Avenue Q was a hit when it opened on Broadway in 2003, winning 3 Tony awards and becoming one of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history. The musical, a raunchy parody of Sesame Street, is most well-known for its use of puppetry.
The press event made it clear that this is a comedic show that is certainly not suitable for children. It was held at Oscar’s Bar on Canal Street. With theatre posters all over the walls and speakers playing show tunes, this is already a bar cultivated for theatre fans. The atmosphere was casual, with the cast (and three of the puppets) sitting and chatting at a table, amongst the audience.
Firstly, we were treated to Lawrence Smith performing ‘Purpose’ with the puppet of Princeton. Smith also plays Rod. At first, I was unsure whether to watch him or the puppet he was controlling, but I settled on watching them both – and that is what really made the performance. The puppet’s mouth moved entirely in time with his and therefore you can really appreciate how much effort is being put in by the performers who have to sing, act, and give life to their puppets. The song was accompanied with beautiful harmonies from the ensemble seated around the bar.
Next, Cecily Redman, who plays Kate and Lucy the Slut, sang the Act One finale, ‘There’s a Fine, Fine Line’. This was followed by the comedic duet, ‘Schadenfreude’, performed by Ellis Dackombe, who was covering the role of Nicky, and Nicholas McLean who plays the human character, Gary Coleman (yes, that one). This number had me giggling as they recounted laughing at the suffering of others, such as when a vegetarian finds out they’ve accidentally eaten chicken.
The audience were then encouraged to ask questions, all of which were answered in a pleasant conversational manner. McLean revealed that the greatest struggle in the play is having to look the puppets in the eyes when he is onstage, rather than the performers themselves. Meanwhile, Redman talked about the process of controlling the puppets. It took the cast months to learn how to do it, and she reflected back on how bad she must have been at puppetry during the rehearsal process.
Jasmine Beel, who understudies several female roles in the show, talked of how scary it is to be told just fifteen minutes before the curtain opens that she is going on that night. However, it is also an incredibly exciting experience. Smith joked that the puppet sex scene taught him a lot about heterosexual sex, receiving laughter and applause from the audience, who were, of course, sat in the middle of Gay Village.
Lastly, the actors all reminisced about how some audience members reacted to the more adult themes in the show. In one of their performances, they could see a very religious man crossing himself. Another time, there was a family with children in the front row who, no doubt, thought a musical with puppets would be family-friendly. Apparently, the parents were gasping throughout at each rude joke.
Avenue Q is playing at the Palace Theatre until 26th October.