Opened Aug. 8, Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco
Raunchy, raucous `Q’ finally hits SF
Four stars Monstrously good
It definitely doesn’t suck to be in the audience of Avenue Q, the frisky musical that re-imagines “Sesame Street” as an R-rated comedy cavalcade complete with perky puppets.
After winning the 2004 Tony Award for best musical (take that, Wicked!), Avenue Q made an unfortunate detour to Las Vegas, where desert audiences failed to embrace what is essentially a puppet show for adults with songs such as “It Sucks to Be Me’’ and hardcore puppet sex (note: the puppets don’t have bodies below the waist, so make of that what you will).
But now Q is on tour and is making merry at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, where the show’s sweet, dirty, dirty charms are on full display.
The cast, which includes veterans of both the Las Vegas and still-running Broadway productions, couldn’t be more appealing. In fact, it’s a bit of a problem, especially with leads Robert McClure and Kelli Sawyer (above), the puppeteers who are almost always visible, because they are actually cuter than their puppets.
It’s hard to know which performance to watch – the flesh and blood or the foam rubber.
Either way, the performances are robust and ribald – exactly the right mix to animate the tale of young Princeton (McClure), fresh out of college with a BA in English that means absolutely nothing in the real world.
He lands in New York’s Avenue Q neighborhood (alas, it’s fictional), a sort of chipper slum for well-meaning folks barely surviving the economic realities of life in the big city.
Princeton is, of course, a puppet, though in his world, as on the street they call Sesame, he interacts with humans such as Christmas Eve (Angela Ai), her fiance, Brian (Cole Porter – what a swellegant name!) and building supervisor Gary Coleman (Carla Renata), the former child star who has seen better days.
This world is also populated by monsters, namely Kate Monster (Sawyer), a kindergarten teaching assistant, and Trekkie Monster (Christian Anderson), an Internet porn addict.
Princeton also encounters a sultry saloon singer named Lucy The Slut (Sawyer again), a deeply closeted and uptight gay stockbroker named Rod (McClure) and two divine creations called Bad Idea Bears (Anderson and Minglie Chen), who encourage – in sickly sweet voices straight out of children’s television — Princeton to squander scarce cash on cases of beer and suggest hanging himself as a way to solve his problems. Heck, these snuggly little teddy bears even provide the rope.
Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s score immediately evokes “Sesame Street” cheerfulness before devolving in wonderfully funny ways to address latent homosexuality in “If You Were Gay,” racism in “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and the German concept of taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others in “Schadenfreude.”
Jeff Whitty’s book, simple and well shaped, gives the show a nice forward momentum as the terrific, Muppet-inspired puppets (designed by Rick Lyon), shock and delight with their attempts to navigate adulthood and find their purpose in life.
Director Jason Moore seamlessly blends the comic mayhem, the puppet antics and the bubbly score into a show that has a surprising emotional punch as the motley crew becomes a little dysfunctional family unit.
Laugh for laugh, song for clever song, you won’t find a more enjoyable musical with the power to make you blush like the irresistible Avenue Q.
For information about Avenue Q, visit www.shnsf.com.