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Theatre Journal 56.2 (2004) 313-314
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Everyone's a little bit racist. There's a fine line between love and a waste of time. You can be as loud as the hell you want when you're makin' love.
These are just a few of the lessons you are likely to learn from watching Avenue Q. Embracing the style of Sesame Street but with a decidedly adult bent, Avenue Q follows the lives of Princeton, fresh out of college with a B.A. in English, and Kate Monster, a kindergarten teacher's aide looking for love. They live on Avenue Q, along with Rod, an uptight closeted investment banker, his straight-but-not-narrow roommate Nicky, Mae West look-alike chanteuse Lucy T. Slut, and Trekkie Monster, who is addicted to Internet porn. The fact that these characters are played by puppets seems of no concern to human friends Christmas Eve, a Japanese therapist who cannot seem to get any clients, her caterer husband Brian, who dreams of making it as a comedian on late night TV, and the superintendent of Kate's building, Gary Coleman. Yes, that Gary Coleman (although here played by actress Natalie Venetia Belcon).
If the inclusion of puppets was merely a novelty, Avenue Q would prove to be less Broadway-worthy than it really is. Instead, the creators have thoughtfully developed a world in which diversity of all kinds is a fact of life: even between puppets and humans. When Princeton asks Kate Monster, who appears fairly human, if she is related to Trekkie Monster, who is far less so, Kate is offended and confronts Princeton about his racist statement. This introduces one of the most popular numbers in the show, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," in which the cast sings about their own prejudices: "Everyone's a little bit racist sometimes / Doesn't mean we go around committing hate crimes / Look around and you will find / No one's really colorblind / Maybe it's a fact we all should face / Everyone makes judgments based on race."
The puppets also represent a kind of duality within the residents. While humans Gary, Brian, and Christmas Eve seem content, the characters portrayed by puppets often wrestle between two sides of their personalities. Trekkie Monster makes millions of dollars off investments in pornography, but then magnanimously donates the money to open a school for monster children. Innocent and sweet-natured Kate hides a rambunctious sexual side. Most tellingly, Rod hides his homosexuality and his attraction to his roommate Nicky, all the while singing about his girlfriend who just happens [End Page 313] to live in Canada. By animating these characters with a puppeteer, there is a visual equivalent of their split nature; but perhaps that is reading too much into a show whose ultimate message is that life is a balance of highs and lows (reiterated by Gary Coleman's presence) and whose closing thought is "Nothing lasts / Life goes on / Full of surprises / . . . You're going to have to make a few sacrifices / For now / But only for now."
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| Figure 1 |
Kate Monster, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Princeton, and John Tartaglia in Avenue Q on Broadway. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Although much has been made (and rightly so) about the phenomenal leading performances of Stephanie D'Abruzzo as Kate and Lucy and John Tartaglia as Princeton and Rod, both of whom give award-worthy performances, Avenue Q is truly an ensemble production. Rick Lyon and Jennifer Barnhart pull quadruple duty as leading and supporting characters/puppeteers and seamlessly aid in the transitions of the dizzying choreography of puppets entering and exiting. Their skill is phenomenal; both show complete mastery of puppetry while singing and acting with complete conviction. The fact that Lyon's Nicky sounds like a dead ringer for Ernie from Sesame Street only adds to the fun. Ann Harada embraces an Asian character right out of Rodgers and Hammerstein with good-natured fun and is...