It's a take-off of Sesame Street. Bring the muppets to the slums of NYC, sprinkle in a few F-bombs and other assorted R-17 words, and add adult themes (being gay and in denial, homelessness, poverty, racism, greed, sex without guilt, guilt without sex) and have it acted out by a combination of actors and actor-puppeteers with muppets, and you have Avenue Q.
The cast is amazing. The show is true to the original CD and then some. They have polished up everything, added a few extra bits, and filled in some missing pieces of plot. The set is a work of art as well as a technical marvel. In addition to the acting and music, flat panel video screens fly in from above the stage to use text and animations to illustrate a few key points in a parody of Sesame Street's format. The lighting is very good, though the follow spot did not always follow. Audio was a bit too treble-boosted and dropped out from time to time in the rear orchestra section where I was sitting. From their response, it is clear the folks up front didn't have this problem. Every actor had a body mike, but they were worn the way stage mikes should be - invisible to the audience.
The two hours flew by without me ever looking at my watch. Amazing. My only complaint is they had some of the actors assigned to more than one muppet, which made the everyone-on-stage finale awkward, and also meant that sometimes a "swing" puppeteer would operate the puppet while a different actor provided its voice, and that of another puppet on the other side of the stage. Kind of like having a passenger steer while you operated the gas and brake. Another three cast members would have been nice, and I doubt if it would have broken the budget. Having said that, the people who were doing double and triple duty were phenomenal.
The plot goes like this: Princeton (Robert McClure) having just graduated with a BA in English, is on Avenue Q looking for an apartment (he can't afford anything in the upper avenues). He is directed to the super, who turns out to be Gary Coleman (Carla Renata). Moving in, he meets human Brian (Cole Porter), his human fiance Japanese immigrant and social worker Christmas Eve (Angela Ai) and the lovely kindergarten teacher's aide, muppet Kate Monster (Kelli Sawyer). Also in the apartment are (muppets) investment banker Rod (also played by McClure) who is so far into the closet he can see Narnia, his roommate Nicky (Christian Anderson) and computer wiz Trekkie Monster (also played by Anderson).
After the obligatory and highly forgettable Avenue Q theme (played canned over the speakers) the show starts with the tuneful What Do You Do With A B.A. in English? sung by Princeton, which segues into the whole cast one-upping each other with the toe-tapper It Sucks To Be Me. And from then on it's a couple of weeks in the life of a dysfunctional bunch of friends in the slums. Nicky tries to lure Rod out of the closet by singing If You Were Gay, which gets him tossed out on the street. Princeton seeks the meaning of his life in a tune called Purpose and then sticks his foot in his mouth asking Kate Monster if she is related to Trekkie Monster, which launches another upbeat song Everyone's A Little Bit Racist.
Kate's boss calls, Kate needs to take over the class tomorrow, and decides to teach about the Internet, but while she's mapping out what she will be teaching, Trekkie and the men in the cast hijack the number, and we get one of the highlights of the show, The Internet is For Porn.
Princeton makes Kate a Mix Tape (you would think they would rewrite the song - nobody owns tape players any more) and asks her out to a night club, where the featured singer, Lucy The Slut (also played by Sawyer), sets her sights on Princeton. But he gets Kate drunk and takes her home and bangs her while Gary Coleman sings a song about how loud they are.
Meanwhile, Rod is still in the closet, and when all his friends tell him they think he's gay, he comes out with a fine solo, My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada, sung at 120 mph.
Princeton and Kate go to Brian and Christmas Eve's wedding, which causes Kate to ask Princeton to commit. He runs away, she sings the heart-rending ballad There's a Fine, Fine Line to end Act I.
Brian pulls Princeton out of his funk with There is Life Outside Your Apartment where he runs into Lucy The Slut who invites herself to his place, where they boink each other. Kate has seen them together and is even more heartbroken. She asks Christmas Eve for advice, which is given in the song The More Your Ruv Someone. Ai brings down the house with her Marlene Dietrich meets Tokyo Rose rendition of this number.
While Kate is getting this free advice, Princeton has decided his Purpose is to raise money to build the school for monster kids which Kate has told him is her dream goal.
The plot chugs on to its inevitable conclusion, and just when you think it's all wrapped up they throw in one more number, where the whole cast sings that no matter how bad stuff is, it's only For Now.
Avenue Q runs mostly weekends through September 2 at the Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco. Tickets range from $30-$180. Check out the calendar here.