Life in rooms with a Q

princeton and the bad idea bears

Princeton, centre, with Tom Steedon, torn by the suggestions that all seem good ideas at the time from the Bad Idea Bears held by Stephen Arden and Jessica Parker

Avenue Q

Lichfield Garrick

****

IT’S 12 years since multi-award winning Avenue Q and its mix of puppets and humans first stepped out on to the stage, and some years since I first saw it, but it is still as fresh today as it was then thanks to a young, hard-working and enthusiastic cast.

It is a top class show, with some great singing, clever acting and the novelty that it is an adult show that demands imagination – something adults tend to use less and less as the reality of normal life wears them down – and requires a suspension of belief few other shows would dare ask of their audience.

It is a show with three human characters and 11 puppets, but these are not just ordinary puppets, they are puppets carried around the stage by the actors, who have had to learn the skills of puppeteers and not only have to do the voices of up to three characters, but also have to portray their feelings with gestures and expressions, actor and puppet in unison, all while carrying a puppet around and making it appear real.

And daft as it may seem the audience very quickly see puppet and actor as a single entity and, even dafter, start to care about them as people.

Perhaps that is because the loosely coming Kate Monsterof age storyline strikes a chord about leaving college, about growing up and looking for a purpose while confronting social issues head on.

We have Princeton, the newly minted graduate full of ambition and dreams, but not really sure what they are, who is searching for his life's elusive purpose. He  played, or rather carried by Tom Steedon, who opens with the plaintive song What do you do with a BA in English? which seemed to find a measure of agreement among many in the audience. Degrees are fine . . . as long as you have an inkling of what you want to do!

A sad Kate Monster with Lucie-Mae Sumner

The excellent Steedon also carries Rod, a rather staid, prim and proper, staunchly Republican, investment banker;  just the sort of attributes required to guarantee he is not going to declare he is gay and which makes him the subject of messy straight roommate Nicky’s song If you were gay.

Nicky is played by Stephen Arden, who also plays Bad Idea Bear and the wonderful Trekkie Monster, star of the The Internet is for Porn song.

It is easy to see similarities with Sesame Street in Avenue Q, after all it provided the original inspiration, and it is not difficult to see Bert and Ernie in Rod and Nicky while Trekkie is the Cookie Monster’s distant cousin with an obsession with nookie rather than cookies.

The original cast had four of the Sesame Street cast in its line-up although it should be noted that Sesame Street and the Jim Henson company have nothing to do with Avenue Q beyond their show giving creators Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx the original idea..

There are a few other home truths thrown out as well such as in the song Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist to add racism to homosexuality and pornography in the adult themes touched upon.

Through it all are a couple of love stories, Christmas Eve, a human, played by Jacqueline Tate, and her husband, Brian, played by Richard Morse, who was told he would be getting married, and then there is Princeton and Katy Monster, carried around by Lucie-Mae Sumner, who also plays Lucy the Slut, the, er, slut of the piece.

Lucie-Mae shows a fine voice and a remarkable range in her singing between the sweet innocent monster – told you belief had to be suspended – and sultry, sexy, jazzy Lucy, the night club singer and good-time girl

Interfering with their lives were the bad idea bears, the second played by Jessica Parker, who also plays the dictatorial head of the school where Kate works, Mrs. Thistletwat.

She also doubles up as the Trekkie Monsterother hand in live hands puppets Nickie and Trekkie – no rest for anyone in this production.

The show is also about dreams. Kate wants to build a Monstersori school for monster kids, and it does have its touching moments and some fine songs, such as Fantasies Come True and the love song There's a Fine, Fine Line.

Throw in very funny naked puppet sex – not the easiest when nobody bothered to make the rest of Princeton and Kate from the waist down – and a couple of video screens and you have a complete show with one character perhaps summing it all up – Gary Coleman, played by Ellena Vincent.

Stephen Arden and Jessica Parker with Trekkie Monster who had a sad childhood and now has  . . . interesting hobbies

Coleman was the child star of Diff’rent strokes, with a glittering career before him but ended up suing his parents and a decade later being  bankrupt, finally dying in 2010 at the age of 42, after a life if ill health.. Marx and Lopez offered the original role to Coleman but he never turned up to the meeting. Casting Gary Coleman as the building superintendent in the apartments in Avenue Q where the story unfolds they saw as epitomising the way we are told we are special as children but when we become adults life is nowhere near as easy as we have been led to believe. Child megastar Coleman was, in reality, in failing health and reduced to bit parts in real life, in the show the one time chid star is making a living as a building superintendent.

The character is perhaps losing impact as Coleman, Diff’rent Strokes ended in 1986 so new audiences perhaps might have no idea who he is, but the character, a child star now in a menial job as an adult, still works. There were a couple of technical problems on the night  - these things happen - but that hardly detracted from what is an entertaining, lively and, behind all the comedy, a thought provoking show, all helped by an excellent six piece band under Musical Director Daniel Griffin..Directed by Cressida Carré it runs to 26-07-14

Roger Clarke

24-07-14

Avenue Q returns to the Midlands at the end of the current tour with the final venue The New Alexandra Theatre from Sept 16-20

 New Alexandra Theatre

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