Avenue Q presents more than 69-ing puppets and crude humour

Photo by David Cooper
Photo by David Cooper

If you ever wanted to see puppets 69-ing or doing the famous lift from Dirty Dancing, then look no further than Avenue Q. 

The hit musical has become a household name when it comes to musical theatre. Even those who would normally roll their eyes at going to see a musical theatre show have probably heard of “that one with the puppets and the swearing”. 

In the past decade, it rose to huge box office success and now sits as one of the longest running Broadway shows ever. It even beat out musical darling Wicked (gasp!) to win the Best Musical Tony Award back in it’s heyday in 2004. 

To win this honour, there has to be something more to it than crude humour that (literally) dances around sexual orientation, racism and mental illness.  

In fact, the upbeat tunes and general cheesy-ness of the show drive home a pretty poignant message. That’s why as audience members, it’s a relief that we can all sit back and laugh at the darkest parts of ourselves.  

The songs and the jokes still stand up, and with a few additions to keep it current (you better believe there was a Trump reference), the Arts Club nailed their production, which runs through until December 31st.

This is a remount for the Arts Club. They first produced the show in 2013 and have since had a couple of successful, sold-out runs so it’s no wonder why they’re doing the show again. Under the direction of Peter Jorgenson, this run will surely not disappoint.

The story follows Princeton, a recent graduate with a BA in English who is ready to start his new life on the “more affordable” street Avenue Q. He is quickly kicked in the junk by life, when his job downsizes before he even starts it and he realizes he’s got bills to pay. 

He spends the show looking for his purpose, alongside all the characters that live on Avenue Q. Sparks fly with Kate Monster, who is a kindergarten teacher’s assistant and has dreams of opening a school for monsters. 

Princeton quickly realizes that he is not special, like he was told his whole life, and that everyone else in the world (or at least on Avenue Q) is in the same boat.

The audience laughs along with the failed stand-up comedian, who’s purpose is simply to “make people laugh” and the psychiatrist with two masters degrees because they’re all sitting in their seats with useless degrees and dashed dreams as well. 

In the all too real song, “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” Princeton laments: “In college you know who you are. You sit in the quad, and think Oh my God, I am totally gonna go far.”

The audience has a collective sigh at the end of the song with the realization, “What a loser I’d be … these kids are so much younger than me.”

Even Gary Coleman lives on Avenue Q, working as superintendent of the building. He had to get a real job when his parents took all of his childhood stardom money. Dreams don’t get dashed much harsher than this.

The cast is solid. Rock solid. This style of musical seems to be where the Arts Club really shines. They are polished and playful and the comedic timing is tuned to a tee. 

Andrew MacDonald-Smith does double duty as fresh-faced Princeton and the closeted gay man Rod (who lives with Nicky – the two play like Bert and Ernie).  

MacDonald-Smith aced the art of the comedic pause on more than one occasion (especially in his rendition of “My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada”) and had the audience in hysterics. He’s back, having been in the original Arts Club cast, and it’s no wonder, as both roles fit him like a glove. 

Similarly, Kayla Dunbar, who plays Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut, has performed every single show with the Arts Club. Her voice work is impressive, switching seamlessly from the cutesy Kate to the sultry Lucy.

Scott Bellis, who switches from goofy Nicky to the porn crazed pervert Trekkie Monster was brilliant. He also played one of the Bad Idea Bears (along with Avenue Q veteran Jeny Cassady) who appear just at the right time to encourage things like binge drinking and suicide.  

This Care Bear-esque duo was one of my favourite parts of the show and Bellis’ perfectly sing-songy voice saying lines like, “More Drinks, More Fun! Yayyyyyyy!” had everyone rooting for the bears. 

Another crowd favourite was Kimmy Choi singing, “The More You Ruv Someone”. But what’s not to like with lines like, “The more you love someone, the more you want to kill ’em. Loving and killing fit like hand in glove!” That accompanied with Choi’s incredible voice, made for a stand out song.

Every actor in this show was working hard but it didn’t show. They stayed light and solid and took the audience on a fun and hilarious ride, all the while their voices perfectly tuned.

If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s an evening of laughter, whether uncomfortable or not, and really is an accessible show for someone who wouldn’t normally go to a musical. Who knew puppets could slay this hard?