2006-08-10 : Those definitely are not Muppets.

One of the key lessons that the Dance (Basic) group learned at the PASSPORT Scouting Arts Conference in 1993 – by way of demonstration of Mr Greg Mant – is that it doesn't really matter what you do on a stage, so long as you look like you're having the time of your life doing it there's a better chance than not that people are going to enjoy watching it. This principle is very much relevant to the musical Avenue Q.

That's not to say Avenue Q wasn't entertaining & amusing – quite the opposite ! The concept revolves around a guy named Princeton who, after leaving college with an Arts Degree, moves to New York to find a place to live, and winds up with a bunch of colorful characters on Avenue Q (he started at Avenue A, and kept going til he found something he could afford). What's different about this show is that most of the cast are puppets – very similar in style to Muppets – however as distinct from Muppets the puppeteers are visible the whole time, and quite often their facial expressions as they speak are an extension of the puppet.

Whilst the material's not Shakespeare or Sondheim, you can't help but enjoy most of it, as it's performed with a bouncy enthusiasm and I found myself as often as not marvelling at how the puppeteers conveyed so much nuance through their puppets.

Princeton & Kate Monster have a romantic subplot, punctuated by a puppet sex scene which isn't quite as explicit as the one in Team America:World Police, but still works really well. Roommates Nicky & Rod (widely compared to Ernie & Bert) have ongoing friction as Nicky tries to help Rod come out of the closet (even though Rod – startlingly reminiscent of Greg Proops in looks – maintains that he's straight). Trekkie Monster is essentially a porn-surfing deviant.

Sometimes the things that amused me were just the down-to-earthness of the dialogue, and how non-fanciful it was by contrast to a lot of sugar-coated musicals. Maybe it's just the shock value of having Muppet-like characters behave in the way these do that provides the edginess (for instance when Princeton visits Kate Monster to give her a mix tape he's made, and she sings a song about it while he's in the bathroom. When he emerges, he says “I wouldn't go in there for about a half hour Kate.”). It never gets near Meet The Feebles territory, mind you. Also there's plenty of subtlety to the puppets, such as when Nicky's been living on the street for a few days his bottom jaw has an extra layer of foam on it – puppet stubble !

One thing I quite enjoyed about the show was its exploration of the concept that sometimes in life you don't achieve your dreams, and that sometimes mediocrity's the best you're going to manage – it was a refreshing change from the usual line that these shows tend to take. However it all changes back into a big touchy-feely-huggy life's beautiful fest unfortunately.

Definitely worth seeing, even if it didn't really set fire to any arses content-wise. And plus it was good to see Nick, Kelly, Una, Richie, Hilary, Liz, Dave, Craig, Kate, Donna, Cat and Alice as well.