As the season turns to the youthful optimism of spring, it is fitting that Avenue Q comes to the Orpheum. This show provides a very un-ironic look at the time that was most ironic for many of us, especially if you came of age in the 1980’s. With a huge heart and dialogue so in-your-face it elicits a collective gasp, Avenue Q is sure to win new fans.
The show’s characters include Princeton, a recent college grad who comes to New York and enjoys an off-again on-again relationship with monster Kate, a kindergarden teaching assistant who wants to start a school for monsters. Rod, a closeted Republican investment banker, lives with his straight roommate Nic. Brian, an the out-of-work comedian lives with his Asian girlfriend, Christmas Eve. Swap out Cookie Monster and his cookies, and replace them with Trekkie Monster and his porn and put them all in a ratty apartment house with Gary Coleman as a super and you have the characters and setting of the show.
Despite the Sesame Street puppets, this view of the post-collegiate world is tantalizingly sophisticated to high school students. However, this isn’t just a coming-of-age story that you can easily dismiss; for older folks, the show powerfully throws you back to a time and lets you re-experience those years with more tenderness and forgiveness than you ever did before. To get that in exchange for the price of a ticket is a powerful bargain.
The music from the show has been kicking around our house ever since my son saw it in Las Vegas in 2005, and unlike most other musicals, the music is so edgy and attention-getting that it plays well even if you’ve never seen the show. This is a musical for those who hate musicals. However, as my son noted, “seeing the show just pushes it over the top altogether.” With a dynamic cast, a great score, a funny script, and a harsh kind of honesty, this show has so much going for it – including that rarity of rarities, a second act that is just as strong as the first. Avenue Q signifies some kind of high water mark that keeps bringing us back to the theatre again and again.
Avenue Q is smart theatre that embraces the audience just as the audience embraces the show. Audience members came close to turning “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “If You Were Gay” into collective sing-alongs. Time and time again, the audience responded in some collective recognition, such as the thrum of recognition to a throw-away plaint sung by Nicky asking “what would I give go back and live in a dorm with a meal plan again?”
Several bits of dialogue and a few small changes (such as the lit-up wedding gown and flash-and-glitz in the wedding scene) were new. These kept the show current without playing havoc on the central conceit. Gone are the huge screens that flanked the stage in the Vegas show, replaced by small screens that were adequate for the Orpheum.
With Spring breaks and ski week vacations in the offing, Avenue Q is great for parents and kids to take in together. However, act fast because this is only around until February 27th. The parent advisory on the web site notes that “Adults love Avenue Q, but they seem a little, er, fuzzy on whether it’s appropriate for kids. We’ll try to clear that up. Avenue Q is great for teenagers because it’s about real life. It may not be appropriate for young children because Avenue Q addresses issues like sex, drinking, and surfing the web for porn. It’s hard to say what exact age is right to see Avenue Q – parents should use their discretion based on the maturity level of their children. But we promise you this – if you DO bring your teenagers to Avenue Q, they’ll think you’re really cool.”
Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco
4.5 out of 5 stars
Book by Jeff Whitty
Music & Lyrics: Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx
Directed by Jason Moore
February 15 through February 27th