Avenue Q

Cue JEFF CARPENTER’s review to boo, sudbue then eschew Avenue Q so you don’t have to.

Avenue Q Cambridge Arts Theatre Gary Coleman Jeff Carpenter Musical Puppets

Cambridge Arts Theatre, 9th-14th May, 7.45pm, £15-35

Directed by Jason Moore


Avenue Q is a show. It has music, it has puppets, it has jokes, and it has talented people on stage. But it doesn’t really have a plot, and doesn’t live up to the hype. I don’t think I know anyone I’d recommend this show to, but it may be that students aren’t its audience.

Loosely, it’s a spoof of Sesame Street, only the puppets say and do naughty things. It’s not a new idea, not really unique any more, and the quaint notion of puppet sex is a pretty tired gag; but it remains a good and funny concept.

It keeps some Sesame Street references, like the rather blatant Bert and Ernie rip-off (except ‘Bert’ is coming to terms with the fact he’s gay), the educational cartoon intercuts, and the look of the puppets and people. But these are afterthoughts – the main thing you watch is a bland rom-com with a meandering, weak storyline.

The cast consists of four puppeteers who provide the movement and voice for multiple characters, and three live actors who remain in the same roles. I myself am a total headcase about puppets, which is one of the reasons I was so drawn to this show. Unfortunately, I could never buy into the weird convention they use, where you see the puppeteer in full sight operating the small sawn-off puppet at all times.

The guys on stage are very skilled with the puppets, but when you have a larger, full-lit person with a face that isn’t made out of felt but actually emotes, your eye wanders and the magic is gone. Still, when the puppets aren’t obscured or undermined, the puppetry’s pretty great.

And all the actors are great too – they had uniformly brilliant vocal skills; the ensemble harmony numbers really sounding spot-on. Matthew Henry was my favourite live actor, announcing early on that he was ‘Gary Coleman’  with glee, looking tall, black, and nothing like Gary Coleman, who is sadly no longer with us.

Puppeteer Rachel Jerram also deserves credit for her surprisingly subtle portrayals of Kate Monster and Lucy T. Slut (T. stands for ‘the’), who both acted and sounded completely different. Praise too for her show-stopping singing.

The songs are the main attraction of the show. With titles like ‘The Internet is for Porn’ and ‘What do you do with a BA in English?’, you seem to be onto a winner. Unsurprisingly, Avenue Q was written with the song titles first, then songs, and then story, which might explain the show’s weak drive.

They have some good tunes, just nothing really remarkable – but then the music only ever really acts as a vessel for the lyrics. Unfortunately, like seeing the puppets for the first time, once you’ve heard a first line, you’ve heard the song. The funny ideas don’t really develop beyond the initial premise, much like the show itself. However, there were some brilliant orchestrations by Stephen Oremus, so the weeny four-piece band always sounded lively, thick and exciting.

Basically, I was a bit disappointed. We all enjoyed the talent on stage, we all laughed (the old guy behind me was still wheezing out chuckles after the aforementioned porn number), but I didn’t leave feeling satisfied with a good show, and it’s certainly a reminder not to believe all the publicity you see around town. “The funniest show I’ve ever seen”? I’ve seen funnier this term.