Chicago’s Mercury Theater’s lovingly revived production of Avenue Q, is wowing audiences with its repeatable humor and heartwarming message. It opened June 21st and is extended by popular demand through November 4th. Music and lyrics are by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Avenue Q first opened in 2002, and has won three 2004 Tony Awards (best musical, best book and best original score) and the Theatre World Award. With over than 2,500 performances, Avenue Q ranks 24th on the list of longest running shows in Broadway history. The musical has also inspired Las Vegas and West End productions including Off-Broadway, Broadway, two national tours, and a variety of international productions.
Avenue Q is a coming-of-age modern musical that focuses on a group of unique 20-somethings making their way in the big city, seeking their purpose in life. Director L. Walter Stearns explains that the real magic of the show is when the audience “forgets that the puppets are nothing more than fur and felt and start to believe they have a mind, heart and soul.” It tells the timeless story of a recent college graduate named Princeton, who moves into a shabby New York City apartment all the way out on Avenue Q. He soon discovers that although the residents seem nice, it’s clear that this is not your average ordinary neighborhood. Together, Princeton and his new found friends struggle to find jobs, dates, and their ever-elusive purpose in life. Although Avenue Q addresses humorous adult issues, it is similar to a beloved children’s show: a place where puppets are friends, monsters are good, and life lessons on learned. The show is part flesh, part felt, and packed with heart.
The cast was honored to have master puppeteer, actor, puppet designer, and builder, Rick Lyon, to lead puppetry training. Rick was a puppeteer on Sesame Street for 15 seasons as one of the operators of Big Bird. He has been on Broadway, in Las Vegas, and has built puppets and coached productions in a number of countries including Sweden, Finland, Mexico, Germany, Brazil, France, Australia and China.
I found Avenue Q to be refreshingly funny, clever, and entertaining, while also upfront, person, bittersweet, and realistic. The show was also charmingly naughty, and made fun of everything under the sun. It definitely brings out your inner child while incorporating puppets with the real life actors. You cannot help but laugh throughout the entire show. Avenue Q touched on relatable and sometimes taboo topics such as dating, relationships, friendships, sex, drugs, alcohol, coming of age, and maintaining jobs, all in New York City. It was definitely a show aimed at and appealing to the Generation X and Millennials, considering many of us watched Sesame Street growing up, and are still paying off college debts years after graduating.
The entire cast was outstanding. Jackson Evans as Princeton was adorabaly charming as a funny and naïve puppet human, trying to find his purpose in life. Leah Morrow, who played his girlfriend, Kate Monster, was a sweet optimist purple monster, who dreams of one day opening up her own school just for monsters. A wannabe comic, Brian (Matthew Miles) is a hilarious sidekick neighbor, while his Japanese psychologist fiancé Christmas Eve (Audrey Billings) never has any clients. Add to the already talented cast of performers was puppet, Rod (Christian Seibert) a closeted geek with glasses, who has a crush on his friend and roommate, puppet, Nicky (Dan Smeriglio), who is straight. There was also hilarious Trekkie Monster (Jonah D. Winston), who had a reputation for porn, the insane, bad influences, the Bad Idea Bears (Stephanie Herman and Dan Smeriglio), who pressure Princeton into making bad choices, troubled child-star Gary Coleman (David S. Robbins-an exact replica), who is also the landlord of the apartment on Avenue Q, and finally, sexy bombshell blonde puppet, Lucy the Slut (Stephanie Herman), who I could not stop laughing at.
Another honorable mention of the already hilarious show was that of an unexpected incident of the glow-in-the-dark condom. The cast was collecting money in a hat from the audience during the performance, and one audience member slipped a glow-in-the-dark condom into the hat. I do not think this was planned, and it took everyone by surprise into a laughing fit, including the performers, who could not contain themselves onstage due to laughing so hard!
If you are nostalgic for good ‘ole Sesame puppets, current events, adult and political humor, and musical show tunes, you must not miss Mercury Theater’s revival of Avenue Q, where you may have not laughed so hard since Book of Mormon debuted. See Avenue Q before it closes in November!
Photos: Brett A. Beiner Photography
For more information about Avenue Q, or to purchase tickets, can be found on the Mercury Theater website. Individual tickets range $35-65.
Audience members are invited to upgrade their experience with an exclusive Post-Show Experience including a brief backstage tour, puppetry demonstration and Avenue Q for an additional $25 per person.
*Avenue Q may not be appropriate for young children because it addresses issues like sex, drinking, and surfing the web for porn. Parents should use their discretion based on the maturity level of their children.
2 hours, 15 minutes
Wednesday at 8pm
Thursday at 8pm
Friday at 8pm
Saturday at 5pm & 8:30pm
Sunday at 3pm & 7:30pm
Mercury Theater Chicago
3745 North Southport Avenue,
Chicago, IL, 60613