THEATRE REVIEW: Musical Avenue Q is smart and magical
South Africans love musical theatre but many local productions are familiar and repetitive. So Avenue Q is like a sneaky fresh breeze and cool as a cucumber.
The musical play of puppets steered by a sassy group of actors turns on a dime as the story unfolds. It is delivered with a youthful exuberance stamped into every slinky move and musical note warbled as they reveal a story as cynical as they come. And yet, at its heart, it’s marshmallow soft.
The sex and the talk (about sex, race and gender mostly, but also about finding a purpose) becomes more raucous and slurpy as the puppets find their inner souls. It’s a show that demands from audiences that they engage from the start and, after they take that leap, it’s rewarding on many levels.
It is original and current because of its themes and also the way it is presented. The way the puppets look and perform with the help of the human cast turns every performance into much more than just song-and-dance routines.
Although they make the puppets come alive, the actors never disappear and what they achieve is part of the magic.
Director Timothy le Roux has put together a show that is razor sharp in its tiniest details. It has to be precisely that way, or it would not work. The magic works because he forces audiences into buying into the premise of the show and then takes them on a magical, wild and joyous ride. The puppet masters do not dominate, they become part of the experience in a way that adds depth and delight to every character.
Part of the marvel is the way each human actor on stage charmingly pulls off the feat of bringing a puppet to life and adds layer upon layer to the show. Every kind of human is embraced in the plot — whether a slut or a Republican senator, there is a place for you on Avenue Q, a neighbourhood where the other becomes just another of a tightly knit community of oddballs.
The main gal is performed by Ashleigh Harvey and her guy is Ryan Flynn. Harvey has done her musical rounds and yet it is as though this script was written for her.
Her performance is rich in emotion, and her singing simply extraordinary.
Her main character, Kate Monster, steps aside when she is slutty Lucy, but at times both characters are on stage and the performance defies description, the deftness so delicious.
Harvey simply soars into the stratosphere. And that goes for Flynn too, starring in his biggest musical role to date and embracing every challenge.
He is the character Princeton, the main guy on the lookout for purpose and a recent college graduate, and he is Rod the Republican senator, who is battling his rigidity. Flynn grabs hold of each character’s personality — sometimes simultaneously. It is an exceptional script that has teased out the star power of the cast. The rest of the cast, from the gruff Trekkie Monster (Daniel Geddes) to Coleman, who is desperate to be the comeback kid (Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri), all deliver and add to the zing.
This production is a gem and audiences exposed to its shine will forever be grateful for a musical that celebrates being different — not just in people but also in performances.
Avenue Q is at Pieter Toerien’s main theatre at Montecasino until July 15.