Printable CopyAVENUE Q
Hills Musical Company Inc
Stirling Community Theatre
Until 24 Nov 2018

Review by Anthony Vawser

Yes, this is a musical comedy that features cute, colourful, furry puppets. No, this does not mean it’s suitable for the young “Sesame Street” viewers in your family. Their parents, on the other hand, should do whatever they can to make arrangements for a night out at the Stirling Community Theatre.

“Avenue Q” is fabulously fantastic fun for the open-minded and the naughty-at-heart. Smart and sharp but never cynical or cruel, this show demands courage, dedication, and enormous talent from any group that decides to take it on. The Hills Musical Company have met this challenge quite magnificently.

Conceiving of “Avenue Q” in the early years of our current millennium – when the world at large was more recently dealing with the realisation that, at least as far as some people are concerned, “The Internet Is For Porn” – composers Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx knew also that certain university graduates had been left to wonder: “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?”

Lopez/Marx also gave voice to the confronting idea that “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”, but in a way that was so convincingly inclusive that it became a strangely comforting truth to admit – and nobody fortunate enough to see “Avenue Q” will ever forget the meaning of “Schadenfreude” (even if the correct spelling is beyond them).

Michael Bates and Kate Hodges both give ideal interpretations in the central roles of Princeton and Kate Monster: as a hero and heroine who are intelligent, well-meaning, a little naïve, prone to temptation (and, it must be noted, passionate and creative with each other in the bedroom), they easily hold our sympathy and interest for the length of the show.

The quality of performance runs deep and consistent throughout the entire sparkling ensemble. Ray Cullen and Warren Logan do an adorable spin on Bert and Ernie (alias Rod and Nicky), while Shelley Crooks is superbly sultry as Lucy T Slut (yes, it’s that kind of show; the easily offended can presumably have more fun staying at home).

Mark DeLaine and Jess Goc-ong make their hen-pecked-husband/nagging-wife archetypes warmly endearing, Alisa James is a wryly amusing Gary Coleman (mmhmm, the one-and-only star of “Diff’rent Strokes”), and the Bad Idea Bears are brought to hilarious life by Vanessa Lee Shirley and Emma Wilczek.

Trekkie Monster gets all the lovability he needs from Ian Buxton’s performance, while James McCluskey-Garcia makes Mrs Thistletwat into a marvellously memorable character (and not just an unforgettable name). Dylan Rufus and Daniel Obie Vickers round out a cast with no slackness or weak links to be found.

Gordon Combes directs with all the energy and pace that you could ask for, MD Paul Sinkinson’s band executes the witty pastiche of a score with delightful flair (aided by Tim Freedman’s sound design/operation), and choreography by Sarah Williams has a loose and casual quality that suits the proceedings. Combes and Russell Ford have designed a set that is colourful, compact, and combines well with the many video-based gags created by Ray Cullen.

Perhaps the key to the enduring success of “Avenue Q” is that it finds a way to be genuinely warm and heartfelt, yet cheeky and daring, without confusing its audience, cancelling itself out, or feeling contradictory. Because the characters, though exaggerated and cartoonish, are so well-observed and ultimately truthful, and because they genuinely care about each other as well as themselves, thus we viewers (and reviewers) can care about them in turn, more than likely even recognising ourselves in them too.

It takes a great show to capture and convey this level of dimension without dampening its own sense of humour in the process; on top of which, “Avenue Q” is also a great show that happens to require great technical skill to succeed even slightly. This particular production is a triumph on virtually every level.