For the unitiated (really, are there any left?), Avenue Q is the show that proved that cute, fuzzy puppets are the perfect means of addressing topics like dating and relationships, finding your purpose in life, premarital sex, racism, repressed homosexality, homelessness, wanting to kill your spouse, and online porn addiction.
The show, which has returned to the Arts Club stage after a year’s absence and a tour of BC, is as much irreverent fun as ever and remains a must-see.
Enjoying it for only the second time at the recent opening preview, I noticed only the most minor differences betweeem last year’s version - mostly due to the details that only become evident on a second viewing. Jeremy Crittenden, Selina Wong and Nick Fontaine are new to the cast since last year and do a great job of bringing their characters, both humand and puppet, to life.
Avenue Q may be thought of as a rule-breaking show with Muppet-like puppets in very adult situations and spouting R-rated language. But under the F-bombs and puppet sex, the reason the show works so well is deeply traditional. It has well-defined characters you recognize and care about, good storylines with a satisfying resolution, and wonderful songs with nary a dud in the bunch. And the Arts Club performers and creative team deliver on all counts, with great singing, perfect comic timing. They also expertly handle the more serious and emotional moments which, despite the seemingly cartoonish premise, are strewn throughout the show. Indeed, Kate Monster’s ballad, “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” is done perfectly straight (no pun intended), and thus is utterly moving.
A second viewing revealed some details that had passed me by (though I’m sure they’re quite obvious to most). “Mix-Tape” incorporates song titles with impressive precision and humour, but the last song mentioned, “Moving Right Along”, is of course one of the great Muppet tunes. And “The More You Ruv Someone”, which I’d forgotten all about, may actually be the most even balance of comedy and true emotion, especially in Selina Wong’s perfectly modulated performance.
If anything, the puppetry and performance was even more smoothly integrated that the prior version; views of the characters were rarely blocked even from the trickier right-hand side of the house where I was located.
And for a show with a built-in local reference for Vancouverites (“My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada”), there were a couple of nice additional local references worked in - and one, a nod to the recent teacher’s strike, was very smoothly worked in, and generated heartfelt applause from the crowd.
After the last run, I asked blogger Noah Chinn who’d seen the show on Broadway what the differences were, and he said it was entirely a matter of scale, not performance. Apartment windows that, at the Arts Club open up to reveal drawings representing the characters’ rooms, had 3-D props instead, and certain scenes were done with giant props instead of on a projection screen; there was more room for the dance numbers.
But as Noah said in an email to me, “They’re all nice touches, but none of them are truly necessary. The Granville Island stage production captures the big stage flavor wonderfully. I honestly did not expect it to be THAT close to perfect, and was pleasantly surprised.” I would have to agree!
So there you go. If you haven’t yet seen “Avenue Q”, what are you waiting for? Take advantage of this brief chance to catch a one-of-a-kind and flat-out hilarious show.
Avenue Q plays at the Arts Club's Granville Island Stage until Jan. 3, 2015. Visit the Arts Club website for more info and tickets.