With a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dramaturgy/Dramatic Criticism, Alyssa Dyksterhouse has over 20 years of professional theater experience. She recently returned from the living in the Pacific Northwest where she wrote about arts and culture for Seattle Weekly and Seattle Gay Scene.
Pictured: Jonah D. Winston and Dan Smeriglio. Photo by Brett A. Beiner.
By Alyssa Dyksterhouse
Recently, I often worry about how certain musicals would fare in the face of incessant social scrutiny. The 2004 Tony Award-winning AVENUE Q (book by Jeff Whitty Music and Lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez) tops my list of concerns. This irreverent—and dirty—puppet musical with songs like “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” a character referred to as “Lucy T. Slut” and a plot which manipulates what some deem tired tropes including in a song “The More You Ruv Someone” playfully demands offense. Luckily, the audience response to Mercury Theater Chicago’s production indicates we have not completely lost our ability to laugh.
In brief, recent graduate Preston moves into a scruffy New York neighborhood. As he builds relationships with his neighbors, he navigates dating and employment struggles while searching to find his purpose in life.
L. Walter Sterns’ direction—along with puppet coach Rick Lyons—pulls all the right strings with this ensemble. Every cast member earns Kermit arms for excelling at the emotional, vocal and physical demands proving a believability and relatability rendering it difficult to separate the puppet from the person. If attention spans were not a concern I would gush about each cast member in such a manner that would sate even Miss Piggy’s ego.
When Kate Monster (Leah Morrow) belted “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” I reminisced about my own romantic regrets. Fumbling for his purpose, Princeton (Jackson Evans) continually captivated me with his refreshing vulnerability. The Bad Idea Bears (Stephanie Herman and Daniel Smeriglio)—two of my favorite characters of all time—exceeded my expectations while making horrible suggestions.
Alan Donahue’s set—complete with a billboard for a DWI Lawyer—transports us to walk-ups in a not yet gentrified neighborhood. Max Maxin IV’s videos move us into the specific locations. Russ Walko’s puppet designs are reminiscent of Jim Henson.
When written, this musical appealed to disenfranchised Gen Xer; yet, the themes are universal. We all have dreams and desires. We all crave connection and purpose. In absence of those things, we are left with bitterness, divisiveness, and hopelessness.
Considering daily doses of outrage and the ensuing fatigue it induces, AVENUE Q might be more relevant, if not more welcome, in 2018. We all need a reminder that “except for death and paying taxes” everything—including Donald Trump—is only “For Now.” This production invites audiences to discover the boldness of buoyancy.
AVENUE Q runs through September 9th. For more information visit mercurytheaterchicago.com.