Review: ‘Avenue Q’ will make you laugh and cry at the same time


“Avenue Q” features, from left, Michael Hull with the puppet Princeton, Marissa Toogood with Kate Monster and Jennifer Lauren Brown with Lucy, through June 15 at the Hippodrome Theatre.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, June 6, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 1:08 p.m.

I once interviewed a grouchy UF professor who assured me that “Sesame Street” was the worst thing that ever happened to education.

Facts

‘Avenue Q’

What: Tony Award-winning musical about life with actors and puppets
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays through June 23
Tickets: $30-$35, $25 for senior citizens, $15 for students; tickets for tonight’s preview are $15 and $18.
Info: 374-4447, www.thehipp.org
Note: Mature subject matter; not intended for children

“It teaches kids that learning is supposed to be fun,” the prof (we’ll just call him Oscar) scowled.

As it turns out, the real problem with public TV’s most celebrated “learning” show may be that it teaches kids that they are all special and pumps them full of great expectations that are destined to be deflated when they finally meet the real world.

At least, that’s the premise behind “Avenue Q,” the wildly entertaining musical comedy by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx currently playing at the Hippodrome.

“They’re not special,” the sexually flamboyant (or as sexually flamboyant as a puppet can be) Lucy laments of her generation. “You’re not special.”

Maybe not, but “Avenue Q” is special. It is the first formal collaboration between the Hippodrome and the University of Florida’s School of Theater and Dance. And given the talent and enthusiasm these young UF-trained actors bring to the Hipp’s stage, this is a marriage born in show-business heaven.

Never mind that these kids can sing and dance, and that they wear their roles as comfortably their own skins. The real marvel is that they manage to do all of the above while simultaneously breathing life and personality into the puppets most of them haul around.

And follow the puppets, folks, not the actors. Otherwise you may get confused about who’s who and what’s what.

Michael Hull seamlessly flits between Princeton puppet — struggling to find his “purpose” — and Rod puppet — struggling to come to terms with his true sexual orientation.

And Jennifer Lauren Brown is simultaneously the sweet Kate Monster puppet, who just wants a boyfriend, and the vampish Lucy puppet, who wants everybody’s boyfriend.

“Avenue Q” is an anthem for a generation; the TV-raised millennials who come out of college loaded down in debt only to discover that the careers they assumed would be waiting for them have gone AWOL.

“What do you do with a BA in English?” muses Princeton puppet. Well, you might get a job at a temp agency. Until you get laid off for sounding too depressed on the phone.

Q Avenue is the location of a seedy tenement apartment in New York City where millennial dreams go to die.

Its supervisor is the former child star Gary Coleman (played by a sparkling Juanita B. Green, who owns the role despite being the wrong gender for it).

“Think of all the joy you bring when people see how miserable you are,” a beaming Coleman/Green consoles his/her friend Nicky (Joel Gennari).

Among its residents are Brian (Joseph Vincent London) who pines to be a comedian, and his Japanese fiancée Christmas Eve (Grace Eunae Choi), who would be a wonderful therapist if only her clients would attend more than one session.

“The more you love someone the more you want to kill them,” she scowls, betraying an icy bedside manner.

Then there is Trekkie Monster (Joel Oramas) who lives upstairs and is ... well, gross and addicted to Internet porn. And roomies Rod and Nicky (strangely reminiscent of Bert and Ernie) whose living arrangements fall apart when Nicky blurts out that Rod is gay.

“If you were gay, that’d be okay,” Nicky hastens to backtrack, “I’d like you anyway. It’s in your DNA.”

The lines and lyrics of “Avenue Q” are funny and poignant enough that you often want to laugh and cry at the same time.

“It sucks to be me. Broke, unemployed and 23.”

“There is life outside your apartment. But you have to open the door.”

“I wish I could just go back to college. Life would be so simple.

“For now we’re happy, if not overjoyed.”

And, listen, nobody should be expected to go through life without the sage advice of the “Bad Idea Bears.” Buy your beer in bulk, the adorably evil duo counsel a penniless Princeton. It’ll save you money in the long run.

One cautionary note for the prudish at heart. “Avenue Q” contains an actual sex scene. And it needs to be said that sex between puppets is not pretty.

It’s pretty funny, though.

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