April 16, 2009 - Avenue Q at the Bass Concert Hall
     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 everyone understands.
   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)