Avenue Q is a musical conceived by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who both wrote the music and lyrics, with assistance from playwright Jeff Whitty. This coming-of-age story not only addresses the struggles and worries of growing into adulthood, it parodies and satirizes through its catchy soundtrack, witty dialogue, and commentary on modern social issues. What is most unique about this show, is its ability to pay homage to children’s shows like Sesame Street, with its use of both puppets, and actors. It is this originality that has made this show a worldwide hit since its debut on Broadway in 2003 where it became a Tony Award winner, but be warned; this show is not for kids!
Waterdale’s production of Avenue Q has begun its short run of only four shows at Bundoora’s Rivergum Theatre, and while the number of shows is small, this hilarious musical makes for big laughs, and is an enjoyable evening that’s worth the last minute ticket.
From the opening audience disclaimer, which is delivered in a very clever and comedic way, it’s clear the audience is in for a treat. Waterdale have crafted a great show, with an eight-member cast that are all able to evoke emotion, bring laughs with their strong vocal and acting skills, and use of puppets to tell this story of self-discovery. Wade Robinson is fantastic and hilarious as characters Princeton and Rod, both portrayed in puppet form. Sarah Golding’s superb singing gives a tenderness and purity to puppet character Kate Monster, while Sasha Hennequin’s sarcasm and facial expressions are priceless in her acting role as Gary Coleman. Also notable are Andrew McDougall and Bianca Payne, who had the audience in stitches as their puppet characters; the Bad Idea Bears. Having the cast members unconcealed as they use their puppets is a great asset to the show, as the facial expressions made by Robinson, Golding, McDougall and Payne are not only side-splitting throughout, but they correlate well with the songs and dialogue.
Dee McDougall is to be commended for her efforts with the small number of costumes required for non-puppeteering cast members, as she has put together simple, yet effective designs that suit each character quite well. Her good work is displayed in the all-too-suitable costume for Hennequin’s portrayal of Gary Coleman. Congratulations are also in order for the puppet team at Flying Monkey Puppets & Props, whose designs are original, yet pay great tribute to the classic stylings of Sesame Street.
Set design for this show is well done, with a large backdrop setting that forms the picture of outer New York streets while tying in with that Sesame Street feel. However, certain scenes call for different locations other than a New York street, such as a bar, or a bedroom, and at times it isn’t clear as to what location a scene is taking place in. Small extra set pieces such as tables and beds assist in this, although sometimes it’s not always as effective as could be. This is a plus in parts though, as it allows scene changes to happen quickly. Each scene is well-lit, with colours and patterns that match the soundtrack and mood adequately. What’s great as part of the set is the use of a large television on one section of the stage, used fantastically to add humour, and provide segues in parts of the show.
Sound team Stagepass Production Systems and Gerard Hook do a great job of finding balance with cast vocals and music, despite a moment or two when it took a few seconds of singing or dialogue to find that balance. This small glitch requires some tweaking, which will hopefully be resolved throughout the remaining performances, as it caused a missed line, or an instrument being too loud at times. While this is a minor issue, it doesn’t detract from the fantastic six-piece band led by Shelley Dunlop. Dunlop and her band play these songs so well and with such precision that it’s an absolute compliment to the vocalist on stage. Especially superb are the numbers ‘Schadenfreude’, and the delicate ‘Mix Tape’, which are both lyrically hilarious.
Direction and choreography for a show that relies heavily on its use of puppets is always going to be a challenge, and Daniel Cooper has managed to succeed in keeping it simple, focusing less on big dance numbers, and more on character interaction and comedic delivery. Having an audience connect with puppets is no easy feat for any director, especially when these puppets sing about some questionable topics, but Cooper has found that connection, and a great cast delivers it. Notable is the use of the puppets tying in with the songs ‘Fantasies Come True’ and ‘You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want’, which would have been as hysterical to direct as they were to watch.
Overall, Waterdale’s Avenue Q is a fun, emotional and relatable production that is there to remind you not to take life, and yourself so seriously. It’s topical nature, sarcastic manner and priceless soundtrack kept the laughs going throughout, and Waterdale and all involved are to be commended for another great show. Take your partner, take your best friend, just don’t take the kids.