Those lipless mouths. Those yarn-button noses. Those
iconically familiar - but not identical enough for legal action - puppet-people
comfy, sold-out, Off-Broadway run at the Vineyard Theatre.
The rude yet benign, wicked yet sweet musical, which opened last night at
the Golden Theatre, is virtually the same clean little raunchy puppet show that
already captured the downtown hearts of 20-somethings, slackers, would-be
slackers and the parents who love them. To our nervous system, the extended
two-hour sketch would be sharper if trimmed to a tight 90 minutes without an
But the affection engendered for this "Sesame Street" homage and parody
since last spring demands, clearly, that director Jason Moore not change a hair
on Kate Monster's furry face. Done. Anna Louizos' street of friendly old
tenements has been stretched a bit to fill the larger stage, but the pop-open
walls, back- up singing pizza boxes and Rick Lyon's amiably invisible
puppeteers lose none of their intimacy in the bigger house.
On one level, "Avenue Q" serves as a sort of entry-level musical for
overeducated, underemployed college graduates with no prospects but plenty of
idealism about making a difference in the world. More universally, at one time
or another, most kids of any vintage want to know the way to Sesame Street.
Little do they imagine how many will instead find themselves a little farther
east from Easy Street - say, into the cheap-rent outer borough that offers
Newcomers Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx have written jaunty music and
unflinching lyrics that know their way around the nuance of sunny pop melodies,
juxtaposing the lilting jingles with such self-loathing but happy anthems as
"It --- to Be Me" and the ever-popular "You Can Be As Loud As the Hell You Want
(When You're Makin' Love)."
Yes, lonely, ambitious Kate - adorably embodied by Stephanie D'Abruzzo as
if the puppet were mind-melded up to her elbow - has hot sex with Princeton -
portrayed by the engaging John Tartaglia with a preppy puppet on his forearm.
And Nicky, the closeted-gay accountant - imbued with psychological body
language by puppetmaster Lyon - even has an erotic dream ballet about his
roommate [CORRECTION: The closeted gay accountant puppet in the Broadway
musical "Avenue Q" is named Rod. His puppeteer is John Tartaglia. The puppet
and puppeteer were misidentified in the "Avenue Q" review on Aug. 1. pg. A02
Jeff Whitty's book follows the journey of Princeton, the newest arrival on
Avenue Q, who wanders onto the only street he can afford in a graduation gown
and sings the eternal question, "What do you do with a BA in English?" He joins
other residents - human and puppet - most with job hunting on the brain and a
smile in their irreverent hearts. Like others who came before him, Princeton is
looking for a purpose. So animated images on hanging TV screens ask, "What's a
Purpose?" Even more useful on the screens are the post-coital, gender-specific
phonics lesson, the mathematical graphic explaining one- night stand and the
lesson on Schadenfreude - pleasure in someone else's pain.
The best example of Schadenfreude is, according to this show, the existence
of Gary Coleman. The poor guy's unfortunate career arc has been made into an
official running gag. In "Avenue Q," he's the building super and played by a
woman, Natalie Venetia Belcon, who bats her eyes and grins in caricature homage
to yet another stereotype. Ann Harada plays Christmas Eve - this is a
neighborhood where names need not be explained - a Japanese social worker whose
pronunciation of "L's" and "R's" is another ongoing punchline.
These and other nonchalant taboos lead to one of the best songs,
"Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," sung by all the real people and
people-puppets and monster-puppets, who, we learn, are the object of
considerable prejudice. Trekkie Monster doesn't often come out of his flat, but
will lead most of the group in the catchy "The Internet Is for Porn."
Sure, there is an uplifting message about ethnic and sexual diversity,
living for the moment and having interspecies tolerance for monsters. But, best
of all, there are two snuggly Bad-Idea Bears, who, with their wide eyes and
passive pleasantry, appear from nowhere to encourage everyone who should know
better to forget their "higher purposes" and have another Long Island Ice Tea.
The bears deserve a sequel.
AVENUE Q. Music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff
Whitty, directed by Jason Moore. Puppets by Rick Lyon, with sets by Anna
Louizos, costumes by Mirena Rada, lights by Frances Aronson, animation by
Lopez, music direction by Gary Adler, choreography by Ken Roberson. Golden
Theatre, 45th Street west of Broadway. Seen at Saturday afternoon's preview.