Theatre Review: Avenue Q
By Brianne Hogan
This ain't Sesame Street (Image: Seanna Kennedy Photography)
Are you a recent college grad? Unemployed? Single? Or perhaps you’re still looking for your purpose in life? Then you belong on Avenue Q. There you’ll find confused-yet-hopeful fleshy and furry characters spontaneously bursting into song about their dreams, concerns and, uh, porn. But unfortunately, Avenue Q isn’t a real place. It’s actually a Tony Award-winning musical that opened at the Lower Ossington Theatre last week.
I was lucky enough to catch the new Toronto run, but I first saw Avenue Q in 2006 when it was still on Broadway. Fresh out of university with a Dramatic Literature degree and living in New York City, I too had been struggling to find my purpose in life. I went to the musical with my mom, who was visiting me at the time. Throughout the show, she’d poke at me and say: “See? That’s you. That’s you!” You know you’re watching a special kind of show when you can seamlessly relate your life to a group of misfit puppets.
Princeton, a recent college grad that happens to be a puppet (not that there’s anything wrong with that), moves into a shabby apartment on Avenue Q, a grownup version of Sesame Street where people, puppets, monsters and even Gary Coleman live together in harmony. The ‘hood’s eccentric inhabitants are all looking for something more — a job, a date, a little self-respect — and Princeton is no exception. Wondering “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” when he first arrives on the block, Princeton soon realizes that he has yet to find his purpose in life. In a voice shining with the hope that only living in the post-secondary school bubble can bring, he sings: “Something’s coming, something good.”
For a while, Princeton’s “something” turns out to be an on-and-off romance with his neighbour, Kate Monster. He is, after all, just a young puppet filled with raging puppet hormones. In fact, the inhabitants of Avenue Q are a horny bunch in general, with Lucy the Slut, the local lounge singer, trying to make everyone feel “Special,” and Trekkie Monster reminding us that “The Internet is For Porn.” With such riotous and raunchy songs, we’re definitely not on Sesame Street anymore — and just in case you weren’t sure, the hilarious puppet-on-monster sex scene definitely seals it.
The main appeal of Avenue Q lies in its quirky I-can’t-believe-they-just-said-that lyrics. From “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” to “Schadenfreude,” the songs are funny because, well, let’s admit it: they’re true. The vocal performances (except for some minor technical issues) were nearly perfect, and much deserved props must be given to Adam Proulx (Princeton/Rod) and Kira Hall (Kate Monster/Lucy), who each voiced not one but two puppets for the entire show without skipping a beat.
It can be hard to ignore the talented puppeteers on stage, but they conveyed so much genuine emotion that I didn’t mind if my eyes jumped from puppet to person. I did find it a bit distracting when puppeteers switched puppets mid-scene (i.e. when both of Proulx’s and Hall’s characters were onstage), but Seanna Kennedy’s smooth direction made the transitions almost flawless.
There are also three puppet-free performers — the human characters, that is — who more than hold their own against their furry counterparts: Mark Willett is a perfect fit as an out-of-work stand-up comedian; Amelia Hironaka, as his fiancée Christmas Eve, steals every scene she’s in (and doubles as the production’s choreographer); and Jazz Testolini’s Gary Coleman is a feisty interpretation of the Diff’rent Strokes star. (You’ll have to suspend your disbelief, since Coleman has passed away in real life — though given that you’ll be watching a bunch of puppets get drunk and have sex, realism probably won’t be the first thing on your mind.)
It’s the conclusion of the play that’s most reminiscent of Sesame Street: a happy ending of sorts, reminding us all that whatever you’re struggling with, no matter where you are in life, it’s only just “For Now.” It’s the kind of pick-me-up song you wish could last forever, and I felt the same way about this production of Avenue Q.
Avenue Q, Lower Ossington Theatre,100A Ossington Ave., 416-915-6747. Runs Jan. 18 - Feb. 5.