Avenue Q, book by Jeff Whittey, music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx; produced by Jewish Community Center: seen November 5, 2011
If you go on YouTube, you should be able to catch a tribute to Jim Henson that one of the networks put on shortly after he died. In it, Frank Oz says something along the lines that one of the reasons he loved working with Henson is that the Muppets were never ‘precious’ to Henson, that they were tools and characters and that Henson was most likely the first to make fun of their place in his life.
It makes me wonder how much he would enjoy Avenue Q. The story of a recent college grad Princeton (puppeteered by Brent Nanney), on his search to find a purpose, who ends up on the grown-up version of Sesame Street, out on – you guessed it – Avenue Q.
There, he meets your standard collection of other puppets, including a knockoff of Bert & Ernie, a knockoff of Cookie Monster, the potential love interest Kate Monster, as well as our resident PC human couple Brian and Christmas Eve, and of course the celebrity Gary Coleman.
However, in case you’re totally unaware of the show, this isn’t a kid’s show by any stretch. (A quick look at the soundtrack should assure you of that.) This is Sesame Street on acid, for those who have started realizing how hard real life can be. And for those of you who are worried about a community theatre production version of this, thinking they may have hesitated at some of the more graphic nature of this show, rest assured: the R rating is fully in force, with full-on puppet sex that was far nastier (in both the good AND the bad way) than Team America: World Police. In fact, rounding out the cast is Lucy The Slut and the Bad Idea Bears (I think my favorite characters, mainly because – due to the Bears not having any songs and so therefore not on the soundtrack – I was totally unaware of them beforehand).
Mark Swezey does a fine job directing this production – and should get kudos just for attempting this feat at a community theatre level. (No offense to community theatre: it’s just this is one of those shows that the slightest thing could make it a train wreck, and I’ve been in enough shows myself to know how easy the slightest thing can happen.) In fact, the few tech errors that did happen (the opening video didn’t play, and we had some minor mike issues early on) were corrected quickly and with little hubbub.
For the most part, the actors playing the puppets did an outstanding job: Samantha Agron especially did an excellent job as Kate Monster, pulling off that ‘fine, fine line’ of making sure the focus was on the puppet but still having a character. And her singing (especially on the “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” song) was heartbreaking.
However, there were a few moments with some of the other puppets where it felt like the ‘buffering’ between the singing of the actor and the mouth movements of the puppet was off. Every once in a while, too, the actor tended to upstage the puppet, breaking the very thin already suspension of disbelief an audience member has going to see this show. But these moments were few and far between, and the show runs quick enough to where it quickly moves on when it does.
Jamie Lin as Christmas Eve does a great job of playing almost every Asian stereotype out there, and whoever came up with her Act I costume should either be shot or given an award. I had a teacher in junior high who said he was color blind, and as a result wore some pretty horrible color combinations (I think the best/worst was St. Patrick’s Day, when he wore shirt, pants, and belt – all three different shades of green) – and he had NOTHING on this costume.
Act I, despite the few tech issues, seemed to be the stronger of the two acts (maybe because of the puppet sex?), each song zipping into each other. Act II went a bit slower, maybe because there’s less songs. Not many shows have the ability to make me laugh so hard I’m crying, and then feel so sorry for the characters that I want to hug them to make it all better.
It was nasty, it was offensive … and I loved every minute of it. I think Henson would’ve approved.
Avenue Q plays until November 20, and more information can be found at their website.
This review has been posted to the KC Stage review system. Agree or disagree? You can rate / review this show yourself (requires free registration) by going to KC Stage.