Thursday, 4 June 2009

Avenue Q, June 4, 2009 ****

 Avenue Q 
Music & Lyrics by Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx, Book by Jeff Whitty
Where and When: Comedy Theatre, from June 4 , 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

AVENUE Q is the Tony Award winning love child of a threesome between Sesame Street, wicked South Park and urban grunge musical, Rent. Picture Muppets with booze and sex and you have Avenue Q. 

This slick, funny Australian production is deftly directed by Jonathan Biggins and set in a shabby, low-rent, tenement block designed by Richard Roberts.  The versatile cast of singer-actors is exceptional. All but three also manipulate puppets, which makes a fascinating performance challenge.

It is a mystery how writers, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, got away with blatantly ripping off Jim Henson and portraying Gary Coleman (Cherine Peck). But Marx is a lawyer so he must have dotted his i’s The street, songs, cute lessons and the characters all echo the Muppets. There is a Trekkie Monster (Luke Joslin) instead of Cookie Monster, Lucy T. Slut (Michala Banas) replaces Miss Piggy and Rod, the gay banker (Butel) and his scruffy, room mate, Nicky (Joslin) parallel Bert and Ernie.

And here the show departs on its own adult tracks. Bright-eyed college graduate, Princeton (Mitchell Butel), laments his unemployability in his song, What Do You Do With a BA In English. He meets his low rent neighbours on Avenue Q, including soon-to-be-lover, the furry geek, Kate Monster. Everybody feels like a loser in this street when they sing the very funny, It Sucks To Be Me.

A very tight, off-stage band plays the vivacious, poppy tunes. The lyrics are cunning and cheeky rather than wicked. Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist is a simple but insightful commentary on contemporary racism and political correctness.

There are several poignant songs. There’s A Fine, Fine Line, sung by Banas, is about love and friendship while Nicky’s buddy song to Rod, If You Were Gay (but I’m not gay), is a sympathetic acceptance of his gay friend.

But there are plenty of rollicking numbers. The Internet Is For Porn is a big, raunchy rock tune. One of the wildest scenes involves the entire cast singing You Can Be As Loud As You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love) while Kate Monster and Princeton get down and dirty in a puppet way. It’s the funniest puppet sex scene since Team America. Another highlight were the sweet-faced and devilish, Bad Idea Bears.

Butel is compelling, funny and multi-talented playing Princeton and Rod, and is perfectly matched by Banas who plays Lucy T. Slut as well as Kate Monster. They perform some extraordinary acting feats by simultaneously playing two characters each.

 The show is a riot albeit a bit too long.

By Kate Herbert

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