April 16, 2009 - Avenue Q at the Bass
When the musical Avenue Q won the Tony Award
for "Best Musical" in 2005, the critics were left scratching
their heads. In the documentary ShowBusiness, New York is Charles Isherwood is shown at the moment that Avenue Q is announced the
winner - beating expected winner Wicked - and the camera catches his
disbelief and statement that maybe
critics don't understand the public anymore.
Well, the national tour of Avenue Q that just played the
Bass Concert Hall shows that writers Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
certainly understand that the modern nostalgia factor, and know how to
twist it into a clever send-up of everyday folks trying to carve out
their piece of the American dream. It's like an inside joke that
For everyone that grew up on Sesame Street and The Electric Company, the
show's 1970s and 80s look and feel will be very familiar. Most of
the show's characters are puppets, and the set design channels Sesame
Street's ghetto sister neighborhood.
We meet the characters that live on
the street, including an unemployed stand-up comedian, his Asian wife,
a closeted gay Republican, and building superintendent - and ex-child
star - Gary Coleman. But the show goes beyond the conceit and
creates modern characters and situations - and heavy doses of true
emotion - that make the audience care what happens to them in the end.
Yes, the static expressions on the
puppets occasionally fight the emotion of the songs and dialogue, so
it's too easy to ignore the puppet and concentrate on the puppeteer.
This is not a bad thing, as these actors are superb. And
their ability to rapidly jump between characters - as all but two of
the actors are multi-cast - is astonishing.
The show never takes itself too
seriously, even in the poignant moments. Some of the sight gags
are ingenious, as are the use of television screens that remind the
audience that this is a grown-ups version of PBS - and thus life skills training - with a wicked
sense of humor.
The songs are infectious and silly,
but with strong dose of un-politically correct satire. But even
as the subject matter can be uncomfortable - such as excepting racism,
or celebrating sex and pornography - the realization that (as on song
reminds) "everyone stereotype is based on true" tends to
redeem the lyrics, and thus the characters.
So with Avenue
Q, don't expect big dance numbers,
huge 11 o'clock numbers, or falling chandeliers. But do expect to
have a great time at the theatre.
(Image: National tour cast of Avenue Q; photo by Carol Rosegg)