Yes it's now into double figures for me with Avenue Q as last night was the final performance at the Gielgud Theatre, and my first visit since Daniel Boys left. Of course, it's just under a year ago that I was at the show's last-ever performance again, so it's perhaps not the world's biggest surprise that next week it'll be returning, very close to where it started out, now at the Wyndham's Theatre (which actually shares some dressing rooms with its original home at the Noël Coward so a couple of cast members will feel at home.)
I went with Andy and Evil Alex, both with multiple trips under their belts (I think Alex is only one or two visits behind my record - after all, the majority of my trips he's been there as well) and Richard, the only Q virgin among us and not a very frequent theatregoer in general. We met outside the theatre itself but then popped across the road to Chinatown to find somewhere to eat. This took a while as not all the restaurants there are that good for vegetarians (I bet Alex actually eats meat when he's at home, and just pretends to be veggie to cause trouble; he is, after all, Evil, so it's the sort of thing he'd do.) We did find a Japanese/Thai place that had decent veggie options so that's where we ended up, and the food was pretty good. Both Andy and I had the Thai Green Curry, me with lamb and him with chicken, and it was good, but pretty hot for a green curry. I was OK with that but Andy did struggle a bit. Obviously, being kind and considerate friends, we didn't make fun of him for this or anything. We certainly didn't stare at him once we'd all finished and he was trying to get through half his meal, or make comments about being worried what would happen once we were in the theatre and he started digesting it.
Back to the Gielgud, where the Saturday performance still persists in having an unusually late start of 8:30, and Alex said what I always think in these circumstances, that it feels like we're arriving late even though we had 20 minutes to spare. The seating arrangements had to be a bit scientific because we had a newbie among us so we couldn't let him sit next to Alex, who regular readers may recall has a particularly loud response to some of the jokes, usually just before they happen. So Andy got the pleasure of finding out what it's like sitting next to Alex, making himself and me a buffer zone for Richard. Actually Alex was unusually quiet this time around. By which I mean I could tell the difference, but he still had half the stalls staring at him and chuckling at his high-pitched giggling, and I could actually feel Andy next to me shaking with laughter after some of his outbursts. This was the closest we've ever sat to the stage, second row of the stalls. In some shows this might be a big problem but luckily Avenue Q's set isn't that deep so most of the action is well downstage and you're not missing much. You have to crick your neck a bit when the video screens come down but that's not all the time after all. I think Alex's relative quiet was just awe at being so close to the Bad Idea Bears, his role models for life.
So, on to the show itself and the new cast. Although "new" is a bit of a relative term, since once again AQ has a tendency for former cast members to return. So the original West End Brian, Siôn Lloyd is back, as is the second Gary Coleman, Delroy Atkinson. The latter was a bit of a concern as both Alex and I agree he's our least favourite of the three so far, but although that hasn't changed he was better than we'd feared and seems to have toned down his upstaging. In fact, with Rachel Jerram remaining in her thankless role of Mrs Thistletwat/Bear/spare pair of hands, Cassidy Janson having already taken over Kate/Lucy last time we went, and Tom Parsons having been promoted from understudy to full-time Nicky/Trekkie, there were only two cast members we hadn't seen before. Christmas Eve is the one role that seems to have a frequent turnaround, and the latest is Jacqueline Tate, who I really liked. She's the first Christmas Eve since Ann Harada to be a bit on the larger side, and that seems to me to add a bit of sweetness to the Eve/Brian relationship. Not due to any fault on the other actresses' part, but the image of big fat American man with younger, skinny East Asian wife has unfortunate connotations, but maybe that's just me. Anyway, I liked her performance a lot, she's not quite as much of a battleaxe as some of the CEs but sweet with an edge to her.
And then obviously there's the male lead, and the Gielgud is rather naughtily still advertising Daniel Boys outside the theatre (I guess with only six weeks left there after his departure they couldn't be arsed changing the posters) but nope, he's no longer Princeton/Rod. And no, Jon Robyns hasn't come back either (despite my avatar there) but Paul Spicer is the third person to take on the roles. I was worried not just because I was bound to judge him against D-Boys, but also having seen a few comments on "The Internet" along the lines of "oh noes, don't cast him, he's shit!" Luckily I didn't agree with those comments and thought he fitted very well in the part. There were a few little touches that D-Boys gave Rod in particular that I missed, but overall he was fine and at least he wasn't afraid to camp Rod up (which you'd think was a given but after seeing Simon Gorton understudying the part Alex and I know different...) Paul's voice isn't as strong as Daniel's - in the duets he's pretty much drowned out by Cassidy's voice - but he does beat him hands down in the American accent; much as I like D-Boys I've always said the accent was wobbly at best, but Spicer is a lot more convincing. And he's better-looking than he seems in his photos, in a very angular, skinny way. I mean, he's no Jon or Daniel but I still would. And at least you don't get distracted like you did with Daniel by Arms! or, He's turned around, Arse!
A pleasant surprise was Cassidy Janson, who all three of us old hands had seen early in her run and not liked at all. She's really, really settled into the role and is funny and endearing, no longer gabbling her lines like she did the last time we went. I don't think anyone will match Julie Atherton but on this evidence Cassidy's definitely ahead of Rebecca Lock.
The last time I saw the show I was worried that it was feeling a bit tired and out-of-date, but somehow this time it seemed a lot fresher, perhaps through the influx of a new cast who genuinely seem to be excited about what they're doing. I knew from his twitter that Daniel was fed up with doing the same thing for over two years and although he never looked like he was going through the motions, that sort of thing is bound to bleed through a bit. As far as the newbie goes, Richard really enjoyed the show as well, so it looks like the show's still got legs for a little while longer as it moves to its third London home.
Avenue Q moves to Wyndham's from the 19th of March.