You’ll need excellent French to get the most out of Avenue Q at Paris’ Bobino theatre; but as far as foreign language adaptations go, this one’s a winner.
The original Broadway version of this tatty, puppet-led musical has been an undeniable triumph. Avenue Q has played to around 10 million people across the world and won three Tony awards, charming all and sundry with its Sesame Street like innocence, counterbalanced by relentlessly immoral musical odes to porn and racism. But what works in the UK and the USA doesn’t always suit French audiences – especially (and somewhat ironically) when translated into Molière's tongue: French versions of Broadway hits Hairspray and Flash Dance both flopped in Paris, for instance; so the idea of adapting such an offbeat, tongue-in-cheek show was unquestionably audacious.
But it has paid off! Paeans to porn and sex scenes with puppets obviously transcend cultural barriers in ways hitherto unseen: It’s too early to say whether Avenue Q will have a long life at the Bobino, but it’s going about it the right way, with prolongations well into May.
The musical’s originality stems from the fact that the main characters are puppets - not ugly ‘Guignol’ (Spitting Image) puppets, but fluffy creatures reminiscent of wholesome children’s TV programmes. However, what these puppets get up to as they look for somewhere to live, and experiment with drink and raunchy sex, is resolutely adult - especially when Trekkie Monster raves about porn on the internet, or when the Japanese character (one of only three humans in the show) memorably informs us that 'evelyone's a rittle bit lacist'.
Then there are the actors, whose talent is resounding, as they channel their energy and voices into their puppets: Not one false note sounded during the performance we saw (starring Gaetan Borg and Prisca Demarez in the main roles) which is doubly impressive when you think that each singer creates voices for more than one puppet.
Avenue Q is no Rogers and Hammerstein masterpiece; but co-creators Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez have breathed new life into the musical genre, and that in itself should be reason enough to buy a ticket.
This show is in French without subtitles.