What do puppet sex and Gary Coleman have in common? Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), more than you might think. Both are featured in the 2004 Tony Award-winning musical Avenue Q which descended on the Morrison Center Feb. 8 - 10.
Executive producer Stephen Gabriel combines the colorful simplicity of Sesame Street with the lewd hilarity of South Park. Much like the PBS classic, Avenue Q comes to life through a cast of puppets who each possess human delights and flaws. Their handlers appear onstage as well which unexpectedly adds emotional depth to the performance.
The story begins with Princeton (Brent Michael DiRoma), a recent college graduate who moves to the slummy Avenue Q, where he encounters his eccentric neighbors. Rod (DiRoma), the closeted gay Republican, harbors feelings for his slovenly roommate Nicky (Jason Heymann). Trekkie Monster (Heymann) openly professes his addiction to Internet porn. The feisty Kate Monster (Jacqueline Grabois), Princeton’s future squeeze, works for pennies as a teacher’s aide. The sole human residents consist of wannabe comedian Brian (Tim Kornblum) and girlfriend Christmas Eve (Lisa Helmi Johanson). In an odd yet humorous twist, Gary Coleman (Nigel Jamaal Clark) resides upstairs as the superintendent of Avenue Q.
“If you rearrange the word unemployed, it spells opportunity,” the optimistic Coleman tells the downtrodden Princeton after the English graduate learns his new job fell through.
Princeton struggles to find his purpose in life and, along the way, falls in love with the naive Kate Monster. But Princeton's fear of commitment drives him into the arms of Lucy the Slut, a bar singer and walking STD.
All of Princeton’s attempts to make the right decision are thwarted by the cuddly yet toxic duo, the Bad Idea Bears. In shrill childlike voices, the two act as the devil on Princeton's shoulder. In one scene, they persuade Princeton to purchase beer with his parent’s money. However, they remain unsatisfied with a six-pack.
“You’re wasting money in the long run if you don’t buy in bulk,” they cry.
They also encourage Princeton to find a way out of his depression.
“You could always hang yourself. We found this rope.”
Terrible advice from the factory-recalled Care Bears is punctuated with gasp-inducing musical numbers such as “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, "The Internet Is for Porn" and “If You Were Gay.” The Coleman gem “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love)" provides a lively soundtrack to Princeton and Kate’s onstage sex romp.
Johanson is a standout with her spirited performance as glaring Asian stereotype, Christmas Eve. The soaring vocal talents of Grabois envelop the theater, producing constant applause from the audience. Clark’s impressive portrayal of Coleman is tinged with pitiable hilarity. Veteran set designer Anna Louizos (My Fair Lady) the Avenue Q building a weathered outer shell with warmly colored interiors.
Despite the crude content, Avenue Q explores the concepts of charity, true love and friendship. Princeton finds his purpose by helping Kate open her own school for monsters. Christmas Eve and Brian marry and leave Avenue Q for greener pastures. Newly outed Rod finds romance (or at least a good time) with the chiseled Ricky.
“Everybody’s dreams are coming true…and then there’s Gary Coleman,” Clark sighs at the end of the performance.
Don’t worry, Gary, a Diff'rent Strokes reunion lies in your future.
Click here to see interviews with the puppets at The Arbiter