by Kevin Allman
To a bouncy, childlike tune reminiscent of Sesame Street, the cheerful, colorful multicultural humans and puppets bound around the stage of Avenue Q singing the show's theme: You live on Avenue Q; your friends do too, they warble cheerfully and then, more pointedly: Yo-ou are TWENTY-TWO and you live on Avenue Q.
Avenue Q's setting is a tenement in a way-way-outer borough of New York, in a neighborhood that hasn't been hipsterized, and its residents ain't quite the Muppets. Trekkie Monster is reminiscent of Cookie Monster, except he spends his days obsessed with Internet porn instead of Oreos. Bert and Ernie's counterparts are Rod and Nicky, a closeted stockbroker and his cheerful, slovenly roommate. Also in residence are Brian, an unemployed slacker and failed comedian on the wrong side of 30; his fiancee Christmas Eve, a Japanese social worker with two degrees and no clients; Kate Monster, a kindergarten teacher who dreams of opening a school for monsters; and actor Gary Coleman, who has hit rock bottom, selling his possessions on eBay and working as the building superintendent. Into the mix comes Princeton, a recent college graduate who's broke, overeducated, looking for a purpose in life and full of hope for the future. That doesn't last long.
The show's first two numbers What Do You Do With a B.A. In English? and It Sucks to Be Me sum up the show's own purpose: teaching valuable young-adult life lessons through songs like Everyone's a Little Bit Racist and Schadenfreude. And when things are (temporarily) going well on Avenue Q, there are always two puppets called the Bad Idea Bears who pop up to whisper hilarious suggestions: You have that money your parents sent you why don't you buy some beer? and Judge Judy is your friend!
All of this is a good deal more charming and less cynical than it sounds, with some talented puppeteer/actor/singers: Brent Michael DiRoma as Rod and Princeton and Jacqueline Grabois as Kate Monster and a tramp puppet named Lucy the Slut. Among the human characters, the only one who got consistent laughs on opening night was Lisa Helmi Johanson as Christmas Eve, though none of them were served by a sludgy sound system that made many of the lyrics indecipherable in the group numbers. No such problems, fortunately, marred Christmas Eve's big torch song, The More You Ruv Someone (The More You Want to Kill Them). That's as valuable a life lesson as anything Jim Henson ever dreamed up.
Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, 801 N. Rampart St.
Tickets: (800) 745-3000