“Ethnic jokes might be uncouth, but you laugh because they’re based on truth”
Now in its third home in the West End in its fifth year altogether, Avenue Q is proving to be something of an enduring success which fills my heart with joy. It is a couple of years since I’ve seen it, but when it first came out I just fell completely in love with the show, and particularly with the opening cast, and ended up seeing it about 5 times in the space of two years. A couple of trips to later incarnations of the cast left me a little disappointed, Jon Robyns, Simon Lipkin and Julie Atherton were just the dream team for me, and plus I ran out of people to take to it, so I hadn’t thought I would go again. However, a visit from a dear musical loving Canadian friend and a slight booking snafu for Wicked with lastminute.com meant we ended up at the half price ticket booth at Leicester Square and we plumped for this familiar old friend.
Having seen it so many times and having the soundtrack on my iPod means I know the songs inside out now, but I do maintain that Avenue Q is one of the best new musicals to have been written in the last decade. So many of the songs are classics, instantly catchy and running the emotional gamut from laugh-out-loud funny (so many to choose from but my favourites are probably ‘If You Were Gay’, ‘The Internet Is For Porn’ and ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’) to tear-in-the-eye touching (the end of ‘Fantasies Come True’, the beginning of ‘It’s A Fine Fine Line’). And they are just so sharp lyrically, full of zippy one-liners and the ring of truth.
It was nice to be reminded of so many things I’d forgotten about: just how many jokes pop up Sesame Street style on the little screens; the singing boxes; how funny puppet blowjobs look; the wedding dress and subsequent freakout and above all, just how hard the cast work. In addition to covering at least two main roles, even the leads get in on the supporting action with backing vocals and moves with the aforementioned boxes.
Cassidy Janson manages the not inconsiderable feat of following in Julie Atherton’s superlative interpretation and brings her own particular spin to Kate Monster in particular, the opening verse of ‘It’s A Fine Fine Line’ has never been more moving. And I’m not sure if it’s a bug going round but we had understudies on for both Paul Spicer and Tom Parsons. Sam Harrison did extremely well as Princeton with a nice level of warmth and geniality in his performance, though I wasn’t as keen on his Rod who I found a little too screechily camp. But I was seriously impressed with Alan Pearson who was brilliant as Nicky, Trekkie Monster and one of the Bad Idea Bears, looking for all the world as if he does it every night. Elsewhere it was nice to see original Brian Siôn Lloyd back in the cast, and boy does he pack a mightily manly high-five! And whilst Jacqueline Tate’s Christmas Eve was bang on for most of the show, her ‘If You Ruv Someone’ occasionally slipped into perfect legibility, kinda missing the point of the song.
The current updating of the end of ‘For Now’ now means it is BP’s turn to get it in the neck which was a nice touch, but it has to be said that some of the Gary Coleman scenes were a little uncomfortable: Delroy Atkinson’s winning performance carried it almost all the way but a couple of moments felt just a little too close to the bone. I couldn’t tell if any lines had been altered and I suppose once we get a bit further from his death it won’t be as much of an issue, but it did feel a little odd to be laughing either at or with him.
It was so nice to see this show again after a couple of years, and interesting to see that it affected both me and my companion in a slightly different way to previously: whereas I’d always connected more with it on a career/life perspective, now I’m a little older, I found it had more relevance in its portrayal of relationships. It was still as enjoyable as ever and I hope it continues to run and run. It suits its new home in the Wyndhams very well, it benefits from the greater intimacy there than say the Gielgud, but if nothing else, this is the perfect show to take people who insist that they don’t like musicals to!