Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 14, 2009

Avenue Q

The Bushnell, Hartford
through January 18, 2009
Donna Bailey-Thompson

A possible subtitle for "Avenue Q" could be "Political Correctness Takes a Holiday". Consider what is spoofed: higher education, racism, homosexuality, pornography, not wearing underwear, noisy copulation, enjoying others misfortune, religion, all done with catchy tunes, appropriate choreography, and sassy dialogue performed by an impressively skilled, energetic cast. The production lives up to its billing: hilarious, infectious, subversive.

The Bushnell advises that "due to adult situations (like full-puppet nudity), 'Avenue Q' may be inappropriate for kids under 13." Oh, you think? How about, "Parental discretion is advised." Sesame Street-inspired hand puppets are manipulated by the human actors. All – actors and puppets – are portraying adults, not kids.

The setting is a seedy borough somewhere in New York City where grime-covered tenements provide shelter for folks just a paycheck away from living on the street. Princeton complains that his B.A. in English is not an automatic ticket to being hired. Because "Avenue Q" is a multi-tuneful musical (21 songs plus 4 reprises), Princeton and his neighbors describe their woes in "It Sucks to Be Me." By a few numbers later, they’re on a roll and rock sensibilities with "Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist" which includes the admonition to relax, forget about being P.C. Before there’s time to recover, Trekkie Monster, is declaring, "The Internet Is for Porn." The audience is whooping. In short order, the laughing borders on hysteria as two puppets enjoy simulated sex while the cast sings, "You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)". Halfway through Act II, there’s an upbeat serenade lauding the wickedly satisfactory feelings inherent within "Schadenfreude."

At the 2004 Tony Awards, "Avenue Q" won Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Book of a Musical. Not surprisingly, the show is still playing on Broadway and has entertained audiences world-wide. The professional level of this USA touring production is outstanding. Everything works – pit band, costumes, clever special effects, a skilled cast. They’re all terrific but Sala Iwamatsu's humor-infected performance as the no-nonsense Christmas Eve wows with her vim, vigor, and powerful voice.