‘Avenue Q’ Bases Musical Self on ‘Cheap Laugh is Better Than No Laugh’ Adage

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HollywoodChicago.com Comedy/Tragedy Rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – In the tradition of recent Broadway productions where touristy and crowd-pleasing scenery reigns over any type of theater substance, along comes the 2004 Tony Award-winning best musical “Avenue Q,” which is now in a touring version at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago.

Despite any plea that this musical has nothing to do with “Sesame Street” or Jim Henson, “Avenue Q” uses similar puppets to recall the lessons of the iconic PBS series in a pleasant, adult-style sensibility.

Rod and John Tartaglia in Avenue Q in Chicago
Rod and John Tartaglia in “Avenue Q”.
Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

Avenue Q is a run-down street in New York City that’s ranked accordingly by its place in the alphabet. The puppet character of Princeton (who recently graduated from college) comes upon the street in search for his purpose… and an affordable apartment.

There he meets human neighbors Christmas Eve and Brian and takes an apartment supervised by child actor Gary Coleman.

In the building next door, there are puppet roommates Nicky and Rod. They’re dealing with the inability of Rod to recognize that he is gay.

In Princeton’s apartment building, there is a porn-loving puppet named Trekkie Monster. To round out the rest of the puppet world, love interest Kate Monster lives in the same building as Brian and Christmas.

Despite Kate being a “monster,” Princeton and Kate meet and then canoodle. The only wrench in this romance could be Princeton’s search for purpose and perhaps the allure of a lounge-singing puppet (subtly named Lucy the Slut). Can true love overcome all obstacles even with a hand up its tush?

There is an old show-business saying that a “cheap laugh is better than no laugh”. “Avenue Q” practically bases its whole show on that adage. These folks pull no punches in using the puppet angle and “Sesame Street” satire for easy laughs.

Since this is an “adult” puppet show (as the “Avenue Q” promotional ads remind us a thousand times), there are puppets swearing, puppets who sing homage to Internet smut, big-breasted puppets and other puppet acts that would make Bert and Ernie blush. The big guffaws come easily in this context.

Jordan Gelber, Natalie Venetia Belcon, Nicky, Rick Lyon (behind Nicky), Princeton, John Tartaglia, Kate Monster, Jennifer Barnhart (behind Kate), Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Rod (behind Stephanie D'Abruzzo) and Ann Harada in Avenue Q in Chicago
Jordan Gelber, Natalie Venetia Belcon, Nicky, Rick Lyon (behind Nicky), Princeton, John Tartaglia, Kate Monster, Jennifer Barnhart (behind Kate), Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Rod (behind Stephanie D’Abruzzo) and Ann Harada in “Avenue Q”.
Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

While obvious humor – like the Gary Coleman and in-the-closet references – feel more at home in 1989 than now, so be it. The audience I saw it with had a rollicking good time with the premise.

The set is nicely designed to open up into the musical numbers with some well-done stage effects to aptly drive the tunes. These are serviceable but not memorable. The best puppets are the Bad Idea Bears: some fluffy characters who belie their nature by tempting the other puppets with wonderfully bad ideas such as multiple Long Island Ice Teas (who hasn’t been there?).

“Avenue Q” is a crowd pleaser that’s designed with panache from an accomplished cast and production team. Without overstating the “purpose” of it all, I was nonetheless left with the feeling that there should have been more to it.

“Avenue Q” runs through June 7, 2008 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre at 151 W. Randolph St. in Chicago. The play runs at various afternoon and evening times daily through the remainder of the run. Tickets range from $25 to $75.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Patrick McDonald

Staff Writer

© 2008 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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