note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Sheila Barth
When the national touring company of “Avenue Q” performed in Boston in March 2008, adoring crowds cried for more. The music is catchy, tuneful; the cast, energetic and versatile; the set and stage effects, laudable, and the overall production a happy mix of optimism in a gloomy economy. This time around, the cast that performed last week at the Colonial Theatre was a little thinner- that is, fewer performers - but nevertheless created a happy-go-lucky romp down a seedy New York City street, in a rundown tenement with hapless Gary Coleman as its superintendent. With its combination of wacky characters and Jim Henson-type muppets, “Avenue Q” has, according to promotors, been incorrectly compared to a grown-up version of “Sesame Street,” with monitors that beam words, definitions, numbers, and cartoon scenes. Although the play is about adults finding jobs, their purpose in life, love, friendship, and fulfillment, it salutes all children’s programs that teach life lessons, but it’s raunchy, earthy, with puppets performing explicit sex acts and spouting foul language, and therefore unsuited for adolescents under 17.
“Avenue Q” is an entertaining stage phenomenon, though, created in 1998 by young writers Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, when they were fresh out of college - like their hero, Princeton - and it caught on like wildfire with professional young audiences, taking several awards on Broadway in 2004, including Tony and Lucy Lortel awards.
When Princeton takes an apartment in the seedier side of the Big Apple, he encounters his neighbors - Brian, an aspiring comedian, who is engaged to and marries his Asian fiancee, Christmas Eve, a psychotherapist with a master’s and Ph.D. degree and no clients; sweet Kate Monster, a kindergarten teacher’s assistant who wants to start her own school for little monsters; roomies Nicky the slacker and Rod, the uptight Republican Banker and closet gay; and Trekkie Monster, who loves porn and is a successful investor in it.
Princeton also meets cabaret singer Lucy the Slut, who resembles a naughty Dolly Parton, and the Bad Idea Bears, Princeton and Kate’s adorable-looking, cuddly but devil-making inner consciences. the couple plunges down a spiral of jobs, innocence and trust lost, but ends happily.
Jacqueline Grabois is delightful, playing and manipulating puppets Kate Monster, Lucy the Slut and others; Brent Michael DiRoma is fabulous as Princeton and Rod; Nigel Jamaal Clark is a great Gary Coleman impersonator; while versatile Jason Heymann as Nicky, Trekkie Monster, Bad Bear and others has an incredible vocal range, from falsetto to baritone; Lisa Helmi Johanson as Christmas Eve is wonderfully wacky; Tim Kornblum as Eve’s boyfriend Brian is fine; and Kerri Brackin is supportive as the female Bad Bear and in other roles. The rest of the ensemble are also praiseworthy. They all shine in every number.
As always, Anna Louizos’ set is great. So are Rick Lyons’ puppet creations, Howell Binkley’s lighting, Lew Mead’s sound design, music director Michael McAssey and crew, and Mirena Rada’s costumes. Frankly, I prefer the tamer version of "Avenue Q,” but the enthusiastic audience of twenty-somethings delivered a hearty - and deserved - standing ovation.