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Words: Lucy Sarah O’Connell | Images: Supplied

In the 14 years since it first opened on Broadway, Avenue Q has been surprising (and, sometimes, shocking) audiences worldwide. First, the “little musical that could” won three Tony Awards (Best Book, Best Score and Best Musical), despite being up against the smash hit Wicked, and then continued to play to packed houses as one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. This year, over two months, the production is in Joburg for the first time.

Set in modern-day New York, Avenue Q follows Princeton, a recent college graduate who moves into an apartment that’s far from the post-studies world he imagined, all the way out on Avenue Q. At 22, with a BA in English, very few prospects in either business or romance, and a shabby apartment in an “outer-outer borough” of New York City, the story follows the lows of struggling to find purpose through great song lyrics and humour – think song titles such as “What do you do with a BA in English” and “It sucks to be me”.

What makes Avenue Q so special, however, is that the entire show takes place through puppetry – something that hasn’t been seen to this degree on a South African stage before.

“The all South African cast were put through their paces at auditions late last year. In musical theatre jargon the term ‘triple threat’ is often used to describe a person who is good at acting, singing and dancing. What makes this piece of theatre unique is that it includes all that, plus puppetry skills, which requires intensive training for our actors,” says director and choreographer Timothy le Roux.

And while the actors operate the puppets in full view of the audience, within minutes you find that you’re so engrossed in the performances that you forget the puppets are being operated by anyone at all.

Don’t be fooled by the presence of puppets, though. Avenue Q broaches hard-to-discuss adult topics throughout and is not suitable for children. But if you’re looking for the chance to laugh hysterically while marvelling at the sheer skill of the actors, then this is definitely one for you. 

Catch Avenue Q at the Pieter Toerien Main Theatre, Montecasino, from now until 15 July. 

For more information on Avenue Q, click here

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