"Avenue Q," the Tony-winning Broadway puppet musical by Jeff Whitty, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, is at Seattle's Paramount Theatre through June 22; reviewed by Misha Berson.
Can’t we all just get along?
Maybe, if the world becomes a little more like “Avenue Q.”
In this popular Broadway show, which won the Tony Award in 2004 for best new musical, puppet monsters dwell in peace with humans. Gay puppets are best friends with straight puppets. A black, has-been sitcom actor makes nice with white slackers.
And they all join hands and sing … “Kumbaya”? No way. Their anthem is the cheerily whiny ode to inadequacy, “It Sucks to Be Me.”
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Having its Seattle debut in a touring production at Paramount Theatre, “Avenue Q” is tailored for anyone who graduated from college in, say, the past dozen years, with no clue about what to do next. But the show is humorous, clever and quirky enough to appeal also to folks who never had “Sesame Street” as their TV nanny.
It’s that premise — “Sesame Street” — that’s been neatly appropriated in “Avenue Q” by author Jeff Whitty and composers-lyricists Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx.
And it is enlivened by an excellent cast of actor-puppeteer-singers (and plain old actor-singers) who perform with panache and dexterity.
To borrow a phrase from one of its engaging songs, “Avenue Q” walks a fine line between snarky and sweet, while depicting the low expectations and high hopes of broke young adults in a shabby New York City enclave.
Princeton (a fuzzy, Jim Henson-esque puppet, marvelously voiced and manipulated by the very visible Robert McClure) moves to Avenue Q fresh from college. Searching for a “purpose,” he gets involved with a lovable teaching assistant, Kate Monster — another puppet, operated with bravado by Kelli Sawyer. (Sawyer also voices Princeton’s trashier love interest, Lucy.)
A cluster of other neighbors welcome Princeton, too. His building super is a broadly lampooned version of former child actor Gary Coleman (played in human form, by Danielle K. Thomas).
Closeted gay puppet Rod (also McClure) and his heterosexual roomie Nicky (David Benoit) are the block’s Bert and Ernie, and a human couple — the shrill Japanese therapist, Christmas Eve (Jennie Kwan) and her dimwit boyfriend, Brian — are also in the mix. (Brian was played by understudy Cullen R. Titmas opening night, but Jordan Gelber took over Wednesday and will play the role for the rest of the run.)
The show’s inner-city backdrop, its furry puppet population, and its instructive songs and videos do all hark back to “Sesame Street.” But the shrewd lyrics satirize prolonged American adolescence (in “I Wish I Could Go Back to College”) and send up that old bugaboo, “political correctness” (“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”).
Now and then, “Avenue Q” goes over the cheap-laughs edge in its parody of racial stereotyping, as well as juvenile sex humor (such as in the tune “The Internet Is for Porno,” sung by the potty-mouthed Trekkie Monster puppet). Given that, and some graphic puppet sex (we’re not kidding), bring kids under 13 at your own peril.
Also, anyone not conversant with pop trivia from the 1970s and ’80s may want to get a quick tutorial — at least on the rise and crash of Gary Coleman’s career.
But Whitty’s book for the musical comes up with some hilarious new lore, in the form of two cuddly pastel puppets known as The Bad Idea Bears. These giggly little devils (voiced by Minglie Chen and Benoit) pop up to offer booze and other enticements that get Princeton and Kate Monster into trouble.
Overall, the generational snapshot offered in “Avenue Q” is not a very flattering one to Gen-Xers. And at times, the comedic irony is laid on with a trowel. (“The more you love someone / The more you want to kill ’em,” goes one of the lesser songs.)
But while spoofing the self-centeredness of these underachievers, “Avenue Q” also makes them pretty adorable and funny. And by the end, the show gently urges Princeton and the gang to become more tolerant — and also to just grow up.
“There is life outside your apartment,” a song advises. That is, if you stop the pity party and embrace it.
Misha Berson: email@example.com