A few weeks ago, I reviewed The Book of Mormon. Most people probably think that that musical’s profane, hilariously irreverent worldview sprang solely from the warped minds of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And while Parker and Stone certainly contributed, they also had the help of a Mr. Robert Lopez, who, before signing on to The Book of Mormon, co-created another similarly styled award winner, Avenue Q.
The first five minutes of Avenue Q contain enough quirky, skewed humor to certify Lopez as an ingenious funny man on par with the Parkers, Stones and even Carlins of the world (we miss you, George). At intermission, one of my companions commented that she couldn’t believe it had taken so long for someone to take the world of Sesame Street and plunge it into the much less idealized realm of real life. I guess it took Lopez and his cohort, Jeff Marx, to realize the comic potential in such a pairing. We’re all lucky that they did.
Before the show even begins, Amy Campion’s set design sets the tone. A handful of dilapidated, inner city row houses that look as though they saw their last good day sometime around the middle of the Reagan era let the audience know that Avenue Q isn’t going to be the sunny day, clouds swept away kind of place its inspiration was. The fact that Avenue Q keeps its audience in stitches from beginning to end with humor based on poverty, racism and sex proves just how unique and exciting this musical is.
Fresh out of college and wondering how to turn a B.A. in English into employment, Princeton (Brett Ambler) signs a lease for an apartment on Avenue Q. Avenues A through P, it seems, were too high-rent for the freshly minted graduate. He quickly meets the other residents of the block, a very mixed bag of strivers and loafers, who all share his yearning for a purpose in life.
There’s Brian (Scott Beyette and Brian Jackson, alternately), an aspiring comedian who’s sort of a human Fozzie Bear. Brian is engaged to would-be therapist and walking, talking Asian stereotype Christmas Eve (MariJune Scott), who, with her broken Engrish and lack of tact, is easily one of the funniest characters. When she heckles Brian at one of his gigs by shouting, “You get job!” I thought I was going to do a spit take.
The flesh-and-blood humans live side by side with puppet humans and monsters. Bert and Ernie analogs Rod and Nicky (Brett Ambler and Seth Caikowski, respectively) sleep in twin beds and bicker like an old married couple. Rod is a fastidious, Republican financial whiz, and Nicky is a lazy slob. As with their inspirations, whether one or both of them is gay is a topic of ongoing discussion and a running gag. Trekkie (Caikowski again), an orange, porn-obsessed version of Cookie Monster, lives above them.
Next door we find Kate Monster (Ellen Kaye), an assistant kindergarten teacher and eventual love interest for Princeton. Avenue Q uses monsters as a stand-in for minorities on multiple occasions, leading to the best musical number of the night, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” The superintendent managing the characters’ apartment buildings is Gary Coleman. Yes, that Gary Coleman (Ashlie-Amber Harris). ’Natch. And the Bad Idea Bears (Joanie Brosseau and Caikowski), two of the most outlandish characters in this or any other musical, pop in from time to time to advise the worst possible courses of actions in the sweetest, cutest ways.
I’ve seen Avenue Q before, and I still laughed out loud over and over again. The show works so well because it takes a beloved childhood classic and turns it on its head. It finds humor in the muck and mire of the less-than-perfect world in which we live and maintains an airy, jovial tone throughout. It smiles and winks as it pushes hot buttons like homosexuality, racial tension and the basic human tendency to take pleasure in the hardships of others — witness another outstanding musical number and excellent philosopho-cultural shout out, “Schadenfreude.”
Avenue Q is must-see entertainment. And besides, where else will you ever watch two puppets fucking like there’s no tomorrow? Boulder’s Dinner Theatre has another hit on its hands.