Music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Book by Jeff Whittey
Puppets by Rick Lyon
Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco
August 7-September 2
For Los Angeles tour dates and mini-review, see below.
Listen up all you twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings and maybe even a few forty-somethings. Have I got a show for you! Anybody raised on “Sesame Street,” anybody who’s ever wondered about the sexual orientation of Ernie and Bert, anybody who’s been scared by the Cookie Monster or felt gloomy as Oscar the Grouch is gonna love this show. For the rest of us, it is simply a clever, fast-moving take on Generations X and Y – with puppets.
When “Avenue Q” — the plucky little show that could – actually did, beating out the blockbuster “Wicked” for the 2003 Tony Award, some of us were a tad bewildered. Now that some of us have seen them both we are, well, still bewildered. It’s very well done, entertaining to be sure, but frankly there’s not a whole lot of there there.
It starts out as perky and innocent as the famed children’s educational series to which it owes much. When the stage lights go up, you think you are simply on renamed Sesame Street. Until the first big number: “It Sucks to be Me.” Quickly followed by: “You’re a Little Bit Racist,” and, eventually, “The More You Love Someone, the More You Want to Kill Him,” a very funny bit done by the show’s resident Asian, a would-be psychologist named Christmas Eve.
Eve (Angela Ai), her fiancée, Brian (Cole Porter – honest, that’s his name) and the building super Gary Coleman (Carla Renata, pretending to be the washed-up child star) are the only actual humans living on Avenue Q, a rather run-down section of New York. The others are puppets, although they are worked and voiced (and very well indeed) by actual humans. It sounds more confusing than it is and, after a while, you find yourself relating to the various puppet personalities and forgetting about the humans who are holding them, singing their songs and delivering their lines. In fact, so complete is this transference that, during a wild sex scene between the show’s two lovers, Princeton (Robert McClure) and Kate Monster (Kelli Sawyer), you feel deliciously voyeuristic looking on.
Oh yes, there’s sex, lots of it, and some steam generated by a character aptly named Lucy the Slut. And you get swearing and racist jokes and, forget about the puppets, don’t bring the kids. Actually, that’s the underlying joke of the whole book, written by Jeff Whitty from an original concept of composer/lyricist team Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (thirty-somethings all, according to a press release). What if the characters on “Sesame Street” were real people? How would they behave? The answer: even as you and I but maybe a little more so.
The plot, such as it is, follows the fortunes (and misfortunes) of a group of people living in Gary Coleman’s apartment building on Avenue Q. (Think “Friends” on a very tight budget). Princeton, an unemployed recent college grad (introductory song: “What Do You Do With a BA in English?”) meets and falls in love with Kate Monster, although, being a monster, she is of a different species. But he can’t commit because he is seeking his true purpose in life (“Purpose is that little flame that lights a fire under your ass”). And Lucy the Slut is seeking him. Other residents include Rod, a closeted gay (McClure again), Nicky (Christian Anderson), the roommate who secretly adores him, and Trekkie Monster (Anderson), a cantankerous, horny recluse.
They are all very good and Broadway director Jason Moore keeps them moving briskly along. The ingenious set design is by Anna Louizos. All in all, “Avenue Q” is a fun address to visit. But I don’t think you’d want to live there.
The national touring company of Avenue Q, has arrived in Los Angeles for a five and a half week residence at the Ahmanson. For a full review please see Suzanne Weiss on the San Francisco production. This touring cast has the fresh faced enthusiasm of the original New York production making for a charming evening. The key is to bring the right level of expectations: Shakespeare it is not, but entertaining it is, especially the first act.
The Ahmanson has always been a difficult house for the spoken (or sung)word which are the keys to Avenue Q. Over amplification does not overcome this fact and very good seats – not under a balcony – would be well worth the price.