After an aborted run in Las Vegas, where producers cut half an hour out of the running time to appease Sin City's gambling, boozing and buffet-addled denizens, the multiple Tony Award-winning Broadway puppet show Avenue Q finally makes its West Coast premiere in San Diego.
While the show will move to Los Angeles in September, you should skip the cavernous Ahmanson gig in favor of the slightly more intimate Spreckles. Yes, you may have to contend with a traffic slog on the 5, but it takes only about a quarter of a tank of gas to get there if you're not driving a Hummer.
For that middling bit of trouble, this will be the most hilarious, unique show you'll ever see. Adults-only and deliciously anything the least bit "family-friendly," Avenue Q features puppets who say "fuck," watch porn, get drunk, quit their jobs, search for love, flip one another the bird, sing and dance with gleeful abandon, and fuck (which has to be seen to be believed).
In this riotously funny send-up of children's shows—mostly Sesame Street and a raunchy nod or two to The Electric Company—recent college graduate Princeton (Robert McClure) is looking for an apartment in New York. His paltry bank account leaves him no option but to move to the fictional (and cheap) near-slum Avenue Q.
The trashy looking brownstones (a versatile and beautiful/ugly set design by Anna Louizos) are run by bitter child star Gary Coleman (Carla Renata, surprisingly good in the role despite the fact she's obviously a she and looks nothing like the Diff'rent Strokes TV star).
As in Rent, Avenue Q's story moves to the rhythm of its characters' desire to fulfill frustrated dreams—or reconcile themselves with their failure. Princeton wonders if a "purpose" exists after graduating with a useless degree and mountains of debt; closeted gay Republican Rod struggles to come out, while his best friend Nicky is homeless; Kate Monster (Kelli Sawyer) wants a boyfriend and battles racism; Lucy the Slut wants Princeton for a one-night stand; the porn-obsessed Cookie Monster-like Trekkie Monster (Christian Anderson) looks to make a killing in Internet smut; the Bad Idea Bears (the roll-in-the-aisles-hysterical Anderson and Minglie Chen) are a toxic cross between the Care Bears and the Snuggle fabric softener pitchman, enthusiastically dispensing piss-poor advice to other characters when they're vulnerable: "Well, you can always hang yourself!" "Yayyy! We found this rope!" Besides Renata's Coleman, Brian the wannabe standup comic and his overachieving Japanese wife, Christmas Eve (a scene-stealing Angela Ai), are the only other human beings.
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The entire cast is in perfect voice, with leads Sawyer and McClure the obvious vocal standouts. The one flaw has nothing to do with the cast or show: The air conditioning at the Spreckles is barely sufficient to prevent patrons from having to fan themselves. As the cast rushes around stage playing several characters under hot-box conditions, they get quite the sweaty workout.
Staged flawlessly by original director Jason Moore, the memorable music and ingenious lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx have something to say, and they say it with wit, flair and originality. It's so good that even if the idea of a musical leaves you cold, you'll be tapping your toes and singing the lyrics for weeks to come. Jeff Whitty's blunt, wise book gives every character their due, earning its life-affirming ending without pandering.
Ticket prices may make you think twice, but pull out that credit card. Some tickets are available for as low as $19—and even at $85, they're worth every penny.
Avenue Q at Spreckles Theatre at the Old Globe Downtown, 121 Broadway, San Diego, (619) 234-5623; www.TheOldGlobe.org . Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 & 9 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m. Through Aug. 5. $19-$85.