Avenue Q: The Musical — book by Jeff Whitty and music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx — opened off-Broadway in March 2003 and subsequently won Tony® Awards for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. In short, it’s the story of a dysfunctional mix of people and puppets who whine, curse, say racist things, drink, surf the ‘Net for porn, and have puppet sex. But it’s also a tale of friendship, community, relationships and the love that holds it all together. Welcome to Avenue Q, a place where humans and puppets live in hilarious harmony and Gary Coleman — yes, Gary Coleman — is the building Super.
As the show begins, we meet Princeton (played splendidly by Jason Tokarski, who gives the puppet a boyish, naïve charm), a recent college grad who moves to the big city. Since he’s an English major without a job, he can’t afford to live anywhere but the apartments on Avenue Q. Here, meets his new “family” — an entertaining array of human and puppet neighbors including Brian (Shawn Kline) and Christmas Eve, his Asian-American therapist fiancée (Suzanne J. Stein); roommates Rod and Nicky (Ernie-and-Bert types played by Jim Burns and Anthony Vitalo, respectively); Trekkie Monster (Nick D’Argenio) and his friend-maybe-more Kate Monster (no relation to Trekkie; not all monsters are related…what are you, racist?). Their lives' complexities ensue, as they all try to find their ‘purposes’ in life.
Kate Monster (Regina Dzielak) is a gentle, compassionate creature that longs for career success, to fulfill her dreams and to find love. Dzielak plays her with humor and vulnerability, her voice sweet and lovely as she sings about Princeton’s “Mix Tape” and the place between friendship and love in “There’s a Fine, Fine Line.”
There were highlights aplenty for me, including Burns’ role as Rod, the impossibly-uptight-possibly-gay-Republican roomie to Vitalo’s Nicky. Burns’ performance — especially in “If You Were Gay” and “My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada” — was ROFL funny. Also delivering side-splitting laughs is Nick D’Argenio as Trekkie Monster, with inappropriate interjections and his performance in “The Internet is for Porn.” He’s every guy’s guy in a Cookie Monster form. And, stealing more than one scene are Katie Brady and Chrissy Stief as the Bad Idea Bears — they’re cute, they're cuddly, they’re pure evil and they’re funny as hell.
Tommy Fisher-Klein has a solid comedic performance as “Gary Coleman,” sliding in and out of scenes with quick-witted jabs and reactions that make you laugh out loud. He gives us another highlight (and set-up to the aforementioned puppet sex) with “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love).” The entire scene had the audience hooting.
As mentioned, the cast is a mix of real-life actors and actors, dressed in black to minimize “obstruction,” maneuvering large-scale hand puppets. At times, it was a bit challenging for me to shift between watching the puppets versus the actors themselves. However, the performer who made it most seamless was Shelli Ezold as Lucy the Slut. Ezold does an incredible job in her movement and manner, placing your focus on Lucy’s, um, assets while delivering a power-packed sexpot of a character with her gorgeous, sultry voice.
Directed by Wayne Meadows, the show is accented with “Sesame-like” multimedia features, as well as fun audience interaction, and I was pleased to see that Meadows chose a live orchestra for music. The first act moves quickly with the most raucous songs and activity; the second act is a bit slower but still enjoyable. We sat in the front center row, but I don’t recommend it for everyone…I think the sightlines are a bit better further back in the theater. (Although you’ll miss getting picked on by the cast, which was a riot.)
While I don’t necessarily wish I lived on Avenue Q, I absolutely loved visiting with its quirky residents, who made me glad that my life doesn’t suck as much as theirs. Decide for yourself — the show runs through October 6!