Regional Reviews: Seattle
Q is for Quality in sparkling Avenue Q Tour at the Paramount
Book writer Jeff Whitty's raunchy and witty script (conceived by the show's songwriters Robert Marx and Jeff Lopez) is set in a fictitious outer NYC borough, which might be best described as the Bizarro "Sesame Street." Peopled with mostly twenty to early thirty-somethings, Avenue Q welcomes its newest resident puppet Princeton (voiced and manipulated by the spirited and adroit Robert McClure) who has just received his BA in English and is looking for his "Purpose" in life. He quickly becomes enamored of budding school teacher Kate Monster (adorable Kelli Sawyer), who is equally smitten. The path of their true love does not run smooth, thanks largely to another woman, the vampy Lucy the Slut (also Sawyer) and a pair of cutesy but troublemaking "Bad Idea" Bears (hilarious Minglie Chen and David Benoit) who lead the hero and heroine astray. The main secondary plotline concerns Q's answer to Bert and Ernie, closeted gay Republican Rod (McClure again) and his straight roommate Nicky. Rod pines for a romance with Nicky, but, though Nicky feels "If You Were Gay, That Would Be Ok," he just isn't interested in Rod that way. This leads Rod into therapy sessions with Asian American neighbor Christmas Eve (sassy Jennie Kwan on for Angela Ai) and, for a time, Rod kicks Nicky out of the apartment. Both relationships are salvaged, even if as the closing song says, it is only "For Now."
I haven't even mentioned Trekkie Monster (also enacted by Benoit) who brings down the house with his big number "The Internet is For Porn"; landlord Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman), played to perfection by Danielle K. Thomas; and Christmas Eve's slacker mate Brian (played opening night by swing Cullen R. Titmas).
Lopez and Marx's score is by far the cleverest and one of the most tuneful of the new millennium. They can create a relatively straight ballad of emotional regret like "There's A Fine, Fine Line," a mock torch song that is anything but PC ("The More You Ruv Someone"), wistful charm songs ("I Wish I Could Go Back to College"), and the uniquely hilarious "Schadenfreude." Jason Moore's tight, clean and witty direction and Ken Roberson's spot on choreography are replicated superbly in this touring version. (Moore will be represented again in Seattle this summer as director of the highly anticipated Shrek-The Musical. Based on his Q work, he's the right man for the job.)
The charm and wit of Anna Louizos' perfectly observed set doesn't get lost on the large Paramount stage, and Howell Binkley's lighting design accents it perfectly. Mirena Rada's costumes are just right, and of course a huge hand for the amazing puppet designs by original Q cast member Rick Lyons.
A decent but sadly not full house gave Avenue Q a spontaneous standing ovation at the performace I attended. It is well deserved, and I can't wait to see what Marx and Lopez, as well as Whitty, come up with next. It sucks to wait boys, so hurry up!
Avenue Q runs through June 22, 2008 at the Paramount Theatre, 9th & Pine in downtown Seattle. For more information go online at www.theparamount.com.
- David Edward Hughes