Avenue Q is one of the most delightfully offensive shows currently running in a mainstream New York theatre -- it's beaten by The Book of Mormon, but just barely. This musical explores the coming-of-age dilemma facing every young adult whose parents ingrained the belief that they are exceptional. Avenue Q tackles significant issues in today's society--including racism, homophobia, and classism--with some too-close-to-home biting satire.
Ben Durocher offers a spectacular performance--one that begs the question, when will he jump to The Book of Mormon on Broadway? I'm sure we'll see him again. Danielle K. Thomas' voice was the standout of the show--as Gary Coleman, she has minimal opportunity for her singing to shine but she captures the audience when the occasion presents itself.
For the seasoned New York theatregoer, seeing a slightly off-Broadway show can seem a tinge anticlimactic; however, Avenue Q at the New World Stages makes you wish Broadway theatres could learn a new trick or two. The location itself, on the periphery of the theatre district, allows you to easily forget the show already closed on Broadway in September 2009. When you arrive, you greeted by an open, contemporary atmosphere. After you descend below the streets of New York, your seat welcomes you with an ample, plush cushion and generous legroom (rarely available on Broadway).
In a typical off-Broadway experience, the theatre is a bit black box meets Broadway theatre house. This is an especially fitting aesthetic for a production of Avenue Q, as it helps the audience figuratively enter a ramshackle street in the "outer borough of New York City." The set itself initially comes across as underwhelming (think high-budget high school), but it holds a world of surprise and soon sets itself apart as an outstanding component that trumps many the Broadway or West End production. Anna Louizos and her team have done a stellar job of building a versatile, interactive set that engages and wows the house night after night.
Before you actually see the musical, the idea of live actors working alongside puppets (and being able to see the puppeteers) seems like it would be distracting at best. Avenue Q manages to overcome this potential obstacle with ease. Whether it is our exposure to Sesame Street or Jim Henson's The Muppets, the audience easily suspends disbelief and enters into the world where monsters can peacefully co-exist.
After "The Avenue Q Theme," the show commences with "What Do You Do with a B.A. in English"--a lively number that prospective English majors everywhere should consider before declaring. Other notably hilarious/offensive songs include "If You Were Gay," "The Internet is for Porn," "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist," "It Sucks to Be Me," "I Wish I Could Go Back to College" and, my personal favorite, "Schadenfreude" (gotta love some good old harm-joy).
Taking on the usual rhetoric of slut shaming, Avenue Q embraces Lucy the Slut--well, until she literally gets in the way--and is a win for feminists everywhere, so long as they weren't already too offended.
With pseudo-therapist Christmas Eve declaring that no one wants, as a friend, a republican investment banker--gay or straight--and the ensemble knocking GOP presidential contender Donald Trump, Avenue Q is true to the New York theatre experience and explicitly embraces liberalism.
Plainly speaking, the actors are panhandling thieves--I mean this in the best possible way. When the show touches on themes of charity, the cast enters the audience to pass the hat (and rifle through any bags or purses they can get their hands on) in a way that brings a dash of audience participation to an otherwise ho-hum moment.
The costume, hair, and makeup teams still have a bit of work to do--nothing a bit of dye or a trip to RadioShack can't fix. Christmas Eve's wedding dress urgently needs a battery pack to get rid of that hideous extension cord--yes, we all saw that. Nick Kohn, as Brian, presents his own challenge to the makeup team; while he performed entertainingly, no audience member is going to believe that he's a thirty-three-year-old with those grey sideburns adding to the rest of the look.
Overall, Avenue Q is worth both the ticket price and a trek to West 50th street. I was very happy to have reviewed it for Queer Voices on Thursday, November 19, 2015.