REVIEW: Avenue Q (Broadway in Chicago)

A perky-pervy ‘Avenue’ like no other

 

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Broadway in Chicago presents
 
Avenue Q
 
Music/lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez
at
Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
thru May 9th  |  tickets: $22-$67  |  more info

reviewed by Catey Sullivan

Sure, the hot puppet sex scene – anal, oral, Reverse Cowgirl and a riotous assortment of additionally hilariously raunchy positions one does not normally associate with puppets – is a real grabber, so to speak.

But there’s so much more to the perky and pervy world of Avenue Q. The 2004 Best Musical Tony-winner – an explicit and R-rated ode to Sesame Street and the life-lessons therein- has more veracity than many a real-people populated drama. avenuq3 For example: Everyone’s a little bit racist. And: The more you love someone, the more you sometimes want to kill them. And: Life often sucks. And finally (but of course): The Internet is for porn. Go ahead – try and dispute the grain-to-mountain of truth in any of those statements. If you are at all honest with yourself, you will lose that debate. That the last bit of wisdom is delivered in a chirpy song that sounds, lyrics aside, as if it should be the tune to a nursery rhyme, only increases its sage power.

Some seven years after Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (music, lyrics, original concept) introduced the world to the multi-culti wholesome denizens of  a seedy, scrappy corner of  New York City, Avenue Q still holds up.

The effectiveness of Avenue Q lies in part in its brazen willingness to give voice to things simply not said in polite society. Coming from puppets, some self-evident truths are a bit easier to swallow. With a touring production that keeps the expensive production values of the original Broadway incarnation largely intact, Avenue Q maintains its winning mix of peppy charm and profane raunch,  (hilariously) dream-shattering cynicism and up-with-people, can-do enthusiasm.

Its endearing, enduring gimmick – storytelling via an ensemble of puppet characters and “real” people – is immensely clever. Black-clad actors (there’s no attempt to hide them) give voice and marvelous movement to bug-eyed, cloth moppets. It’s a device that sounds terrible on paper – a cheesy mix of ventriloquism and kindergarten field trip. But it works, beautifully thanks to a top-notch cast and Lopez’ utterly winning material.

When Princeton, as idealistic and clueless as only a newly minted B.A. in English can be, shows up looking for his purpose in life and an affordable apartment, he’s embodied in the face, body and voice of both actor Brent Michael DiRoma and the puppet DiRoma’s carrying.

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DiRoma and Jacqueline Grabois anchor the production, each portraying a pair of Avenue Q residents. In addition to Princeton, DiRoma is also the Bert- (as in Ernie and) like Rod, a lonesome closeted gay man who you just know is going to come out in a feel-good, huge triumph-of-the-human spirit big song ‘n dance number before the evening’s over.

Grabois is both Kate Monster, a shy and wholesome (at least until she’s wasted) assistant kindergarten teacher who dreams of founding a special school where little monsters can be safe from ridicule  and the sashaying Lucy the Slut, a character whose name pretty much sums her up.

Watching Grabois and DiRoma agiley veer between characters – sometimes in the same conversation – you get a sense of how deceptively demanding Avenue Q really is. It only looks easy. But technique, no matter how impressive, is not what Avenue Q has to offer the audience. Avenue Q is a lovely and lively mix of smut and sweetness that even the most puppet-averse will find irresistible.

 
 
Rating: ★★★★
 
 

 

 

Avenue Q continues through May 9 at the Bank of America Theatre, 19 W. Monroe.Tickets are $25 – $75. For more information, go to www.avenueqontour.com or www.broadwayinchicago.com

   

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