This week, GW students will attend their last classes and panic about the massive amounts of work to complete for finals. Most people will decline invitations to go out in order to stay home and (attempt to) study. That choice may be a bigger mistake than sleeping through the final review for biochemistry. After sold-out Broadway performances and a 10-month gig in Las Vegas, “Avenue Q” is in the District until Sunday as part of its first national tour.
“Avenue Q” is the wicked, wayward brainchild of Robert Lopez, who created the concept for the play. Lopez also worked on the animation design and co-wrote the music and lyrics with Jeff Marx, with whom he had previously collaborated on the musical episode of the television show “Scrubs.” The two recruited Jeff Whitty, who developed a clever script to appeal to of adults and teenagers alike. Jason Moore of “Steel Magnolias” directed, and Rick Lyon of The Lyon Puppets Company joined the team to design the loveable, libidinous cast. With their combined genius, the group created a raunchy parody of Sesame Street that stole the 2004 Best Musical Tony Award from under the ruby slippers of “Wicked.”
Yes, many of the characters are furry, felt and only two feet tall. Fortunately, their plush demeanors only add to the comedy of the script. Imagine listening to Elmo and Big Bird talk candidly about racism, homosexuality and pornography. Better yet, picture Grover and Oscar getting drunk and having sex on stage – Welcome to Avenue Q!
The show commences with Princeton, a college graduate determined to find his purpose in life. While pondering, “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?,” Princeton (Robert McClure) stumbles across Avenue Q as the ragtag residents argue “It Sucks to be Me.” Kate Monster (Kelli Sawyer) is a dateless teaching assistant. Her neighbor, Rod (McClure), is at odds with his best friend and roommate, Nicky (David Benoit assisted by Minglie Chen). Hiding upstairs behind the blue glow of a computer screen sits the notorious Trekkie Monster (Benoit and Chen), while the adorable, diminutive Bad Idea Bears (Benoit and Chen) appear only when it is time to sow mischief amongst their fellow puppets.
As far as flesh and bone characters go, Brian (played by Cole Porter) is a recently unemployed 30-something looking to rekindle his childhood dream of becoming a comedian while his aggressive fiancée Christmas Eve (Angela Ai), a Japanese woman with an exaggerated accent and two “mas-tah da-glees”, pressures him to find a job. Of course, the piece de resistance is Gary Coleman (Carla Renata), a former child star who cannot escape his financial problems and “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” days.
During the two-hour song and dance splendor, the audience looks on as Princeton sets out to find a job and his reason for being alive. Along the way, the Bad Idea Bears and a new relationship with Kate distract him. Mix the aforementioned characters with copious amounts of alcohol and stir, and you have an instant onstage puppet sex scene just before intermission! Meanwhile, Rod struggles with his feelings toward his roommate as Christmas Eve looks for clients in need of psychotherapy. Nicky has trouble being a good friend while Brian has trouble being a good comedian. As the only resident of Avenue Q whose life cannot get any worse, Gary contents himself by commenting on his neighbors’ lives.
In addition to an interactive, realistic set by Anne Louizos, the show is truly brought to life by the brilliant cast. McClure and Sawyer are especially adept at melding with the puppets they carry in order to imbue emotion into the otherwise expressionless faces and motions.