I've got good news and bad news. The good news is, if you've got tickets
for District Theatre Collective's production of Avenue Q, you're in for
one of the most hilariously irreverent shows to grace the local stage
in quite some time.
The bad news is, if you don't already have a ticket, you're out of luck -
the show sold out its six-performance run well before opening night.
Robert Lopez and Jeff Mark's very naughty puppet musical won the 2004
Tony Award for best new musical -- and it's easy to see why. It's got
bite, wit, and catchy (if often terribly politically-incorrect) tunes.
And did I mention very naughty puppets?
Taking a page from Sesame Street - a TV show the musical's Gen X/Y
target audience will have grown up with - Lopez and Marks (who are
responsible for music and lyrics - Jeff Whitty wrote the book) set their
story of early adulthood angst on Avenue Q, which might be a
neighbourhood on the wrong side of the tracks from Sesame Street.
Nyk Bielak as Rod and Stephanie Sy as Christmas Eve in "Avenue Q" (Dylan Hewlett)
That's where recent college graduate Princeton (puppeteered by Aaron Pridham) finds himself,
as he searches for his "purpose" - and along the way learns lessons about life, love, and why everyone is a little bit racist, among other things.
While that may all sound very touching, this is not for the faint of heart. Song titles like "It Sucks To Be Me," "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," and "You Can Be As Loud As the Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love)" might give you some idea of what you're in for. But Avenue Q delivers its "life sucks" message with enough good, raunchy humour to make this the most fun you can have being depressed. There are plenty of great gags in the book, and the jaunty, kid-like tunes keep things from getting too heavy.
All of this is given a superb production by District Theatre, a new company comprised of talented young performers with backgrounds in Fringe and university productions. With the exception of Pridham, who sometimes wanders off-key (but largely makes up for it with a likable, energetic performance), the nine-person cast (backed by a great six-piece band) belt out the tunes with gusto. And given that most of the characters here are Muppet-like hand puppets, it's vital that they also be good puppeteers - and under puppet directors Tim and Becca Bandfield, they do fantastic work handling the show's fuzzy stars (Colin Peterson's Trekkie Monster - a porn-addicted fuzzy creature who bears a strong vocal resemblance to a certain Cookie Monster - was an audience favourite on opening).
Director Connie Manfredi (who nearly steals the show playing Avenue Q superintendent Gary Coleman - yes, that Gary Coleman) moves the 135-minute production along with fantastic energy. The cast find laughs in all the right places, and bring an infectious sense of fun to the show.
On top of this, the show looks outstanding, thanks to production manager and set designer Airyn Lancaster and crew.
This is a professional-level production of a smart, funny, and edgy musical. Here's hoping there'll be a remount down the road so more people can take it in.
(For now, if you want to see the show, you can try e-mailing email@example.com to get your name on a waiting list for tickets - but the odds are slim that anyone who has them will give them up.)
Joff Schmidt, CBC Theatre Reviewer