Theatre Review: AVENUE Q – Palace Theatre, Manchester

The cast of AVENUE Q UK Tour

Filthy, foul-mouthed and incredibly funny, AVENUE Q  is not the kind of puppet show you take your kids to see

4 out of 5 stars

As a long-time theatre reviewer, I’m ashamed to say that it’s taken me this long to see AVENUE Q. The Tony award-winning musical comedy first arrived in the UK back in 2006, spending two years in London’s West End before setting out on tour. Now, for the third time, AVENUE Q is back, with a new production directed and choreographed by Cressida Carré.

Best described as an X-rated version of kids’ TV show SESAME STREET, AVENUE Q tells the story of 22-year-old puppet Princeton, fresh out of college and trying to make it on his own in New York. Looking for a place to rent, he stumbles upon the quaint and affordable Avenue Q, where he meets his eclectic and quirky neighbours – porn-addicted Trekkie Monster, layabout Nicky and his closeted roommate Rod, as well as love interest Kate Monster. But without a job, Princeton’s life begins to unravel, leading him to question his purpose in life.

Cecily Redman as Kate Monster in AVENUE Q UK Tour

As you can guess from the description above, AVENUE Q is not the kind of puppet show you take your kids to see. In fact, it’s foul-mouthed and down-right filthy. Created by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez – the latter of THE BOOK OF MORMON fame – the show is packed with jokes about racism, sex, pornography and homosexuality, as well as the filthiest puppet sex scene you will ever see. Yet, just like THE BOOK OF MORMON is it also incredibly funny, resulting in a musical that is full of mischief and full of heart.

The real joy of AVENUE Q lies in the performance, with lead puppeteers Lawrence Smith, Cecily Redman and Tom Steedon particularly standing out for their quirky voices, hilarious expressions and incredible singing voices. Smith gives a particularly strong vocal performance as Princeton and Rod as does Redman as Kate Monster and Lucy The Slut, her vocal performance of THERE’S A FINE, FINE LINE standing out as a highlight. But it is Steedon who has the biggest vocal range as the high pitched Bad Idea Bear to the gruff Trekkie Monster.

Tom Steedon as Trekkie Monster in AVENUE Q

Marx and Lopez’s musical score also stands out for its unique, catchy and hummable tunes, many of which boast incredibly funny lyrics that will have you laughing out loud. The titles tell you a lot about what you’re getting – EVERYONE’S A LITTLE BIT RACIST, THE INTERNET IS FOR PORN and YOU CAN BE AS LOUD AS THE HELL YOU WANT (WHEN YOU’RE MAKIN’ LOVE) to name but a few – yet they are all lively and engaging, the juxtaposing of cute puppets with adult humour making for an uproarious night.

Of course, at 16 years old and with no major adjustments, AVENUE Q is starting to show its age a little. The musical isn’t as risqué as it once was and a few jokes don’t do quite as well in 2019, particularly with a UK audience. The caricatures of outdated celebrities also feel a little dated.

Yet, for all its rudeness, at its core, AVENUE Q has a warm heart, taking an honest look at the real-world dilemmas of growing up, as well delivering some serious messages about inclusiveness and tolerance. Just think twice before taking the kids along…

AVENUE Q runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until 26 October 2019