‘Sesame Street’ grows up (unfortunately)♦
Avenue Q may be the most over-hyped show on Broadway and on the touring circuit. It certainly is the most narrowly targeted.
Its jokes are aimed at recent college grads who haven’t found jobs that meet their expectations. But if you’ve passed that stage of life, Avenue Q seems petty. And if you never spent much time watching "Sesame Street," you’ll miss the point of many of the songs, and you’ll wonder why they must be sung with pinched, nasal voices by people carrying puppets.
Imitating Jim Henson characters, the cast kvetches that "Four years of college have earned me this useless degree," "I can’t pay the bills" and "It sucks to be me."
Conversing with herself
Still, I’m impressed by the talent in this road company’s youthful cast. The attractive and likeable Robert McClure and Kelli Sawyer, in particular, outshine the Broadway originators of their respective roles. Occasionally they slip out of the constricted vocal production that their roles require and reveal excellent real voices. Both are adept at puppetry and graceful stage movements.
This show’s appeal derives from watching the ensemble move about the stage and switch identities. McClure uses different puppets to portray two characters: a kid just out of college and a young investment banker. Sawyer’s assignment is even more difficult: she plays characters who sometimes appear on stage at the same time. One is a kindergarten teaching assistant named Kate Monster, the other a vamp modeled on Mae West. If you take your eyes off the puppets and watch Sawyer, you’ll see her carrying on conversations with herself, using two distinctly different accents.
Outrageously politically incorrect
A couple of the songs contain sharp wit. "Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist" is outrageously politically incorrect, and "If You Were Gay" holds a mirror up to homophobia. The rest of the score is less pointed but easy to listen to. The one moment when the characters display real emotion is the duet between McClure and Sawyer, "There’s a Fine, Fine Line (between love and a waste of time).” The number that seems to sum up the entire enterprise is, "I Wish I Could Go Back to College."
This show is limited by its one-note insistence on imitating "Sesame Street" and adding banned-from-TV language for shock effect. The audience giggled when it heard the word "ass" and roared with laughter when it heard "shit." A scene of two puppets humping each other seemed to be the high spot of the evening for many observers. But I didn’t find much redeeming social value. For a musical that uses school kids but goes much deeper, try The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
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