Launched off-Broadway in 2003, Avenue Q became a quick success, transferring to Broadway and earning a surprise Tony win (over Wicked) in 2004. Instead of touring, the producers decided to sit down in Las Vegas with a truncated show. That didn't go to plan, the company limped home, licked their wounds and finally launched the show on the road. A delay that could have killed the show's momentum turned out to not be much of a detriment. It helps that Avenue Q draws from decades of shared children's television viewing experiences. For audiences in their 30s and younger, Sesame Street and its ilk were part of life's fabric in the early years. It also helps that beyond all of the puppet-based raunch is a show with considerable heart; one about finding your place in the world and, maybe, even finding your soul mate.
Set on a fictional, if appropriately seedy, New York City street, Avenue Q follows Princeton, a young college grad searching for his "purpose." There, he finds others drifting through their 20s and 30s - grungy Nicky, closeted Rod, humans Brian, Christmas Eve and, um, Gary Coleman, and his potential soul mate, young, pretty, nice and single Kate Monster.
While Princeton's search and on-again, off-again relationship with Kate Monster drive the show, Avenue Q is never afraid to take time out for a little "lesson." These bits and songs are the funniest moments of the evening, whether it is exploring why "Everyone is a Little Racist" or explaining the meaning of "Schadenfreude."
Yet the show can't shake its central themes, and returns time after time to the characters' plights. It's amazing how involved you become with characters who are only pieces of cloth. Credit for that goes to the work of show creators Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty, and to the excellent cast, who sell their characters one hundred percent. As both Princeton and Rod, Robert McClure finds much of the show resting on his shoulders. Princeton takes a bit of time to get going, but McClure's Rod is right on from the first scene. A stiff, closeted Republican stockbroker, his character is ripe for parody, but McClure makes Rod human and sympathetic.
Also engaging is Kelli Sawyer as lovely Kate Monster and less-than-lovely Lucy the Slut, who draws Princeton's eye away from Kate at a key moment. Sawyer brings considerable life to both roles, especially love-torn Kate. The rest of the cast does excellent work as well; David Benoit covers several puppets, including reclusive Trekkie Monster (who shares one of the show's highlights with Kate in "The Internet is for Porn") and understudy Jennie Kwan as too-tough-for-her-own-good therapist Christmas Eve.
If you have seen the show on Broadway, the tour pretty much replicates the experience, from the run-down set to the video screens used for animated interludes. Still, it's worth revisiting the material even if familiar, and certainly worth it for those who haven't stepped down this particular street before.
Avenue Q runs through January 15 at the State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 612-673-0404 or visit www.ticketmaster.com or www.HennepinTheatreDistrict.org.