Reviewed by Judy Richter
Maybe because it's so different from the typical Broadway fare, "Avenue Q" beat out "Wicked," among others, to win the 2004 Tony Award for best musical. To be sure, "Avenue Q" has its strong points, but it lacks the depth and drama of "Wicked." Or maybe I'm not in the right generation to appreciate this adultified, R-rated takeoff on "Sesame Street," the popular TV series for children.
Playing in San Francisco as part of its national tour, "Avenue Q" is set in a very low-rent district of New York City, where a recent college graduate, Princeton (Robert McClure), rents an apartment and meets his neighbors: Brian (Cole Porter), an aspiring but not funny comic; roommates Nicky (Christian Anderson) and Rod (also McClure, who makes him too shrill), a closeted gay; Christmas Eve (Angela Ai), a psychotherapist and Brian's girlfriend; Kate Monster (Kelli Sawyer), a kindergarten assistant; and Gary Coleman (Carla Renata), the landlord.
The twist to this show is that several of the key characters are portrayed by large hand puppets carried and manipulated by the humans who give them voice. The only performers who don't have puppets are Porter, Ai and Renata. The puppeteers portray others besides their primary characters. Completing the cast is puppeteer Minglie Chen, who appears in several roles.
Directed by Jason Moore, The show portrays the angst of people in their early 20s who are trying to figure out what they're going to do now that they're out of college and have to take care of themselves as adults. It's laced with profanities and has some puppet depictions of sex. The music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx have a certain bounce as well as some sameness. The puppets are designed by Rick Lyon, the set by Anna Louizos, the costumes by Mirena Rada, the lighting by Howell Binkley, sound by Acme Sound Partners, choreography by Ken Roberson and musical supervision by Stephen Oremus. Animations by Lopez supplement the set and plot.
Despite the accomplished cast and the cleverness of the design team, it's hard to care much about the characters because the story is so shallow and predictable.