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Review: Avenue Q at Newcastle Tyne Theatre

Great Entertaining Musical
- With A Real Purpose!

Avenue Q
Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House
Until Saturday 17th April 2016

Take a group of Sesame Street style characters, pack in memorable songs, jokes and some not very politically correct thoughts and turn it into a brilliant stage show. That pretty much sums up the latest musical to visit the revitalised Tyne Theatre.

Avenue Q is a slightly subversive musical about 20/30-somethings getting to grips with post-college life, with all of their hang-ups.  What helps make it such a hit is that it has a sharply observed book by Jeff Whitty that is able to use the puppets to say some quite naughty things. It will have a broader appeal as people who don’t consider themselves to be fans of musicals as a genre will find much to be entertained by. The music and lyrics of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx cleverly tap into the audience’s collective psyche. 

The story begins with young Princeton, who has graduated with an English degree, wondering which amazing path his life will take. Unfortunately, though qualified, his lack of work experience skills means he will struggle to get work and hence his degree is fairly useless in the real world.
Princeton takes on a flat on Avenue Q next to Kate Monster and hunts for his purpose in life. His neighbour, Brian, wants to be a stand up comic but he has just been made unemployed. The guy looking after the flats is Gary Coleman, off the tv series Diff’rent Strokes, who is coming to terms with life after childhood stardom.  Whilst having no goal himself, Princeton is told by Kate Monster, that she would love to open a school for monsters rather than being a kindergarten teaching assistant. The story then follows the young graduate as he tries to define his own purpose in life.

Many of the characters in this show are puppets and the production relies on 34 puppets which are skilfully handled by the cast. Whilst the operator of each puppet stays in full view, singing and talking the part, the focus is on the puppet itself. You do find yourself engaging with the puppet and that, almost childlike, acceptance that the character is real.

An energetic cast delivers a great show. Sarah Harlington has a fabulous singing voice which is put to great use for both Kate Monster and Lucy The Slut. She toggles between the voices of the 2 different characters with ease.

Handing Princeton and Rod was understudy Josh Tevendale who did so well with the socially awkward nature of both characters.  Having great fun with Trekkie Monster was Stephen Arden. Trekkie leads on one of the funniest songs of the show (The Internet Is For Porn). Both Stephen and Jessica Parker combine to handle the Bad Idea Bears, who are the devil inside ones conscience.

Adding to the cast are some human characters. Richard Morse adds gravitas to the humour as unemployed Brian. Arina II has many laughs as his partner Christmas Eve. Completing the line up is Etisyai Philip as the caretaker Gary Coleman.

The cast, under director Cressida Carré, combine well and seem to be enjoying the show too. There were no weak links in the show in terms of delivering the story, handling the puppets or singing the fabulous tunes. Talking of tunes, the live band were tucked away behind the set and musical director Dean McDermott ran a tight ship.

The Sell A Door Theatre Company aim to produce theatre that will appeal to that elusive young adult audience. They will be returning to the region soon with American Idiot in Sunderland (preview: WEB LINK) and Footloose back here at the Tyne Theatre (preview: WEB LINK).

One of our group remarked that it was probably the best show that they’ve seen in the North East.  High praise indeed.

At the North East Theatre Guide, we love to see the Tyne Theatre being used for the purpose that it was built for – delivering popular entertainment. It is great to see an accomplished professional show coming for a run of 4 shows – catch it while you can, you won’t be disappointed!

This review was written by Stephen Oliver for Jowheretogo PR ( Follow Jo on twitter @jowheretogo, Stephen @panic_c_button or like Jowheretogo on Facebook

Tickets: £32.50 premium & £28.50 Stalls, Grand & Limited View.  (plus booking fees when booking online and over the phone)
The Tyne Theatre & Opera House Box Office is open 10am-3:30pm Monday to Friday and event days
Booking and Information Line: 0844 2491 000 (10am – 6pm Monday to Friday) Online booking link here.

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