SPECIAL TO THE MONTSERRAT REVIEW
The Broadway Musical
Harman Center for the Arts
Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Book by Jeff Whitty
Puppets conceived and designed by Rick Lyon — ( July 15 through August 15 )
Reviewed by Grace Cavalieri
When was the last time you saw a standing ovation for a bunch of stuffed dolls? At the Lansburgh Theater AVENUE Q has brought its touring company with a dirty little funny little puppet show (for adults) making us wish it could take up residency on Washington’s J street. Warning: There is full puppet nudity (plus puppet sex) so don’t bring the kids, but do bring everyone else you know to this hilarious adorable not - quite-satire-not -quite - porn show. What does a brilliant idea + talented puppeteers + high jinks technical stage craft+ substantial backing equal? Well the answer is as predictable as some of the lyrics -- It is a Smash, honored by more than one Tony Award. I remember being young, when going to the theater meant laughing and surprises and “Oooooh.” And so it does again.
Is “Rod” a gay puppet? Rod insists No because he’s an Investment Banker Republican; and so much of the plot is seeing Rod through his confusion plus the sweet song ”If You were gay.” The show opens with our hero “Princeton.” The puppet just graduated from college entering the real world - AVENUE Q. He complains, ‘What can you do with a BA in English?’ Audience knows the feeling. But then he learns that Unemployed means Opportunity. There is also of course puppet love. Large screens - either side of the stage - flash helpful editorial comments, with social commentary as well from the dancing boxes on stage. A winning piece comes when “Princeton” meets” Kate Monster.” She is looking for a boyfriend but, after all, she IS a monster. This triggers “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist.” The dexterous Puppeteers make all subjects sweet via song. One of our favorite characters is “Trekkie Monster” who ‘likes two dimensional women’ and spends 24 hours a day online, thus the rollicking number “The Internet Is For Porn.” For a minute we think porn could be on cereal boxes. Who can get mad at a Muppet monster? But then the closing line: grab your dick and double click. Well maybe not cereal.
Enter “Lucy The Slut" puppet and there is triangle trouble for Princeton and Kate, made worse by Oh no! The T-Bears! Who are blue and yellow and look like they should be teddies in somebody’s crib, but urge drinking and sex and everything naughty. These Bad Idea Bears are so cute. .. Who can resist doing everything bad? When there are troubles on Avenue Q, the upside is “Schadenfreude” with puppets harmonizing about the silver lining of pain—enjoying another’s misfortune. “Nicky,” Rod’s ex roommate is so uplifted that he advertizes for Rod to get a gay partner. For a brief time the ensemble all wish they could go back to college, and sing ”I don’t know who I am anymore.” But true to fantastic fantasy they all know they can make the world a better place by GIVING. They collect funding (from the porn industry of course) to open the Monstesorri School that Kate Monster has always dreamed about. Of course hardships never go entirely away even in puppet land but the closing song “For Now” gives hope. The bad patches (even “Glenn Beck”) are only for now. How these actors sing and emote through alter egos is wizardry enough for any stage, and how we fall for it is even more of a mystery.
Directed by Jason Moore
Choreographer, Ken Roberson
Orchestration, Stephen Oremus
Set Design, Anna Louizos
Costume Design, Mirena Rada;
Lighting Design, Howell Binkley
Sound Design, Jon Weston & Lew Mead
Cast: Brent Michael DiRoma, Tim Kornblum, Jacqueline Grabois, Michael Liscio, Jr., Lisa Helmi Johanson, Charles M. Baskerville, Kerri Brackin, Ashley Eileen Bucknam, Ben Hart, Julianna Lee, Zach Trimmer. Box office: 202-547-1122. HarmanCenter.org.
Grace Cavalieri is a playwright and a poet. She produces “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress” for public radio.