Review: Avenue Q
Written by Chris Harris on February 19, 2019
Avenue Q is an interesting play. An adult musical that addresses themes such as racism, sexuality, axiety and many more through a blend of Muppet-style puppets – with their controllers clearly present and providing more emotion to them – and hugely exaggerated stereotypes, it’s hard to describe Avenue Q in a way that does it justice.
The musical largely follows Princeton, a young graduate who is looking to find his purpose, but ends up getting stuck in a spiral of unemployment and uncertainty. His struggle is relatable to anyone who has struggled with finding their feet as an adult, as he sacrifices relationships and makes bad decisions on his way to finding the all-important purpose. Voiced and controlled by Lawrence Smith, he makes for a compelling lead and the actor’s voice and facial expressions help give the puppet more life and personality.
The other lead is that of Princeton’s love interest, Kate Monster, mastered by award winning actress Cecily Redman. Despite being a departure from her usual acting method, she seems completely at home with the puppets, as she controls both Kate and her rival for Princeton’s affections, Lucy. There are scenes where both interact, and she changes between the voices flawlessly. However, while Kate and Princeton are meant to be dating at one point, there is no build-up to this relationship, and very little chemistry between the characters written into the script. The actors do their best, but it still feels a little forced.
The rest of the play is filled out with a number of quirky and colourful characters, including the sadistic but childish Bad Idea Bears, the disgusting Trekkie Monster, and the exaggerated stereotype in Christmas Eve. Most of these characters are developed to the point that they need to be; they rarely steal focus, but manage to pack in some of the funniest moments, as well as some of the most poignant in regards to the adult themes. The friendship between Nicky and his closeted room-mate Rod is an interesting one that addresses homeless and homosexuality, as well as mental health, all explored through a series of songs. It is the only subplot that spans the entire play, besides Princeton and Kate’s relationship and struggle for purpose, and it has a satisfying and unexpected payoff.
Of course, this is a musical, so the quality of the play depends highly on the quality of the songs. The audience at the showing I attended were laughing out loud at almost every funny moment in them, with only a couple of lines not landing at all. Outside the comedy, the more serious numbers were handled well, and were written and scored brilliantly, with the stars of the show giving it their all. There are a few songs that stand out to me more than others (I’ve been humming the introduction song all day), but there are none that fall flat.
Avenue Q is a great play that handles some adult themes, and nails them almost everytime by suberverting expectations and tackling them with humour. While the humour can alternate between dark and immature, it is a consistent through-line that makes the play and the songs so enjoyable. Topped off with an amazing and talented cast, I would urge you to check out Avenue Q while it’s in town.
You can catch Avenue Q at the Derngate until February 22nd, or check out the show’s website here for more dates.