Sunderland Empire, 12 July 2019
So, what do you do with a BA in English? Princeton has no idea, and nowhere to live. And having looked from Avenue A downwards for somewhere in his price range, here is where he finds himself. Sesame Street this ain’t.
If Avenue Q is known for any one thing, it’s the song The Internet Is For Porn, which turned up in early youtube World of Warcraft machinima videos. But there’s much more to it than that. The show first appeared in the early noughties, and even then (before the financial crisis) it captured the increasingly familiar millennial travails of higher debt, and a twenties casting around for more meagre rewards in increasingly insecure, while carrying more debt than their parents (from student loans, for exmaple). But if this is staring to sound depressing, don’t be fooled: Avenue Q is funny. And rude. This works all the better when you see it in the flesh, and see the disjoint between the content and the fact that the characters saying all of the things they are articulating are essentially Muppets.
All of this places demands on the cast, who are, to a woman and man, brilliant. Cecily Redman as Kate is particularly wonderful, though the sheer over-the-top Asian stereotyping of Soari Oda’s Christmas Eve is fantastically subversive. Better yet, you actually care about these bits of fur and felt and want things to work out for them. But above all, what you get are the songs, and the laughs.
The key thing about these songs are that amongst the laughs, you get plenty to think about, such as the first act’s Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist, or If You Were Gay. In fact, almost every number is at least laced with a knowing wink if it doesn’t go for the cheap laugh (and there’s nothing wrong with a good, cheap dirty laugh, like My Girlfirend Who Lives in Canada). You even get a throwaway rumination on the pardoxical nature of philosphical altruism in The Money Song (really!). Perhaps the sole exception is There’s a Fine, Fine Line, which is played pretty much straight, and works all the better for that. Its a well-paced show — obviously, given how long it has run, and the life it’s had, and it works pretty much from start to end.
It’s a show iIve wanted to watch in the “flesh” (or felt, or fur) for a while now. I’m really glad I finally did.