Puppets sure have changed since I was a kid—in a good way, a very good way. Don’t look for them on PBS though. You’re more likely to find this raucous lot on HBO. Last night, the tony award-winning musical Avenue Q rolled into town with a bunch of starry-eyed, cursing, puppets in tow. Yes, the full frontal puppet nudity is here, as advertised. And so are the laughs. In droves. It’s a winning formula of clever humor, sarcasm, and shock value—with a purpose… of course.
The story is familiar, but the presentation is unique.
Innocent dreamer Princeton (Brent Michael DiRoma) arrives in New York with big dreams, and a BA in English. What do you do with that? But soon he realizes that college may be an easier place than rough and tumble life on Avenue Q, somewhere on the outskirts of the big city. Eventually he’s downsized (even before his first day on the job), falls in love, ponders his purpose in life, succumbs to “bad idea bears,” drinks too much, loses his love, dates the promiscuous lady dancer from the local bar.
Musical numbers are peppered throughout along with the occasional video segment on two floating LCD monitors that descend. We learn about purpose, commitment and Gary Coleman’s Schadenfreude.
No one is safe here, the cynical jabs go wide and deep. Racism, Stereotyping. Donating your way to God.
It sucks to be me.
One of the big decisions is whether to watch the puppets, or the actors that dance, sing and control alongside. I found myself not even thinking about it. The dynamic works. Magically you get twice the emotional impact. The connection between audience and puppet is visceral.
Before intermission Princeton and Kate Monster (Jacqueline Grabois) channel their inner Spring Awakening, then toss in some 9 1/2 weeks, Basic Instinct, and top it off with an unplugged rendition of Behind The Green Door. And all of it without a lower torso. You’ll have to get to the show to see how such puppet gymnastics are possible.
Oh, you can leave your children (under 13) behind (in case you didn’t get that quite yet). Teens, okay.
Jason Heymann later told me it was their first show back after a month long break. There were some hiccups on opening night, mostly technical. The left LCD monitor was a bugger all night long, refusing to display the correct video input. The occasional backstage noise was audible, and some of the lighting cues were off. But all of this was minor, an I wouldn’t trade any of it in for the raw, energetic performance the actors deliver.
Broadway San Jose continues to bring on the hits. Their fourth show of the season (Spamalot, Spring Awakening, Riverdance), Avenue Q is another welcome show and ferociously entertaining for those ready for an evening of furry satire.
- Social Networking meet theater: I sent an invite to actor Jason Heymann who we talked with at the after party at Morton’s. Less than an hour later he accepted the invite, and we were connected on Facebook. The immediacy of Web 2.0 is exciting.
- Rain, rain go away. Once again, opening night at Broadway San Jose brought the rain. Life could be tougher, though.
- Less bowing, less waving: Riverdance set the record for the most # of over-the-top, earth-shattering, look-at-me curtain calls ever seen on planet Earth. Thankfully Avenue Q gets it (humbly) deservedly right.
- Social Networking meet theater Part 2: Forget about the cheap seats. Bring on the “TweetSeats.” Broadway San Jose continues to push the Twitter envelope. “The TweetSeat program is an exclusive opportunity for patrons to attend the opening night performance and sit in designated Orchestra-level “TweetSeats” where we are allowing patrons to Tweet during the performance to their network.” Or as I like to call it: volunteer intern marketing.
- Puppet or actor? Big question for the after party at Morton’s Steakhouse just down the street from the SJ Center for the Performing Arts: Would the puppets make an appearance?
- What does Lamb Chop have to do with all this? Find out tomorrow in our On Location video.
- Avenue Q won 3 Tony Awards in 2004: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score
- The puppets are sequestered from the actors during rehearsals, given complete princess treatment; lest anything go wrong with their fur or toupe.
4 out of 5 stars
Broadway San Jose
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Book by Jeff Whitty
Directed by Jason Moore
Starring Brent Michael DiRoma, Tim Kornblum, Jaqueline Grabois, Jason Heymann, Lisa Helmi Johanson, Nigel Jamaal Clark, Kerri Brackin
to January 17, 2010
Warning: Contains Strong Language and Full Puppet Nudity