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Avenue Q Opens At Shea's Performing Arts Center

When Avenue Q opened on Broadway in 2003, there were those of us who joked about its ability to tour. Its frank language, irreverent observations about everything from racism to politics to gay rights—not to mention its full-puppet nudity and full-throttle puppet sex—would certainly be a first for touring houses more accustomed to Kiss Me Kate and The Sound of Music. And yet, an unusually full Tuesday night audience at Shea’s embraced the show with vigorous enthusiasm, and laughed the hardest at the socially most inappropriate jokes.

Shea’s reports that Avenue Q has inspired more interest from the press than any other show in their very appealing season, and even their notorious billboard on the expressway, featuring the fuzzy pink cleavage of Lucy the Slut, has created a bit of a sensation. (Tip: If you haven’t seen the billboard, you only have until Monday. That’s when it’s coming down.)

Avenue Q is a perfect and entirely unauthorized parody of a certain beloved educational children’s show, featuring puppets and important life lessons. The twist here is that the kids have now grown up. Specifically, a 22-year-old man named Princeton has left college with his B.A. in English and no sense of direction whatsoever. He looks for an apartment in New York City, and works his way through the avenues, but not until he gets to “Q” can he find anything affordable.

When I first saw Avenue Q, as the play began I cynically settled in thinking, “Okay, this is a one-joke gig; let’s just get it over with.” I had not anticipated the endless creativity and subversive invention of its authors. I found my engagement building and building, as unexpected laugh followed unexpected laugh.

The original cast was inspired, and the huge challenge of the tour assuredly began with the effort to repopulate the show. Happily, this company is terrific.

Cole Porter gives a likeable performance as Brian, the wannabe comedian who can’t seem to find a job. Angela Ai plays his therapist fiancée, Christmas Eve, alternately channeling Margaret Cho and Judy Garland with equal conviction. She gets tossed a disproportionate amount of excellent material, including the unforgettable sucka riff in “In Sucks to Be Me,” and the fabulous ballad, “The More You Love Someone (the more you want to kill them).”

Robert McClure is, in his own unique way, every bit as adorable, funny, and sexy as the original Broadway Princeton. We dearly want him to get together with Kate Monster—and okay, with Lucy the slut too, but only for one night. Kelli Sawyer’s Kate Monster is, perhaps, the most total rehaul of the evening. Stephanie D’Abruzzo had made an indelible impression in the original, with her remarkable vocalizations. Miss Sawyer acts the role with marvelously wry wit, invention, and fantastic facial expressions.

Carla Renata is perfection as Gary Coleman. Yes, the former child star—you’ll just have to see it to understand that one. Cullen R. Titmas provides wonderful vocal interpretations to Nickey, Bad Idea Bear, and especially to Trekkie Monster, who reminds us that “The Internet Is for Porn.” Mr. Titmas and Minglie Chen provide particularly potent chuckles as the horrible bad idea bears. Miss Chen is also hilarious as the puppeteer for Lucy the Slut.

Woven through the irreverence and giddily shocking jokes are numerous truths and soulful observations. Songs like “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “It Sucks to Be Me,” are the hallmark of the show, but Avenue Q has a surprising amount of depth.

A song like “There’s a Fine Line,” sung by Kate Monster, is worthy of Irving Berlin: “There’s a fine, fine line between a fairy tale and a lie; And there’s a fine, fine line between ‘You’re wonderful’ and ‘Goodbye.’ I guess if someone doesn’t love you back it isn’t such a crime, But there’s a fine, fine line between love and a waste of your time.”

Avenue Q is certainly not a waste of your time.