Witty Musical Comedy Pornifies Sesame Street
by Kim Waldron
Songs ranging from “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)” to “Schadenfreude” to “It Sucks to Be Me” guarantee laughter and a light heart in the now-classic “Avenue Q,” a racy version of Sesame Street. “Avenue Q” has grown into a bona fide holiday tradition— extended two weeks even before it opened.
“Avenue Q” has what every tradition needs: energy and joy, plus the bonus of clever writing. What better family outing than a musical that offends almost everyone and brings up subjects you normally avoid at the dinner table—unemployment, closeted gays, racism, and sometimes wanting to kill your lover?
Most of the action takes place in a low-rent, ramshackle New York apartment building. It’s a friendly place full of wonderfully offbeat neighbors. The most unforgettable resident has to be big, green Trekkie. Trekkie looks and sounds like a twin of the Cookie Monster, but this furry goof-ball is a reclusive porn connoisseur.
Satire requires stereotypes and they abound in “Avenue Q”: a closeted Republican, an ambitious immigrant, Kate the good-girl-next-door, and Lucy the Slut. There are exceptions, like the building super who turns out to be an adult and very broke Gary Coleman, the one-time TV child star. And a couple of adorable, very profane teddy bears.
Four puppeteers, playing multiple roles, combine with three puppetless actors to tell the story of a young man who gets his first apartment in that ramshackle building on “Avenue Q” and so begins adult life. His adventures in love and life, as he searches for meaning, teach lessons in compassion and equality. I learned a thing or two about puppet sex, too.
At New Conservatory Theatre Center, San Francisco’s embarrassment of riches in talented actors shines brightly. Every performance—singing, acting, puppetry, dancing—excels. Great talent lives at NCTC. Theater lovers are so lucky in the Bay Area.
I’m not sure if it is context or age that is becoming a bit of a problem for “Avenue Q.” For example, the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” has an admirable purpose: If we all admit we have prejudices, we can talk more easily about bias, which certainly needs talking about. The song, controversial in the past, now seems a bit behind the times. The song was written in 1999, before we had Nazis marching openly, or a President catering to bigotry. We need to do more than talk, we need to stand up and fight back.
Seeing “Avenue Q” still leads to laughter and joy. It made my heart lighter, but also more determined to fight all those old enemies of racism, antisemitism, sexism, immigrant-bashing, and homophobia.
“Avenue Q”: original concept, music, & lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty, directed by Stephanie Temple, at New Conservatory Theatre Center, through Sunday, January 21, 2018. Info: nctcsf.org
Purple Cast plays Thursday, Friday, and Saturday: Audrey Baker, Chelsea Carruesco, Scott DiLorenzo, Maita Ponce, Nick Rodrigues, Daniel Sherman, and Phaedra Tiller.
Orange Cast plays Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday: Janelle LaSalle, Juliana Lustenader, Kamren Mahaney, Brendon North, Emily Serdahl, Scott Taylor-Cole, and Isabel To.