Monday, May 21, 2012

Life on the Street with Avenue Q

John Ambrosino, Davron S. Monroe, and Erica Spyres with Princeton and Kate Monster. Photos: Mark S. Howard
People are always asking me, "So what's the best show in town, Mr. Hub Review?" And sometimes the answer is hard, but sometimes it's easy - as it is right now: the best show in town is Avenue Q at the Lyric Stage (through June 24).

There are other fun musicals up at rival houses, I admit, but the source material of Avenue Q is probably a bit stronger than that of those other contenders - plus there's a tight match between its demands and the Lyric Stage's particular strengths.  For artistic director Spiro Veloudos has always been at his best in knowing, wise-acre comedy, and he's basically in clover - or at least yards and yards of felt - with Avenue Q, the cute/raunchy spoof-tribute to Sesame Street, in which sweet Muppet knock-offs teach us a few more (ahem) adult lessons about, well, life on the actual street.

For the millennials who land on Avenue Q discover that life, love, and everything else is a whole lot more complicated than Grover and Big Bird made it sound back in the day (even if at the Lyric, designer Kathryn Kawecki's "Avenue Q" is a dead ringer for their old PBS hangout) .  Indeed, these twenty-somethings wonder aloud (in song), "What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?," and after taking a few hard knocks (poor "Princeton" gets downsized before he's even hired) move on to such even-harder truths as "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist."  A few slowly edge out of the closet; others take the big step toward real commitment; still others come to terms with their "otherness" in a variety of ways.

John Ambrosino and Phil Tayler as Rod and Nicky
In short, they grow up, just as they did on that other Street - indeed, the show is essentially a sweet meditation on living and learning during those oft-troubled years of postgraduate funk, when everyone sometimes thinks "It Sucks to be Me," but slowly learns the importance of (yes) sharing. And if it's occasionally kinda raunchy, that's also part of the joke (but don't take the kids, unless you want to find yourself explaining just what, precisely, those puppets were doing doggie-style).

And the Lyric gets it all exactly right, with confidently bold (but not too broad) puppetry, strong voices, heartfelt performances, and a breezy tone and pace that map perfectly to the patter songs of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and the clever book by the oh-so-appropriately-named Jeff Whitty.

The stand-outs of the cast are probably the sweet, poised Erica Spyres (who voices both the lovelorn Kate Monster and the love-addicted Lucy the Slut) and the versatile Phil Tayler, who as the Trekkie Monster is as incandescent here as he was in Floyd Collins just a few weeks ago.  But frankly the cast is bursting with talent: John Ambrosino makes both a wry Princeton and a believably conflicted Rod (who kicks his best friend Nicky out of the apartment just because he can tell Rod's gay).  And there are even more sparkling performances rounding out the cast - Jenna Lea Scott made an amusingly gonzo Christmas Eve (the local therapist who can't hang onto a client), while Davron S. Monroe gave just the right knowing spin to "Gary Coleman," who in one of the show's meta-flourishes, is still hanging out on a kiddie show (just now as the building super).  Meanwhile, in supporting roles, Elise Arsenault and Harry McEnerny V did their best to steal the limelight whenever they got the chance.  Not that there were many chances; for whether built of flesh and blood or felt and fur, the denizens of Avenue Q proved one of the tightest ensembles of the season.

No comments:

Post a Comment