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Avenue Q

Critics' pick
1/5
Photograph: Brett A. Beiner
Avenue Q at Mercury Theater
2/5
Photograph: Brett A. Beiner
Avenue Q at Mercury Theater
3/5
Photograph: Brett A. Beiner
Avenue Q at Mercury Theater
4/5
Photograph: Brett A. Beiner
Avenue Q at Mercury Theater
5/5
Photograph: Brett A. Beiner
Avenue Q at Mercury Theater

Mercury Theater. Music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Book by Jeff Whitty. Directed by L. Walter Stearns. With Jackson Evans, Leah Morrow, Sean Patrick Fawcett, Christine Bunuan, Adam Fane, Daniel Smeriglio, Donterrio Johnson, Thom Van Ermen, Stephanie Herman. Running time: 2hrs 10mins; one intermission.

Theater review by Kris Vire

Ten years after this irreverent, puppet-infused tuner opened Sesame on Broadway and beat a very popular green girl for the Tony Award for best musical, Avenue Q, with its pop culture–grounded references to the concerns of the young and the aimless, is showing its age in ways a musical in a fantasy setting needn’t concern itself with.

Kate Monster’s woozy song about receiving a “Mix Tape” from her crush, Princeton, conjures up that recent viral video with children puzzling over a Walkman, for instance. Even the prop substitution of a burned CD in the Mercury Theater’s new production feels off; wouldn’t Princeton just send her a Spotify playlist today? Rod, the closeted gay Republican half of the show’s Bert-and-Ernie analogues, would surely feel less conflicted about coming out now that 17 states and counting offer equal marriage to same-sex couples (that’s 17 more than when Avenue Q opened on Broadway in 2003).

And that’s not even touching the satiric use of the now-deceased Gary Coleman as a main character, which director L. Walter Stearns’s staging, like the still-running New York production, chooses to elide as baldly as it does the height of actor Donterrio Johnson, who towers counterintuitively over most of his castmates.

Yet in Q’s deeply felt (cough) world, so many of the characters’ youthful dilemmas ring truer than ever for millennials confronting a hostile job market where college degrees can feel worthless, and establishing an adult life that feels secure financially, socially and romantically, let alone finding a special purpose, is enough to make you wish for some educational-programming guidance.

The Mercury’s small stage is sized just right for this small-screen-inspired satire, with just enough square footage to accommodate a colorfully dingy city block without seeming swallowed up. And Stearns’s near-ideal cast rips into the material with equal parts heart and comic brio.

Jackson Evans and Adam Fane put their lanky frames to hilarious physical use as Princeton and Rod, respectively, both actors achieving an impressive kind of hand-mind meld with their puppets. The latter’s also true of Leah Morrow, who brings some unexpected but delicious dark tones to sweet ingénue Kate Monster.

Christine Bunuan absolutely murders Asian-American therapist Christmas Eve’s dialectally challenged power number, “The More You Ruv Someone,” while Daniel Smeriglio mops up as Nicky, Rod’s roommate and unrequited crush. But this giggle-inducing comedy’s whole cast nimbly avoids every potential crack in the sidewalk—commiserating with us over modern life’s clouds as a method of temporarily sweeping them away.

Event phone: 773-325-1700
Event website: http://mercurytheaterchicago.com
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