"Avenue Q," the 22nd-longest running show in Broadway history, has hit the Met Theatre in Hollywood in all of its campy, satirical sassy glory. Despite debuting off-Broadway way back in 2003 (after being created as a television series) and hitting the Great White Way later that year, the musical, its characters and its themes still resonate as if it were launching for the first time. The searches for meaning and for our places in the world are timeless and the characters that live on Avenue Q learn that the way we all do: the hard way.
When Princeton moves into an apartment on Avenue Q, he and the other young adults (including good girl teacher's assistant Kate Monster, wannabe comedian Brian, his therapist wife Christmas Eve and even former child star Gary Coleman -- played by female actor Benai Boyd) in his neighborhood power through love triangles, glass closets, racism and other issues with humor and insight despite the cold slap in the face of reality that having been told everything will be OK. Sometimes it's not.
Basically an adult version of "Sesame Street" on steroids (complete with characters Rod and Nicky substituting for Bert and Ernie), "Avenue Q" isn't just raunchy for raunch's sake. It's over the top and sometimes brash, but it's never lowbrow or pandering. The characters are well drawn, and each has his or her own arc, leading to a fully realized story and an ultimately moving celebration of the foibles and joys of life.
It takes a few minutes to suspend disbelief when you see the puppeteers actually performing with the puppets onstage in full view (they're not even using ventriloquism, just singing and talking outright), but once the story kicks in, you see the puppets as real characters not just appendages to the actors. It's a unique experience that was probably initially viewed as a gamble but it has paid off in spades, including three Tony Awards (for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score).
The Doma Theater Co., which is the company producing the show, has fantastic performers who inhabit their characters with verve and pathos under the assured direction of Richard Israel. Each of the actors pops, but props go to Janelle Dote, as Japanese-American Christmas Eve, who infuses her purposely stereotypical character with a sparkling wit and soaring vocals, and Danielle Judovits, who plays both wholesome Kate Monster and wanton woman Lucy, inhabiting both disparate characters effortlessly.
The theater is quite small, which adds immediacy and an intimacy to the show. You're practically onstage, so you feel like part of the story as soon as the overture begins. The score is fantastically cheeky (with titles like "We're All a Little Bit Racist," "The Internet Is for Porn," "If You Were Gay" and "It Sucks to Be Me," would you expect anything else?) and the lyrics are clever enough to make you laugh out loud.
But for all its sauciness, there's an underlying melancholy about how some promises of childhood go unfulfilled and how to deal with the disappointment that not everyone is guaranteed a happy ending. The combination of sweet and sad makes for an affecting, universal experience that we can all relate to, no matter our backgrounds, interests or dreams.
And though the themes are timeless, the jokes about Gary Coleman as child star fallen on hard times, while still working, may need to be retooled sometime soon. He died two and a half years ago and soon enough, even jokes about his downward career spiral will fail to have meaning to many of the audience members. But that's just a quibble when the creators have developed a world so thrilling and alive that you want to move right onto that stage and become one of the inhabitants, whether as a person or a puppet, of Avenue Q.
"Avenue Q" runs through Feb. 3 at the MET Theatre, 1089 North Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles. For info and tickets, call 323-802-4990 or go to domatheatre.com