When it took the Tony triumvirate of best musical, original score, and original book in 2004, Avenue Q (music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty, and based on an original concept by Lopez and Marx) had a satirical edge that seemed sharp enough to slice floating silk. That’s no longer the case in the musical famously featuring puppets that look like they belong on Sesame Street but talk in a profane vernacular and have vigorously noisy puppet sex on occasion.
Avenue QThrough 8/7: Fri-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 2 PM, Skokie Theatre, 7924 N. Lincoln, Skokie, 847-677-7761, skokietheatre.org, $45 ($38 students/seniors)
The show’s edge has dulled over the years. In an era where violent white supremacists have been emboldened by the highest levels of government, tunes such as “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” no longer feel shocking so much as quaint—at best. And given the increasing attacks on people of Asian descent, the character of Christmas Eve—who the script has speaking with an accent straight out of a Charlie Chan movie—simply isn’t funny anymore (if it ever was).
That said, veteran director-choreographer Ty Perry’s ensemble for MadKap Productions sells the material with charm, comic panache, and an impressive ability to create a seemingly seamless whole from a great many puppet/human moving parts. The plot follows 23-year-old Princeton (Zach Moore, brandishing a tenor that makes the ears sit up and pay attention) as he moves to Avenue Q and joins a diverse building that includes Lucy the Slut and Kate Monster, (both played by Natalie Rae) and the Ernie-and-Bert-like roommates Rod (Moore) and Nicky (Rami Halabi). The trash-talking Trekkie Monster (Halabi) is the monstrous curmudgeon upstairs. The building’s landlords are humans Christmas Eve (Shea Lee) and her husband Brian (Dennis Schnell). The (human) super is Gary Coleman (Sabrina Edwards, whose down-to-earth charisma makes her an ideal Coleman)
The cast’s amiable vocals are backed by conductor Sachio Nang’s seven-person live chamber orchestra, an ensemble meshed as tightly as the performers onstage. It’s not enough to redeem the show’s dated elements. And while a kumbaya happy-ending where monsters and humans learn to live together in peace feels good, it’s also condescending and simplistic.
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