May 31st, 2008


A Terrific Show Appears on Q

I went to see the musical Avenue Q last night. What, you haven’t heard of it? This probably signifies one or more of the following:
A) You’re not a theater person
B) You like theater OK, but you’re not into musicals
C) You don’t watch the Tony Awards
D) You don’t know what you’re missing!

Let me state the bottom line right here: Avenue Q is enormous fun. As an audience member, you will spend two hours laughing, guffawing, nodding, smiling, and applauding.

For me personally, it was a reminder of what I go to the theater hoping to see, even though I’m usually disappointed. This was probably the most fun I’ve had attending a play since I saw The People vs. Friar Laurence – The Man Who Killed Romeo and Juliet. If that show ever comes your way, don’t miss it!

So what story is being told in Avenue Q? The answer to that question is of secondary importance. The more important fact is the style of it, not the story of it. It’s a parody/homage of Sesame Street, only its characters have grown beyond the childhood concerns that Bert & Ernie might articulate. These folks are concerned more with issues relating to work, money, homelessness, sexual identity, dating, and most importantly of all, Purpose.

Like its inspirational source, Avenue Q is a mix of puppets and humans interacting seamlessly, along with some supporting video “lessons” shown on large screens. The puppets are carried by actors who wear gray/black clothing, but who are completely visible to the audience. It’s a convention we immediately buy into; we generally watch the puppets, not the people operating them.

A strong feature of the show, as with most musicals, is its songs. Some of my favorites include, “It Sucks to Be Me,” “If You Were Gay,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” and “The Internet is for Porn.” The titles alone should give you a good notion of what you’re in for.

This can’t be an easy show to cast. Its performers need to act, sing, dance (a bit), and be able to work puppets fluidly while doing all those other things. The national touring company, who we saw last night at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, was uniformly excellent, though a few folks clearly stood out. My favorite was Kelli Sawyer, who played both Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut (well, that’s what they called her!). Sawyer bounced between these two very different characters – sometimes even doing dialogue between the two – without missing a beat. She has a gorgeous singing voice and should be in the early stages of a glorious career. I hear tell she is also pregnant, so she will presumably be leaving the show soon, which will be a great loss to the theater-going public. Still, if one would look for a reason to leave a show such as this, one could hardly wish for a better reason, so I wish Ms. Sawyer well and thank her for sharing her talent with us last night!

In closing, Avenue Q is an enormously clever and entertaining show, and this national touring company does it justice. Most of us stood during curtain call, and it wasn’t just to get a jump on the exiting crowd; this show deserved it. There are many more cities to go on the tour, so keep an eye out for it!

Postscript — AQ won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2004. That win was considered by many to be a surprise upset over the much-celebrated Wicked. By coincidence, both shows are now playing at major theaters in the Loop, both of which are on Randolph Street about two blocks apart.
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