Date of Show: Sunday, 6th May 2012
Venue: Phoenix Theatre, Elwood
Review by: Sofia Monkiewicz
I was lucky enough to see Avenue Q when it premiered in Melbourne back in 2009. It was professional musical theatre at its best, incorporating the usual singing, dancing and acting combination into a great show, but also bravely adding puppetry to the mix. To be honest, I did not expect a community theatre performance to compare to a professional show in the slightest, but I was absolutely blown away by the high standard of the latest production by JYM Theatre Company.
Avenue Q is a colourful and crude show that mixes unconventional musical theatre issues such as racism, homosexuality, sex, pornography and schadenfreude, with the usual, generally corny themes of love, friendship, ambition and believing in yourself. It centres on the life of Princeton (Sam Anderson), a recent university graduate, with no foreseeable prospects who moves into an apartment on Avenue Q. While looking for a job and a purpose, he meets the other interesting inhabitants of the cheap, rundown street, and we follow them as they sing and dance their way towards their individual happy endings.
From the adorably naïve Kate Monster (Emma Harris) to the porn-obsessed, hilariously horny Trekkie Monster (Josh Prince); and from Gary Coleman (Romi Freedman), an oddly perfect parody of the washed-up child star, to bickering roommates Rod (Grant Buse) and Nicky (Jonathan Goldberg), who both claim wholeheartedly that they are straight, but it is clear at least one of them is a liar; Avenue Q is full of vibrant characters, in more ways than just their appearances. The puppeteers were incredibly energetic, with flawless American accents and funny expressions—so much so that, at times, I found myself watching the actors more than their respective puppets. This is especially true for Buse’s nasally, closeted Rod, who was so wonderfully expressive that he basically stole the show from his puppet. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him whenever he was on stage.
The majority of the actors even looked like their puppets, and whether that was intentional or not, it was a nice touch.
Directed by Pip Mushin, Avenue Q opened strongly with ‘It Sucks To Be Me’, introducing the main characters and providing some background about each of them as they sing about why they aren’t happy with their lives. The song set the pace – and the high standard – for the rest of the performance, as it was well-polished, articulate, entertaining and extremely funny. The first F-bomb was also dropped in the opening couple of verses, so it became clear quite quickly that this was no ordinary child-friendly musical.
Attempting to pick out the strongest songs of the show is practically impossible, as they were all well-written and effortlessly performed. ‘If You Were Gay’, ‘The Internet Is For Porn’, and ‘You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love)’ probably resulted in the most laughter from the audience, but ‘A Mix Tape’, ‘Fantasies Come True’, and ‘There’s A Fine, Fine Line’ were slower and more poignant, with a subtler sense of humour. The six-piece orchestra were faultless, and managed to compliment the action on stage without drowning out the performers - a problem that many community musicals tend to have. The quality of the music in the first act was much tighter and more memorable than the second act, but the cast’s energy never faltered, so the audience never had the chance to lose interest.
The set was very impressive. From the outside, it looked like a dingy street, with run-down brick apartments, a few windows and doors, and a couple of scattered metal bins. Throughout the performance, various parts of the set opened out to depict living spaces inside the block of flats. The windows all opened, a ledge came out to indicate the viewing platform of the Empire State Building, and the ‘simple’ set became a complex performance staple, and was utilised well by the actors.
The choreography was, for the most part, good. It was repetitive and messy at times during the bigger musical numbers, but it is understandably difficult to dance with a puppet, so this was not much of an issue. In terms of lighting, the use of the spotlight occasionally missed the mark, struggling to keep up with the fast-moving actors, especially when they were popping up in window frames and doorways with no warning. The animated projection did not seem to fit with the rest of the show—it was amateur and weak and looked a little ‘homemade’, and although the content was amusing, it could have done with being more polished.
Overall, JYM’s production of Avenue Q was crazy but fun, sweet but filthy, seamlessly put together, and inappropriately hilarious. Unsuitable for children, this adult version of Sesame Street combined a variety of comedic characters, some touching themes, a couple of corny messages, and a graphic puppet sex scene into a fantastic show about finding your purpose in life. And if JYM’s purpose was to put on a thoroughly enjoyable show, then they definitely achieved that.