“Sunny days, sweeping the clouds away” and so began an hour of puppet mayhem, learning and fun for millions of kids back in the 1980’s.
In fact, to many, Sesame Street was the natural progressor to The Muppet Show and brought with it an extra dimension of the titular make believe street, a mix of puppets and humans and plenty of surreptitious learning. Well, now the Sesame Street gang have all grown up, struck out on their own and taken up residence across town in Avenue Q, and they’re quite a naughty bunch!.
Avenue Q is a madcap mixture of song and dance and is so engrossing that people and puppet merge into one, regardless of size, shape or thread count. Make no bones about it, this is not a Punch & Judy puppet show, nor is it a black screen with puppeteers hidden behind a curtain, this is a very talented cast who can all sing, dance, act and jest and do so whilst bringing to life their ‘alto ego’s’ . This show gives the audience double bubble – the puppets are all characters in their own right but the humans add themselves into the show so much that you’re not sure who to watch most. Add to that the freedom to explore (and exploit) more ‘grown up themes’ and you’ve got a show that takes aim at modern pop culture and hits it right between the eyes (though at times you don’t want to know what with).
The story centres around Princeton (controlled and voiced by Richard Lowe), a young graduate who moves to Avenue Q to start out on his own grown up adventure. Looking for his purpose in life, Princeton is soon befriended by all the residents, especially Kate Monster (whose human is the totally delightful Sarah Harlington). Kate, who is a Kindergarten TA, has her own dream of opening a school for monsters so that little ones don’t have to suffer the stares from ‘normal’ kids but is struggling to raise the funds to do so. They are joined on the Avenue by the hilarious Etisyai Philip playing superintendent Gary Coleman (yes he from Different Strokes), Ariana II who is the Asian American ‘Christmas Eve’ and her chunky stand up wannabee boyfriend Brian (Richard Morse).
The rest of the gang all have their own back stories which we explore in a series of hilarious song and dance routines taking great joy in breaking away from the child friendly offerings normally associated with puppetry, including unrequited love between Nicky and Rod, the onanistic bedroom antics of Trekkie Monster and the corrupting 2 Bad Idea Bears. So that’s pretty much every possible group covered and non are sacred.
For many of us who grew up watching Sesame Street, we always believed there were hidden messages, sub-contexts and unsaid stories, (more often to do with sex, race, drugs, drink, prejudice and greed), that have fallen into popular urban legends – Avenue Q says to hell with sub context, let’s tell it as it is, loud, proud and right in your face. We are treated to a rather steamy one night stand, the perils that drink can have on your work life, the dangers of suppressing feelings, the true use for the internet (!) and how love will win out in the end.
With this year’s GCSEs and A Levels almost done, Avenue Q would be a perfect way to celebrate and start the summer – hope to see you there but remember to bring your tissues.