Review | ‘Avenue Q’ punches down despite talented cast

Avenue Q | Season Ended

I recently bumped into an old friend from uni. Back in the day, Tommo was the life of every party, making us laugh and inventing silly songs, and it was great catching up. Partway through our evening, I was thinking it was just like old times — but felt slightly uncomfortable.

Some of Tommo’s jokes were a little off colour, and some of his stories were kind of offensive. I realised: Tommo hasn’t changed.

What might have been considered okay in the early 00s when we were 20-something students doesn’t pass muster now.

Avenue Q is a funny and clever musical, and it’s also a little bit racist. I’m surprised Arise Productions are comfortable putting on this show exactly as it is.

Classic animated movies often now state at the beginning that the hurtful stereotypes they include “were wrong then and are wrong now.” Rather than remove the content, they say they want to “acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.”

As far as I know, this production of Avenue Q doesn’t include any similar acknowledgment or disclaimer of its outdated stereotypes.

The musical’s portrayal of the character Christmas Eve is racist, with the show’s jokes punching down, frequently using her accent as a punchline.

It’s hard to believe songs like The More You Ruv Someone and Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist are still considered okay.

However, criticism of the musical itself is not a criticism of its very talented cast. It should be clearly noted that Ebony Uetake (who played Christmas Eve) is exceptionally good in the role.

While we’re on the subject, Sarah Boniface (Kate Monster) and Mia Passmore (Lucy the Slut) have incredible voices — and don’t hold back in their practically breath-taking performances.

Seriously great performances were given by everyone involved, who seemed wholly immersed in their characters and looked like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The result is a riotously entertaining show that is cleverly staged and professionally performed that had the audience roaring with laughter throughout.

It’s hard to know what to do with Avenue Q. It’s still very funny; it’s got so many great songs, fun characters, and a main story that still feels relevant nearly 20 years on.

But the slut-shaming (it’s generous to say the character of Lucy the Slut is two-dimensional) and the racism make for uncomfortable bedfellows.

Back in 2003, it was praised for its approach to racism. In 2022, it needs to try harder. Lyrics like “ethnic jokes might be un uncouth, But you laugh because they’re based on truth… Everyone enjoys them — so relax” don’t cut it.

Arise Productions get 4 stars for this production of Avenue Q; Avenue Q itself gets 2 stars as a musical that punches down.

Avenue Q’s season had now ended. For more from Arise Production, head to Facebook.

Jay Chesters (he/him/they/them) is a contributor for OUTinPerth. A journalist and adventurer-for-hire, Jay’s been reporting news, writing features, and scribbling down reviews since 2003. Jay is also an author of contemporary fiction; his debut book, Year of the Bear, is coming in 2022.

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