Mind your Ps and Avenue Q

Described as an X-rated hybrid of The Muppet Show and Sesame Street, the gloriously politically incorrect Ave-nue Q promises to be a show with a difference when it opens at the Theatre Royal. SIMON PARKIN reports.

Whether you sang along with Bert and Ernie, munched biscuits with the Cookie Monster, or counted with, well, The Count, many of us grew up watching Sesame Street. But have you ever wondered what happened to the characters when they moved on and grew up?

Biliously funny, appealingly clever and disarmingly self-referential, the gloriously politically incorrect musical Avenue Q attempts to answer the question — bringing a touch of reality to puppet unreality.

The musical is about young people, most of them played by puppets, seeking to find their purpose in life. Set on a downtown New York street, it follows the loveably hopeless residents who try to make sense of life's burning issues like love, work, relationships, and how to pay the bills with just a BA in English.

It focuses on bright-eyed college graduate Princeton who moves onto a downtown Brooklyn street who tries to find his purpose in life despite a tiny bank balance, the distraction of a blonde bombshell, and the trials and tribulations of a host of friends.

The show has been hugely successful on both sides of the Atlantic although it was never destined for the stage. Co-writers Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx originally conceived it as a TV series although it eventually opened off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in 2002.

The run there was extended four times and, after rave reviews, it moved to Broadway's Golden Theatre, knocking Wicked off its perch to win three Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

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In 2006, it then travelled across the Atlantic opening in the West End at the Noel Coward Theatre and enjoying a highly successful three-year run in London with the national tour — which includes a run at Norwich Theatre Royal next week — the latest arm of the show's success.

John Bultitude, of Norwich Theatre Royal, said: 'This show really is something completely different. It has been described by the critics as an X-rated hybrid of The Muppet Show and Sesame Street packed with laughter and promising plenty of spring smiles.'

t Avenue Q is at Norwich Theatre Royal from March 15-19, �20-�6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk



Tell us a bit about your character Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is a Japanese psychotherapist who lives on the Avenue with her comedian (unemployed) fianc�, Brian. She is feisty, well-educated and very caring, though she doesn't have any real clients as they rarely get a word in! All of the characters in Avenue Q are either teaching or learning throughout the show and Christmas Eve's biggest lesson is to listen.

The show is certainly very different. Why do you think it has been so successful?

The characters are wonderful, the dialogue and song lyrics are full of laughs & there are some great, unforgettable tunes as well, but ultimately Avenue Q is a show with a heart.

I guess it has been a challenge for you too. How does a show like this compare with some of your other work?

My biggest learning curve has been the comedy element of the show, dealing with all the performance aspects of that and also learning to go along with the audience, whose reactions are different with every show. It's also been a great exercise in self-discipline, working with a group of actors & not being able to look at them in the eyes, try having a conversation with someone's right shoulder!

There is a real buzz surrounding Avenue Q coming to Norwich. Have you performed at the Theatre Royal before?

This will be my first time at the Theatre Royal though I do spend a lot of time in Norfolk. Holkham beach is one of my favourite places. We're really looking forward to our week there.


Tell us a bit about your character. He is based on an 1980s sitcom star isn't he?

I play the Late Gary Colemen who was indeed a child star of the 80s sitcom Diff'rent Strokes. Gary is the guest star on the Avenue Q show similar to what would happen on Sesame Street. I'm playing the fallen star Gary whose parents have stolen all his money, so now he is the caretaker of the apartments on Avenue Q.

This show must be quite a challenge. What is it like starring opposite puppets?

One of the hardest things when acting opposite puppets is not to look at the actor operating the puppet but you've got to love the puppets.

The show is pretty different from a lot of the other work on your CV. What do you like about being part of Avenue Q?

I love that the show is an ensemble show and each character contributes to the telling of the story and teaching the audience life's unsaid lessons. The comedy is so good and it's great to work in a team that you bounce of each others energy.

Tell us a bit about you. What was it that made you want to go into acting and performing in the first place?

I think a lot of black actors performers would have to mention the late Michael Jackson, the dancing, the singing and he wasn't a bad actor either. And 80s films like Fame – I wanted to be Leroy.

You have starred in some fantastic productions during your career but are there any highlights for you?

A highlight would have to be playing the lead role in The Harder They Come – a musical that was created from the film of the same name starring Jimmy Cliff. One night, he was in the theatre and joined us on stage in the finale. It was amazing.

Have you ever appeared at Norwich Theatre Royal before?

I have performed the Theatre Royal before back in 2005 on the national tour of Miss Saigon. It was also during this time that I found out that I had an allergic reaction to pine nuts and it was during a show rehearsal in the theatre I had an attack and was rushed to hospital. Everyone at the theatre were so lovely and helpful. They turned a bad experience into a positive and memorable one.