first night

Avenue Q

Hannah Piercy reviews DULOG's production of a beloved modern musical.

 ‘There’s a fine, fine line between love and a waste of time’, claims one of the songs in Avenue Q– but that could not be further from the truth for this production. DULOG’s Avenue Q is a triumph, with laughs a-plenty accompanied by a surprising strain of truth and raw emotion (seriously, it is amazing how much you can feel for a puppet’s trials in love). I defy anyone to watch this production and consider it a waste of their time. From the musicians playing their hearts out in the pit, to the vibrant and impressively constructed set design, this show is a delight to watch from beginning to end.

There are excellent performances across the cast, whose energy and enthusiasm make a hit Broadway show truly their own. Jen Bullock, playing Kate Monster, stood out onstage, her angelic voice hitting each note perfectly. But her professional performance was matched by the strengths of the cast as a whole. It was striking to read the Musical Director’s notes about ‘the added difficulty of the puppets’ because each actor worked with the puppets so well that they did not seem an artificial addition. Sam Baumal gave an impressive performance as Princeton, particularly as this was his second show in Durham – we should look forward to seeing him in more productions in future. Freddie Collings’s Trekkie Monster was a real highlight, his comic potential stealing laughs across the auditorium whenever he appeared. I found myself in hysterics when he sang ‘The internet is for porn’, Collings mastering the puppet’s facial and gestural potential to its full effect. Alex Prescot (Brian) and Leying Lee (Christmas Eve) were no less the stars, however, working perfectly as the hen-pecked husband and his irrepressible wife as they interacted with an easy confidence and comfort onstage. Orrienne Edward (Gary Coleman) also shone in a role that I suspect could otherwise have been somewhat side-lined, but Orrienne carried off her gender-blind casting with just the spirit and humour needed.

Avenue Q is full of irreverence, sardonic pessimism and contagious optimism – a contradiction, but the only way I can attempt to sum up the vitality of this play. DULOG’s production was ambitious and its success is an achievement of which the entire cast and crew should be truly proud. The musical directors accomplished their aims of balancing choral and individual character’s voices, the choreography was impressive throughout, using the space onstage to its full potential, and the technical team combined complex effects of light and projection to create an almost professional appearance for this perfectly executed show. The musical itself is still provocative, teasing away at the issues surrounding homelessness, sexuality, and race in ways that you sometimes feel it shouldn’t. But then part of its function is to remind us that we are all human, and there are times when we all laugh about things we shouldn’t.  

The treatment of perennial human faults and weaknesses through puppets helps demonstrate this show’s timelessness, revealing its huge and vibrant heart. But while in some ways timeless, Avenue Q is also the perfect show to watch at this point of the year. Thoughts on graduation, growing up to become your own person (or monster), and finding your purpose abound, as the production takes us on a whistle-stop tour through the lives, loves, and debts of the Avenue Q crowd. As well as a heap of laughs, some surprisingly poignant moments, and a delightful evening out, Avenue Q provided me with an answer to its own initial question: ‘what do you do with a BA in English?’. You do a Masters and go to review Avenue Q, that’s what! 

16 June 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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