Try to imagine “Sesame Street on Crack” and you will get a little insight into what “Avenue Q” the musical, now onstage at The Mercury Theater is. A rip roaring , laugh a minute satire on the characters of the famous “Sesame Street” that many of today’s theater audiences grew up learning from. Well, this “very ADULT” version, continues to teach us, but perhaps topics that are just a bit different and perhaps a might naughtier.With a book written by Jeff Whitty and music and lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez ( the same guys who brought us “The Book of Mormon”) we are looking at a very “South Park type of entertainment that will take your mind off your day. In fact, you may find yourself being taken away from the week- it is that funny.
This is a show that I have seen several times, and even thought I know the story and most of the songs ( such as “It Sucks To Be Me”, the hysterical “You Can Be As Loud As You Want ( When You’re Making Love)” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, this is not a show that will have you humming, BUT it will have you laughing and will definitely put a smile on your face and a warm feeling in your heart. If you have never been to the “historic” Mercury Theater on Southport, you are in for a treat as Director L Walter Stearns, transforms this large scale Broadway musical into a much more intimate production, on a scaled down, but very effective set ( Alan Donahue). The choreography bt Kevin Bellie has also been scaled down to fit the stage and for the most part works much better.
The amazing part of this production is that the actors, who become puppeteers, do so to perfection. In fact, the puppets they handle become a true part of them and even though we see their actual aces as they operate the characters, we forget that it is the human we are watching or hearing as we are focused on the puppets in the play. I would have to say that the puppetry coach, Kevin C. Noonchester deserves a great amount of credit for his work and I am in hopes that TheJjeff Awards committee find a way to at least nominate him , if not reward him. Great job. Russ Walko’s puppets are amazing and very lifelike, but it is the cast and their ability to bring these characters to life with their acting and singing- they are as good, oh hell, better, than any company I have seen do this musical before!
A tip of the hat to Jackson Evans as Princeton, our leading player, a young man, recently graduated from college heading to New York to start his life. He arrives on “Avenue Q” and meets all the people and monsters who reside in the buildings owned by child tv star Gary Coleman ( a slick performance by Donterrio Johnson). Here we also meet Rod ( deftly handled by Adam Fane) and his roomie, Nicky ( Daniel Smeriglio), who are the “Ernie and Bert of “Avenue Q”. Is one Gay? Are the both Gay? stay tuned! We also meet the loving couple ( both non-puppets) Christmas Eve ( the adorable Christine Bunuan, who definately proves that good things DO come in small packages) and her fiance,Brian ( the comic Sean Patrick Fawcett), Trekkie Monster ( the hysterical Thom Van Ermen, who steals some of his scenes) and the love interest for Princeton, the adorable Kate Monster ( played by the adorable Leah Morrow). Stephanie Herman plays the sultry Lucy, who steals Princeton away from his true love, Kate, but in the end pays the price as we learn that everyone needs PURPOSE ( the thought for the day). There are other characters/puppets played by Ms Herman, Mr Fane, Mr. Smergilio and Mr. Van Ermen.
This production is hard to say anything in the least bit negative about- it is solid from the beginning to the end with no open spaces in between. The actors are having as much fun telling us this story as we are having watching it unfold. They have heart and they become very real to us and although it is very different than “Sesame Street”, in many ways , it is very “the same”- we learn from it! We see that people and puppets can co-exist and that monsters and people can live in the same neighborhood. It also teaches us about the good and evil of people and that we all do have purpose in life. A little over two hours in length, this musical satire with musical direction by Eugene Dizon and his four solid musicians, Kevin Reeks, Dan Meinhardt, Scott Sedlacek and Lindsay Williams bring magic to the Mercury Theater where “Avenue Q” will continue running through June 29th with performances as follows:
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 and 6:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $20-$59 and are available at the box office located at www.3745 N. Southport Avenue ( Wrigleyville area), by phone at 773-325-1700 or online at mercurytheaterchicago.com
There is parking on the streets of the neighborhood and a lot one block north as well as valet parking. Dining on the street is plentiful and there are two dining spots adjacent to the theater, Cullens Bar and Grill or Deleece.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Avenue Q”