a kiddy TV show, human characters interact with large puppets, with the difference that the puppeteers are always visible and acting along with their alter egos.

(The programme takes pains to declare that the Jim Henson company had nothing to do with this show, but the puppets are of a very familiar Muppet-like sort - think Miss Piggy and Cookie Monster rather than Kermit)

Puppets and people live in a low-rent district of New York, interacting freely. A puppet couple fall in love, break up and get back together; a human couple get married; a pair of puppet roommates quarrel. Everyone is unemployed or barely employed, and they spend a lot of time just hanging out and comically bemoaning their fate.

And so we get songs by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (who also came up with the original concept, developed into a script by Jeff Whitty) such as 'It Sucks To Be Me,' in which they happily one-up each other in tales of woe, or 'Everyone's a Little Bit Racist,' in which an anti-puppet slip of the tongue is glossed over and forgiven.

In one song a puppet assures his roommate that he doesn't mind if he's gay; in another, the guys - human and puppet - explain to the girls that the real attraction of the internet is porn.

The songs are all perky, infectious bubblegum pop, the jokes in between are generally pretty good, and the characters - human or fabric - are all attractive.

Yes, there is the occasional four-letter word, but one senses they're thrown in just to confirm that this isn't a kiddy show. Even the bawdiest scene, in which two puppets have sex, is sanitised by the fact that they only exist from the waist up. (My companion was a 12-year-old girl and, while some of the jokes may have been beyond her, there was nothing to shock or deprave her.)

Among the human characters, Ann Harada (the one carryover from Broadway) stands out as a Japanese social worker who can channel Liza Minnelli at will. And among the puppeteers, you'll have trouble taking your eyes off Julie Atherton, who manipulates and voices both Kate The Nice Monster and Lucy The Slut, sometimes simultaneously.

There are better musicals out there, and greater ones. I doubt if there are many that offer more just plain fun.

Gerald Berkowitz

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 Review - Avenue Q - Coward 2006