You know you're not in Oklahoma! anymore when the Broadway hit you're watching includes songs about Internet porn, racism and sex noises. Yet, for all of its gleeful raunchiness and un-P.C. attitude, Avenue Q has a sweetness at its core.
Avenue Q spoofs that time in nearly every twenty-something's life when high hopes crash up against the real world of bills, shitty jobs and frustrating relationships. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx's musical, the winner of three 2004 Tony Awards, is a high-energy valentine to embracing a little disappointment -- for now -- and getting by with a little help from your friends.
By now, the show's concept is well-known: Avenue Q, with its mix of human and puppet characters, is like a naughty, no-holds-barred "Sesame Street." In a dreary outer borough of NYC, new college grad Princeton (one of the puppets) looks for an apartment, a job and possibly a relationship with the demure kindergarten teacher, Kate Monster.
Along the way, Princeton befriends the porn-loving Trekkie Monster, ex-child star Gary Coleman (now the super of a drab apartment building), wannabe comedian Brian, tawdry puppet Lucy the Slut and other offbeat characters.
On opening night, it was encouraging to sit among perhaps the youngest Overture crowd I've seen all year. This time, the blue hair behind me was a young guy with a funky dye job -- not a lady of une certain age with a rinse.
Yet while there were plenty of theatergoers in their 20s in the house, I think this show will actually resonate more keenly with aging Generation X-ers like me. A slightly older viewer can appreciate the irritating irony of a 23-year-old who complains that he's "getting old."
And while the show is set in the present day, most of the pop-culture references have a stronger pull for 30-somethings raised on "Sesame Street," "Schoolhouse Rock," and Care Bears (reborn here as the hilarious Bad Idea Bears). Even the reference to mix tapes -- those obsessively-crafted bearers of hidden emotional meanings -- seems a touch quaint in an era of MP3s.
The show's two lead performers, Robert McClure (who does both puppets Princeton and closeted gay Republican Rod) and Carey Anderson (Kate Monster and others), are excellent. Anderson in particular shows her range as she alternates between the earnest Kate and blowsy Lucy the Slut. To look at her, one wouldn't think Anderson had Lucy's vampy, full-throated singing voice in her, but she does.
While Avenue Q is the sort of contemporary musical that might scoff at presenting the audience with a lesson, in a weird way it does, and it's an odd mix of the depressing and uplifting. While, right now, it might "suck to be you" (to paraphrase one of the show's catchiest musical numbers), coming to terms with life's little disappointments can be oddly liberating.
Accepting that perhaps you're not destined for immediate greatness and purpose with a capital "P" can free you up to find great things around you, like friendship and supporting someone else's dream.
Avenue Q is playing at Overture Center's Overture Hall through Sunday, October 26.