This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.
Well, it happened. Full Puppet Nudity has finally come to Los Angeles.
Avenue Q, the musical that blends Gen X irony and raunchiness with Sesame Street-style Muppets and songs, premiered on Broadway back in 2003. The show was so successful—even beating out the mega-hit Wicked for the 2004 Best Musical Tony—that the producers decided to take the show directly to Las Vegas, rather than hitting the road with a nationwide touring production.
Strangely, for all its puppet-on-puppet sex and gleefully R-rated lyrics, Avenue Q wasn't a good match for the City of Sin and the show closed last year after a disappointing nine month run at the Wynn Hotel & Casino.
This year, Avenue Q is finally traveling around to the rest of America; but there have been some fears that the quirky musical may have lost some of its topicality and freshness in the four years—an eternity in pop culture—since it first opened.
Los Angeles is the third stop on the Avenue Q tour and the good news from the Ahmanson Theater is that this production and cast are equally strong as the Broadway original. The laughs are just as big and the songs still delight.
Seeing the show again, it's clear that the bedrock of Avenue Q's success isn't puppets, luck, or shock value. Rather, it's the clever, precise music and lyrics penned by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx.
In songs like "Everyone's a little bit racist," or "What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?" and perhaps most famously in "The Internet is for Porn," Lopez and Marx use the simple melodies of children's television programs to illustrate the basics of life as a twenty-something...and beyond. The show has tapped into the zeitgeist because it speaks to America's extended adolescence—it cheekily addresses the realities of why Americans don't want to grow up. In its warm, fuzzy and bright colored way, Avenue Q takes direct aim at the anxiety of commitment, credit card debt, finding a job, and the realization that not everyone is destined for fame and fortune.
Amazingly, it never feels preachy or pretentious. Quite the contrary, Avenue Q works because it delivers these bitter pills in a riotously funny way.
The cast of this production excels in the songs and those who control Rick Lyon's expressive puppets impeccable comic timing. Director Jason Moore has preserved all of Avenue Q's laughs, but it's the show's writing that keeps it timely.
Just as the lessons and rhymes of Sesame Street remain safely tucked away in the minds of its viewers; the straightforward, uninhibited emotions—and dare I say, wisdom—of Avenue Q seems unlikely to be outgrown by its audience anytime soon.
Avenue Q runs at the Ahmanson Theatre through October 14.
This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.
Photos: Carol Rosegg