If you look in the programme of Avenue Q you won’t find a list of song titles; and that could possibly be some of the fun. If you’ve made it to the interval following Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, The Internet’s for Porn and a graphic puppet sex scene, it’s hard to imagine what might follow in the second act. For a first-timer, it’s is a comic revelation.
The show, about an apartment complex full of Muppet-style puppets living as neighbours in a shady part of New York, is like nothing ever seen on the Empire stage. Not, most definitely not for kids, it tells the story of aspirational college graduate Princeton, who moves into a grotty neighbourhood with dreams of finding a higher purpose in life. He meets a variety of neighbours, all puppets except for three humans – would-be comedian Brian, his Asian wife Christmas Eve, and handyman Gary Coleman (of Dif’rent Strokes fame). But will Brian ever discover what life is all about?
Avenue Q tests its performers in a variety of different ways. The actors perform with the puppets on their arms but don’t mime as ventriloquists; they have to belt out their numbers as if all eyes were on them, even if that’s not necessarily so. And in most cases there is doubling up as different characters, and even appearing on stage as two puppets at the same time.
And it’s great fun. Katharine Moraz as Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut showed incredible versatility alongside a fantastic voice. As Princeton and Rod, Sam Lupton was wonderfully entertaining; while Julie Yammanee ruled the roost as a rousing Christmas Eve.
The funny thing turns out to be that Avenue Q’s laughs really come from its realism. It’s about suspending disbelief; there’s something grounded in real life experience coming from the mouths of those fuzzy felt characters (after all, what do you do with a BA in English?). But let’s not overthink this – it’s just as funny to see a puppet talking filth.
Avenue Q is on at the Empire until Saturday (June 16).