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Dark Side of the Street
Thank god for lawyers who hate their jobs.
In fact, ex-attorney turned writer Jeff Marx believes, “Everyone should quit their jobs and start doing something they love.” For Marx, that “something” happens to be writing Broadway show tunes. His pent-up creativity exploded into the highly imaginative Avenue Q. Now playing at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, the 2004 Tony Award-winning production (Marx’s first musical) is an uproariously Sesame Street parody highlighting those “un-sunny days” of post-college life.
Set against the bleak backdrop of a gritty Hells Kitchen-esque apartment building, colorful Yuppie puppets (with names like Princeton) and fleshy actors alike struggle with finding jobs, romance, and themselves in NYC. Without the safety net of a college meal plan or their parent’s bank account, not even their soft, furry puppet exteriors can save them from bad decisions and the hard knocks of real life. Forget South Beach — it’s literally Sesame Street gone wild!
With your jaw-to-the-floor and face perma-stuck in the “I can’t believe they just said that” expression throughout the duration of the show, the puppets have loud, wild sex (yes, naked puppet bodies!), get drunk off their furry bums, come out of the closet, and dish about porn. In fact, just like Cookie Monster, Avenue Q’s Trekkie Monster (Michael Liscio, Jr) is obsessed with something — only it ain’t cookies. In a hilarious number, he and the cast revel in the song, “The Internet is for Porn,” featuring some obscenely funny lyrics.
Also, like Sesame Street, Avenue Q features “educational” video animations, but of a very different tone. Projected on TV monitors above the stage, the word-pronunciation and counting lessons are wildly irreverent and definitely not meant for kids, such as “Five, four, three two, ONE NIGHT STANDS.”
Continuing the sidesplitting parody, Avenue Q features a “famous” guest like the popular children’s show. But, of course, the musical does it tongue-in-cheek style, poking fun at washed-up child star Gary Coleman campily played by Kerri Brackin. In the brilliantly hilarious performance “Schadenfreude,” (meaning taking pleasure in other’s pain), Brackin cheers up her depressed cast mates by reminding them how we laugh when a waiter drops their plates or a vegetarian unknowingly eats chicken. Yes, it’s totally off-color and truly entertaining.
However, the highlight of the show is the Bad Idea Bears — the cutest, cuddliest blue and yellow stuffed teddy bears you’ve ever seen. In adorable kiddie voices, the duo egg on their struggling friends encouraging them to do anything and everything that’s bad or wrong (i.e., buy beer, touch breasts, etc.). The contrast of their syrupy sweet facade and devilishly erroneous words is beyond funny.
But despite all the off-the-wall humor, Avenue Q is solidly backed by a heartfelt story with characters you relate to and care about. In addition, the actors do a fantastic job in enabling the audience to suspend reality and lose themselves in the fantasy lives of the puppets (strangely allowing the viewer to ignore the animators standing right next to them).
From the lyrics to the choreography, the show drips with oodles of inspired wit and creativity. Although you’re hoping that everyone lives happily ever after, the show ends on more of an existential note concluding with the song, “Only For Now.” It implies that whether your situation sucks right now or is pretty okay, nothing lasts forever and that’s just the fleeting nature of life. I’m not quite sure if that’s supposed to make us feel better or worse, but hey, it was written by a cynical ex-lawyer. If you want more of a happy ending — go visit Big Bird. This is Avenue Q, after all.