A Review

Welcome To The Neighborhood

By R. J. Donovan

Take the essence of "Sesame Street," crank it up to an Adults Only level, add some endearing actors handling some pretty irreverent puppets and you've got "Avenue Q." Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2004, the touring production is in residence at The Colonial Theatre through Nov 22.

The tuneful story follows Princeton, a brand spanking new college grad who's about to embark on his brand spanking new life in New York City.  Turns out NYC is pretty pricey.  So as he searches for an apartment that fits his meager budget, he works his way through the alphabet streets, starting on Avenue A. 

When he finally arrives at Avenue Q, he not only finds a place to match his wallet, but a whole slew of new friends, including: Rod, a closeted Republican banker; Kate Monster, a kindergarten teaching assistant; stand-up comedian Brian and his therapist wife Christmas Eve; Nicky, all round good guy and roommate of Rod; Trekkie Monster, the neighbor pervert; local chanteuse Lucy The Slut; a pair of Bad Idea Bears who merrily encourage the worst behavior in everyone; and former child star Gary Coleman, who just happens to manage the neighborhood apartment building.

Things go sour fairly quickly when the job Princeton hasn't even started yet is yanked out from under him.  As he works his way through his problems and searches for his purpose in the world, he learns a bunch of really important lessons about wealth, poverty, racism, sex and the consequences in giving in to the lure of temptation. While the language can be strong, it's never delivered in a smutty manner. The fact that the concepts covered are well beyond the maturity of the characters results in a wide-eyed innocence that makes it all the funnier.

With music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and a book by Jeff Whitty, the show is based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx.   And original is it.  Despite the rundown neighborhood, the show has a bright and fresh feeling to it, with laugh out loud humor, most of it painfully politically incorrect.  Set amidst a "Sesame Street"-like environment of songs and cartoons (it should be noted that the folks at "Sesame Street" have absolutely nothing to do with any of this), it's completely accessible whether the characters are counting one night stands or begging the audience for money.

Unlike "Sesame Street," the puppeteers are clearly visible to one and all, although they don't interact with each other. Nor do the puppets acknowledge them. And before long, you find yourself watching the puppets as though they are actually the ones speaking.

Several of the actors do double duty (cleverly so) fronting more than one puppet.  Brent Michael DiRoma is fine and dandy as the pure-of-heart Princeton as well as the uptight Rod. Jacqueline Grabois (photo above) takes on the sweet Kate as well as sultry Lucy.  The vocal gem of the company is Jason Heymann (with Kerri Brackin and Trekkie above), who not only handles Nicky, but the guttural growls of Trekkie Monster as well as the squeaky falsetto of one of the Bad Idea Bears.  Not so fortunate is Lisa Helmi Johanson as Christmas Eve.  Much of her performance depends on the broken English accent she creates, and at times it was next to impossible to understand her.

From the anticipation of the crowd on opening night, there were obviously a lot of repeat visitors in the theater.  It's no secret that "Avenue Q" has built a cult following over the years.  And why not.  It's funny, joyously tuneful and speaks to some very adult topics while accessing the naughty child in each of us. 

"Avenue Q " is at the Colonial Theatre through November 22. For information, call 800-982-2787.

-- Production Photos: John Daughtry

-- OnStage Boston




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