Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Masterpiece of Puppets

Theater Review

Avenue Q
Bank of America Theatre
Thru May 9, 2010

A randy, raunchy and gleefully non-PC spoof on Sesame Street, Avenue Q is wonderful from A-to-Z.

I selected the musical as my second favorite of the 00s and consider it one of the 21st century's best pieces of entertainment, in any form. Wickedly funny, surprising tuneful, tremendously insightful on a variety of topics and one of the most spot-on societal satires you'll find anywhere, Avenue Q well-deserved its 2004 Tony for Best Musical (over Wicked) and is highly worth seeing even on the current non-Equity tour now playing at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre (formerly known as the Shubert).

Especially if you've never seen it, I suggest you do so. If you can get a ticket.

Available seats for the week-long Chicago run seem sparse and the one aspect of Avenue Q that has often left me shaking my head is a string of puzzling business decisions. Certainly, the show has been successful, with a 6-year Broadway run returning over $23 million to its investors, and yet, if I had been an investor, I think I would've sued someone over all the money left on the table.

After being developed in 2002 at Connecticut's Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in 2002, Avenue Q opened Off-Broadway early in 2003, quickly moved to Broadway and won the Tony in 2004, the year I first saw and loved it in New York. But rather than embark on a National Tour in 2005, the producers decided to take Steve Wynn's money for a Las Vegas production that flopped and closed after only 9 months. I also saw and loved Avenue Q in Vegas, but no matter how brilliantly subversive and risque in some of its subject matter, Sin City just wasn't the right spot for a puppet show.

Featuring both humans acting as humans and other humans manning puppets acting human--I know how that might sound, but it works just fine--Avenue Q didn't tour the U.S. until 2007 and first came to Chicago in May 2008. Despite having lost some of its post-Tony steam, the two week run here was far too short for the demand, and two years later--after closing on Broadway in 2009 only to re-open Off-Broadway--the non-Equity tour is again shortchanging Chicago with just a measly week. Opening night was completely full and I expect the rest of the week to be likewise, although I was able to get an affordable balcony seat for last night just this past Sunday. (Ticketmaster link)

I know no one asked me, but Broadway in Chicago, which recently leased the Drury Lane Water Tower and re-christened it the Broadway Playhouse, should plant an Avenue Q production there, where it could probably run for years. Particularly if marketed properly, for it's an ideal show for anyone from about 15 to 35, and excepting anyone especially uptight, should delight folks considerably older, whether avid theatergoers or those who typically avoid musicals.

About a bunch of optimistic yet underachieving twenty- and young thirtysomethings living on a New York city block, Avenue Q not only clearly references Sesame Street with characters based on Bert & Ernie, Cookie Monster, etc., it also owes Rent for a good bit of inspiration. But despite its allusions, the show is phenomenally original, with songs like "It Sucks to Be Me," "If You Were Gay," "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist," and many others being hilarious, pointed and hummable all at the same time.

This was my fourth time seeing Avenue Q and while the especially young, non-Equity cast may not have been quite as great as others I've seen--the Tribune's Chris Jones didn't think so--I found the performances to be satisfactorily strong.

As most of the actors are responsible for not only tuneful singing and quality acting, but more-than-passable puppetry as well, I was pleasantly surprised by how good the current non-union cast appeared to me.

They certainly did a more-than-adequate job delivering the superlative source material, directed by original Broadway director Jason Moore and utilizing a full stage set. So all in all, the shoulda-been-era-defining show is being presented at a level of quality you likely won't be able to see too much longer, particularly in Chicago.

Whether by car, bus, train, bicycle or foot, get down to Avenue Q. 

(This is a video of the Original Broadway Cast doing "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist" on The View. You can also see some clips of the current touring cast here.)

1 comment:

G1000 said...

Yeah, it sounds great. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to get to it. What is it with these Broadway in Chicago productions running for only a week? Irritating.