Play: Avenue Q
Group: Touring company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 539 North Grand
Dates: Through February 24
Tickets: From $22 to $60; contact 314-534-1111 or www.metrotix.com
Story: As the lead character, Princeton, sings at the beginning of the production, "What do you do with a degree in English?" In his case, you move to New York City in search of your "purpose." Since you have very little money, you end up living on Avenue Q in a boarding house, run by former child actor Gary Coleman, whose residents include an aspiring comedian, his psychologist fiancée, an investment banker and his slacker roommate, a reclusive porn addict and an assistant kindergarten teacher who aspires to open her own school.
Will quiet and respectful Princeton find true romance with Kate, the shy schoolteacher, or succumb to the wiles of Lucy the Slut, a sexy performer at a local nightclub? Will Rod the investment banker acknowledge his own homosexuality? Will Brian and Christmas Eve finally find success as a stand-up comic and therapist with lasting clients, respectively? Those are the challenges in this Muppets-for-adults musical comedy written by Jeff Whitty, with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx.
Highlights: Winner of three Tony Awards in 2003, Avenue Q is every bit as mesmerizing as The Muppet Show, albeit an adults-only version and one that specifically states in promotional materials "has not been authorized or approved by The Jim Henson Company or Sesame Workshop, which have no responsibility for its content." Nonetheless, the work of puppet designer Rick Lyon is smart and highly impressive.
That’s good, since Avenue Q is often sexually graphic, both verbally and physically, even if the performers are puppets on some fairly long strings. What’s most entertaining about the show are the precision and dexterity of the puppeteers, namely Robert McClure (Princeton, Rod), Kelli Sawyer (Kate, Lucy), David Benoit (Nicky, Trekkie Monster) and Minglie Chen (Mrs. T the teacher and also one of the two Bad Idea Bears). While they clearly are singing and speaking as they maneuver their alter egos, they’re so talented and poised that one mostly keeps eyes turned toward the characters. Personal favorites are the Bad Idea Bears, who hover around Princeton and delight in coaxing him into all manner of troubling situations.
The non-puppeteers are equally gifted, including St. Louis native Carla Renata. Her high-pitched speaking contrasts sharply with her beautiful singing voice, and her comic abilities do keep you in mind of the diminutive, one-time TV star. Angela Ai and Cole Porter complete the cast as amiable human inhabitants Brian and Christmas Eve.
The tunes are generally catchy and clever and address such sociological issues as racism ("Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist") and sexual preference ("I’m Not Gay") as well as traditional ballads on evergreen topics such as love ("It’s a Fine Line").
Other Info: While it’s essentially a lightweight show, Jason Moore directs the proceedings pleasantly enough in straight-ahead style. Ken Roberson’s choreography is effective if fairly simple, while the music supervision by Stephen Oremus is solid in support of the troupe. Anna Louizos’ set design has a Sesame Street look, brightly lit by Howell Binkley, with some cheerful and showy costumes courtesy of Mirena Rada.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5, but definitely not for kids.