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Avenue Q is a puppet musical that takes off from, saucily spoofs, and cheekily de-kidifies Sesame Street. Several Sesame characters’ caricatures populate the godforsaken Avenue Q where the play and some of the characters are laid.
Princeton laments in song the uselessness of his just-acquired B.A. in English: Every apartment from Avenue A to P costing too much, he rents on Q, from the super, a young black woman with attitude who turns out to be Gary Coleman. Other live denizens—the fat, unemployed would-be comic, Brian, and his exaggeratedly Japanese therapist fiancée, Christmas Eve—sympathize with Princeton.
Even more sympathetic is the homely puppet Kate Monster, who falls for him. Less sympathetic are puppet roommates Rod, a buttoned-up suit of an investment banker and closet queen; and Nicky, a charming ne’er-do-well, who assures Rod in song about obliging him, “If I were gay (but I am not gay).” Other puppet characters are Trekkie Monster—whom the puppets’ creator (and one of the puppeteers), Rick Lyon, describes as “the love child of the Grinch and Chewbacca—a masturbator to Internet porn (song: “The Internet’s for Porn”); also Lucy T. Slut, the Mae West–ish knockoff of Miss Piggy; and the mean kindergarten teacher Lavinia Thistletwat, whose assistant-drudge Kate Monster is.
Princeton desperately seeks a purpose in life; Kate Monster needs money to start a school for monsters (a Monsterssori School, natch!); Christmas Eve, an unsuccessful therapist despite two M.A.’s, needs patients; Rod must find the guts to uncloset himself; Brian must commit to Christmas Eve—they finally have a Jewish wedding; and the two mischievous Bad Idea Bears, who make trouble for all, must reform, which, in a funny way, they eventually do. Out of such ingredients, we get an X-rated puppet show that has fun with racism (song: “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”), homosexuality, full frontal puppet nudity and sex, schadenfreude (song: “Schadenfreude”), obsession with porn, and other things that Sesame Street, from which some of these perpetrators graduated, couldn’t do.
The show is clever, but in a sophomoric way; one torch song begins, “There’s a fine fine line/ Between a lover and a friend,” and there’s an even finer fine line between smart and smart-ass. Yes, the puppets are funny; the live actors as well as the puppeteers who, in plain view, act along with their puppets are versatile and personable; and persiflage in song and dialogue skips along in blissful smuttiness. Thus the closeted Rob boasts about a (fictitious) Canadian, and therefore absent, girlfriend: “Her name is Alberta, / She lives in Vancouver. / She cooks like my mother / And sucks like a Hoover.” The creators are Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx, and Jeff Whitty, and it’s a moot question whether the show is too whitty or too jeff by half. The audience members at the preview I attended were ecstatic: The laughter and applause were barely distinguishable in decibels from a terrorist raid. They all seemed to be graduates of a Monsterssori School.
The characters of Avenue Q express their secret longings in a song entitled “I Wish I Could Go Back to College.” The authors and their director, Jason Moore, I assume, have no such problems: In their hearts and minds, they’re already there.