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Review: A Very Funny 'Avenue Q'

by Jerome Weeks 27 May 2010 5:21 PM

The triple Tony Award-winning musical comedy about puppets getting drunk and having sex comes to the Winspear. It works as more than just a smart-mouthed satire of Bert and Ernie, says Jerome Weeks, more than just an R-rated spoof of ‘Sesame Street.’


Avenue Q is the triple Tony Award-winning musical comedy currently at the Winspear Opera House. The show has been pegged as the R-rated Sesame Street because its puppets sing about race and sex. But in his review, KERA’s Jerome Weeks says Avenue Q is more than just a snarky send-up of Bert and Ernie.

  • KERA radio review

  • The Dallas Morning News review
  • Expanded online review

Puppets getting drunk and having sex: That’s pretty much Avenue Q’s basic, comic tactic, and it should make for a small-scale, sardonic, off-Broadway show — the cable TV of live theater. It’s like South Park in that regard: It’s not for everyone because it’s a very funny take-down of childhood innocence – meaning, in this case, Sesame Street. Public broadcasting’s candy-colored, kindergarten kingdom is pretty much the only thing in America that we can agree qualifies as something like a shared childhood.

Instead of Sesame Street’s happy, urban Neverneverland, Avenue Q is rundown, and a chief reason it has a mix of races populating it is that the rents are cheap. That’s why Princeton has just arrived there, his bachelor’s degree in English lit fresh in his hand and nearly useless for getting a paying job. But Princeton is going to crack the Big Bad City. In short, this is a young, dating-singles Sesame Street. The characters’ chief concerns are finding a job, finding a date, finding a purpose, finding some online . . .  entertainment.

[Kate Monster speaking]“And I’m going to teach something relevant, something modern. The internet!”

[singing]” The internet is really, really great – “

[interjection of Trekkie Monster]”For porn!”

[Kate Monster] “I’ve got a fast connection so I don’t have to wait –”

[Trekkie] “For porn!””

[from the song, The Internet Is For Porn]

Kerri Brackin and Brent Michel DiRoma as the Bert and Ernie-ish couple

So … how did young, naked, drunken puppets become a big, on-Broadway success — even beating out Wicked for a best musical award? First, as that number shows, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s songs are dead-on spoofs of the sunny sound of children’s TV. But the pair also excels at rhythm and blues — in You Can Be As Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin Love) — and lovelorn ballads, as in There’s A Fine, Fine, Line.

Second, showing the performers working the puppets is a brilliant device. Whoever thought of it deserves his (or her) own Tony. In this superb tour, Brent Michael DiRoma and Jacqueline Grabois are terrific singers. But it’s also their expressive movements that make these unchanging, big-eyed toys pop with humor and life. After 20 minutes, you’re likely to forget about the satirized originals in Sesame Street like Cookie Monster; these puppets become their own characters — almost a character-and-a-half. Which is proof that Avenue Q rises above any purely satiric-derivative status. Theatergoers can enjoy it — without knowing a thing about Sesame Street.

Finally, some  people deride Avenue Q as sophomoric. It is. But much like South Park or The Simpsons, the show actually — in the end — affirms the value of such popular conventions as true love, accepting others, stable families, settling down and … investing in porn.