Stage Review: Avenue Q – where the air is sweet (and a little blue)

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Admit it, we’ve all known it for years but were too embarrassed to say it out loud.  But now, with the help of a touring Broadway musical whose main characters are puppets, we can all literally sing it from the mountaintops: the internet really is for porn.  Such is the cheekiness and irreverence of the very funny Avenue Q, currently on stage at The Center in Vancouver for the Performing Arts through Saturday.

David Colston Corris as Rod in Avenue QArriving on Avenue Q, in a New York neighbourhood that makes Hell’s Kitchen look like the Upper East Side, Princeton (David Colston Corris) is fresh from college looking to start making his mark on life.  He is in search of his “purpose”.  He’s also a puppet.  Actually a lot of the other Avenue Q residents are puppets: Rod (also played by Corris in the photo right by Robert Allen) the closeted Republican investment banker, Kate (Ashley Eileen Bucknam), a monster who dreams of creating a school for other monsters and even Trekkie Monster (Michael Liscio Jr), who leads the cast in the porn confession.  Along with these furry muppets are three “real” people including Brian (Tim Kornblum) and Christmas Eve (Lisa Helmi Johanson), the comedian and his therapist wife and even THE Gary Coleman delightfully gender-bended by Anita Welch as the owner of the tenement this motley crew inhabits.

People and puppets.  Avenue Q.  Sound familiar?  If you’re scratching your head about now, wondering where you’ve heard all of this before, think of it as a ribald version of Sesame Street.  Rod and his roommate Nicky (also played by Liscio) are Bert and Ernie for grown-ups.  Trekkie Monster is Cookie Monster, but rather than a taste for chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin, his taste runs to large breasts and making money from porn, the only recession proof industry.

Just beneath the irreverence and the laugh-out-loud funny songs though run a whole slew of serious subjects: relationships, homosexuality, racism, drugs, alcohol and porn (okay, that’s the last time I’ll bring that particular subject up again in this review. I promise).

The entire cast here is spot-on and it all still seems fresh even after having been on the road since September 2009 (this particular tour comes to an end in April).  The puppeteers are particularly amazing to watch as they bring their fur covered characters to life while simultaneously mirroring their expressions.  At times the actor simply disappeared, which I am pretty sure is, while not professing to be an expert on puppetry, probably the highest compliment one could pay to a puppeteer.

Touring sets can sometimes be a bit questionable but while perhaps a bit smaller than I remember from having seen a resident production a few years back it lacks nothing.  More questionable though, at least on opening night, were some minor sound issues and at least one follow-spot operator that appeared to be asleep at the wheel for much of the show.  While minor annoyances, hopefully these small kinks get worked out before the short run is complete.

Wickedly funny with some serious messages Avenue Q will definitely help sweep those clouds away on your way to where the air is sweet (and perhaps a little blue).

And just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, despite the puppets this is definitely not a show for the little ones … what with its puppet-on-puppet sex and all…

4 1/2 of 5 Stars Avenue Q

Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx.  Book by Jeff Whitty.  Directed by Jason Moore.  A Work Light Productions presentation.  On stage at The Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts through Saturday, 5 February 2011. 

Tickets are $48 – $73 (plus service charges) and are available online.

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