note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
I’ve seen “Avenue Q” four times, most recently with the Lyric Stage Company. Besides the happy-go-lucky, tuneful music, lovable monster puppets and their human counterparts manipulating them, the musical continues to make audiences happily walk out arm-in-arm, singing.
Don’t think you’re strolling down Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, though. The show is for adults only, recommended for 17-year-olds and older, because of its language and explicit puppet sexual scenes. But it brings out the kid in everyone, while stirring memories of lean, post-college days: of seeking a job in a tough economy; creating a purpose in life; falling in love; friendship; and how to rise from low-cost neighborhoods. Writers Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx even prove “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” between many things, and the benefit of “Schadenfreude,” feeling better about yourself after seeing somebody who’s worse off.
While the show touts the same messages of kindness and caring that successfully popularize gentle, educational children’s TV shows, “Avenue Q” incorporates similar props and a monitor with cartoon scenes, a’ la Sesame Street.
Kathryn Kawecki‘s set of a seedy New York City rundown tenement occupied by superintendent-former child star, the late Gary Coleman, (nicely portrayed by Davron S. Monroe); Jim Henson-type muppets and human tenants, along with David Cabral’s costumes and Frank Meissner Jr.’s lighting enhance “Avenue Q”. Music Director Catherine Stornetta on keyboard and five fabulous musicians provide fantastic accompaniment.
When clean-cut, hopeful, college graduate Princeton (with his “useless” BA in English literature) moves into an affordable apartment on Avenue Q, he meets his down-at-the-heels neighbors, all claiming “It Sucks to Be Me,” in the rollicking opening number.
There’s 32-year-old Brian, an unemployed, aspiring comedian, and his Japanese fiancee, Christmas Eve, a psychotherapist with two degrees and no clients; sweet Kate Monster, a kindergarten teacher assistant who dreams of opening her own “Monsterssori School for Little Monsters;” contrasting roommates Nicky the slacker and Rod, the uptight Republican investments banker-closet gay. Trekkie Monster lives upstairs and loves watching porn on the Internet.
Princeton’s purpose in life becomes muddied when he meets cabaret singer Lucy the Slut and naughty Bad Idea Bears, who, like an evil conscience, coax him astray.
As always, Lyric Producing Artistic Director-Director Spiro Veloudos ekes out every drop of comedy, cuteness and cut-ups in “Avenue Q,” as the characters cavort and make lots of eye contact with theatergoers. They also pass a hat for donations during Act II’s “The Money Song,” to raise donations for Kate Monster’s school. Realistically, the money benefits actors with illness who require help.
Cast members sing, dance, and are skillful puppeteers (thanks to coach-Puppet Showcase Theatre Artistic Director, Roxanna Myrhum, and instructor Jonathan Little), as some switch from one character to another, without missing a step of Ilyse Robbins’ choreography. John Ambrosino is delightfully dextrous in his dual roles as Princeton and uptight Rod. So’s perky Erica Spyres, as dueling Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut. Phil Tayler steals the spotlight as incorrigible, raspy-voiced Trekkie Monster, but also transforms within seconds into Nicky and naughty, blue boy bear.
Harry McEnerny V as brawny, self-effacing human, Brian, and Jenna Lea Scott as his hysterically comical Christmas Eve are hilarious. And talented Elise Arsenault manipulates puppets while portraying Kate Monster’s cantankerous employer, Mrs. T., and naughty, female bear.
“Avenue Q” is an upbeat walk on the wild side, that draws a fine line between fantasy, reality, youthful exuberance, hormones and life’s lessons. There’s something for everyone - and that’s not Schadenfreude.
BOX INFO: Two-act, award-winning musical, book by Jeff Whitty, created in 1998 by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx,appearing at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston,140 Clarendon St.,Boston. Extended from June 9 to June 24. Performances: Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3,8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.; with Wednesday matinee, June 6, at 2 p.m. Tickets: $25-$60; seniors, $5 off; student rush, $10; group rates available. Call the Box Office at 617-585-5678 or visit lyricstage.com.