Chicago Theatre Review
Full Frontal (Puppet) Nudity
Avenue Q – Mercury Theatre
2009’s Tony Award winner for Best Musical, Book and Score surprised many by beating out “Wicked” for these accolades. Both shows have not only inspired national tours, but have also become cult classics and are still playing in NYC today. Despite showing some signs of age, regional productions of this quirky little puppet play continue to spring up all over the country making it a favorite with theatre goers, especially Gen X-ers and younger.
The reasons are numerous. The musical addresses adult issues while spoofing the memory of educational television shows like “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company.” By pairing furry, muppet-inspired hand puppets with live actors the show is a very funny melding of childhood fantasy and controversial adult material. A TV screen hanging near the stage plays cartoon segments every so often that poke fun at the faux educational element. The result is material mimicking Public television that’s fresh, funny and biting.
The show parodies all the disappointments felt by today’s 20- and 30-year-olds, recent college graduates discovering that they’re not nearly as “special” as their parents and teachers proclaimed them to be. Princeton (the incomparably gifted Jackson Evans) finds himself wandering New York’s Alphabet City with a useless college diploma in one hand and a fistful of overdue bills in the other. He runs into former child star Gary Coleman (played with hilarity by Donterrio Johnson) who happens to be the super of a block of buildings on Avenue Q. After suddenly losing his first job,
Princeton takes a room and seeks to discover his purpose in life. Along the way he makes friends with his new neighbors who include a failed standup comic, Brian (an impressive Sean Patrick Fawcett); his Japanese fiancee, Christmas Eve (played with broad humor and chutzpah by Christine Bunuan; roommates Rod (a terrifically cast Adam Fane) and Nicky (a sweetly sincere Daniel Smeriglio); Trekkie Monster, an internet porn king (the gravelly-voiced Thom Van Ermen); a buxom singer named Lucy the Slut (the wildly super-talented Stephanie Herman); and the soon-to-be love of his life, Kate Monster (played with eloquence and humanity by the brilliant Leah Morrow).
Although by the finale a slight story has emerged, the musical is basically just a series of cleverly written black-out scenes, created by Jeff Whitty, whose primary function seems to be to showcase the catchy, hummable score, written by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Eugene Dizon’s five skilled backstage musicians accompany the cast and fill each song with even more spunk and pizzazz. L. Walter Stearns‘ direction guides and challenges his talented ensemble while staging his actors in and around every nook and cranny of Alan Donahue’s setting of rundown brownstones. Kevin Bellie provides enough spritely choreography to enhance the musical numbers and keep the show moving.
Blessed with a gifted cast, a talented musical director and a script that will delight and titillate audiences with its bawdy, adult humor (warning: this is not a children’s show despite its cast of puppets), Mr. Stearns has once again worked his magic on Southport Avenue. This show, with its wise humor, irreverent situations and full frontal puppet nudity is sure to become the hottest ticket in Chicago this Spring.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 24-June 29 by Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-325-1700 or by going to www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.