Thursday, May 1, 2014

Stroll down Mercury's home-grown, Broadway-calibur "Avenue Q."

The cast of "Avenue Q." Photo by Brett Bener.
Cross-posted from

A lot has happened since “Avenue Q” defied the odds to beat out a certain heavily-favored, green skinned witch for the Tony award for best musical 10 years ago. Technology and social media sites have come and gone (compact disks have yielded to mp3 players; MySpace and Ask Jeeves are about as relevant as an AOL email account these days). Stock markets have crashed, rebounded, crashed again and rebounded.

With his Oscar earlier this year for “Frozen,” “Avenue Q” co-composer Robert Lopez even claimed his EGOT crown (so named as Mr. Lopez has successfully won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony). It might “suck to be you” as a certain lyric from “Avenue Q” goes, but it certainly does not suck to be Mr. Lopez at this moment in time.  

Is the puppet nudity and adult humor of this homage to “Sesame Street” still culturally relevant? You bet your felt covered butt it is!

You can thank our anemic economy.  While “Sesame Street” gently prepared several generations of preschoolers to navigate the playground, Mercury Theater’s home-grown, Equity  production of “Avenue Q,” remains current as it tackles the difficulties of job hunting, unemployment and the dating pool for twenty, thirty and forty-somethings. 

The emotional heart of the show (book by Jeff Whitty and music and lyrics by Lopez and Jeff Marx) has always been with Kate Monster, who dreams of both the perfect boyfriend and opening a “Monster-sorri” school . Under the direction of L. Walter Stearns, Mercury’s production still thankfully wears its sweet heart on its sleeve. Much like “Sesame Street,” Stearns has succeeded in mounting a Brodway-caliber production that manages to feel somewhat irreverent and good-natured at the same time. 

Leah Morrow as Kate Monster. Photo by Brett Bener.
The original puppets by Russ Walko bear an uncanny resemblance to most of their actor counterparts and you’ll be hard-pressed to tell puppet from puppeteer.
As Kate Monster, Leah Morrow is appropriately sweet and vulnerable. You can almost feel her furry heart break as she sings about the fine line between being lovers and friends.

Jackson Evans as Princeton. Photo by Brett Bener.
As Princeton, Jackson Evans is charming as he stumbles in both love and finding his life’s purpose. 

Adam Fane finds some great comedic moments as the highly-strung, closeted Republican Rod. Daniel Smeriglio is the perfect foil to Rod as Rod’s roommate (and unrequited love) Nicky. Smeriglio, along with Stephanie Herman, has some fine comedic moments as The Bad Idea Bears.

As Christmas Eve, the Japanese therapist with no “cry-ents,” Christine Bunuan deserves a Jeff. Her Christmas Eve is easily my favorite (and I’ve seen both the Original Broadway cast, the replacement cast and the touring company productions of the show). Her rendition of “The More you Ruv Someone” is side-splitting and worth the price of your ticket alone. 

Thom Van Ermen draws some of the other biggest laughs of the night as Trekkie Monster. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise; if there is one thing about the show that is still current, it’s that the Internet is still for porn.

“Avenue Q” is a must-see for teens and adults.

Mercury Theater's production of "Avenue Q" runs through June 29 at the Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport. Tickets $20-$59. or 773.325.1700

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