It is a relief to report that there has been no ruinous gentrification of Avenue Q. It was back in 2003 that the thoroughfare gave its name to a gleefully irreverent, puppet-enhanced musical about young people starting out in the big city. And you might think that, by now, the street would be jam-packed with yoga studios, farm-to-table restaurants and stores selling gluten-free pet food.
But no: Judging by Constellation Theatre Company’s delightful and very funny production, “Avenue Q” still teems with oddball slackers, buoyantly off-color behavior, and spots sufficiently untouched by urban renewal as to allow for hilariously impolitic songs like “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” Directed by Allison Arkell Stockman, with assistant direction and puppet coaching by Matthew Aldwin McGee, “Avenue Q” is still, in short, a must-visit destination.
Featuring music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and a book by Jeff Whitty, “Avenue Q” showcases characters who are puppets, brought to life by visible onstage actor-puppeteers, as well as characters embodied by actors. In the former category is Princeton (animated in this production by Matt Dewberry), a bright-eyed recent college grad who moves into a run-down section of New York.
Here, he searches for purpose, while hobnobbing with neighbors who include the ambitious Kate Monster (Katy Carkuff) and Nicky and Rod (Alex Alferov and Vaughn Ryan Midder), who resemble Ernie and Bert of “Sesame Street,” except that Rod is a closeted gay Republican in love with Nicky. Everyone here has issues: Just ask the crabby and reclusive Trekkie Monster (splendidly voiced by Midder), who can’t keep himself from warbling that “The Internet Is for Porn.” But most residents can also offer some wise insights on life.
Unfolding on scenic designer A.J. Guban’s cozy evocation of a scruffy New York block, the Constellation production invests the characters with zesty life. Dewberry and Carkuff are funny and touching as Princeton and Kate Monster. Alferov’s Nicky is especially endearing and animated — watch those goofily dancing hands! — when he sings the optimistic “If You Were Gay” to his buddy Rod. And Emily Zickler is dynamite as Lucy the Slut, whose every look and move ooze sultriness.
All the aforementioned characterizations involve puppets, which the actors handle ably. Among the straight acting turns, Eben K. Logan is particularly droll as a building superintendent who turns out to be the former child star Gary Coleman. (Partly on the strength of its exuberant wit, “Avenue Q” won Tonys for best musical, best original score and best book after transferring to Broadway in mid-2003.)
“Avenue Q” is full of delectable gags, like the pile of packing boxes that turns into a chorus line or the steamy percussion vamp that sounds whenever Lucy appears. During and between such moments, director Stockman and choreographer Rachel Leigh Dolan keep the action moving jauntily. While the singing in the production is in some cases more competent than soaring, the six-person band — led by musical director Jake Null and mostly hidden behind the set’s New York–skyline backdrop — sounds fine.
While no onslaught of juice bars has yet ratcheted up Trekkie Monster’s rent, it would be erroneous to suggest that “Avenue Q” is stuck in amber: Its bounty of wisecracks currently includes a couple of sly references to the political Donald Trump.
Wren is a freelance writer.
Music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty. Based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Directed by Allison Arkell Stockman; puppet design, Rick Lyon; lighting, A.J. Guban; costumes, Kara Waala; properties, Matthew Aldwin McGee; sound, Gordon Nimmo-Smith. With Justine “Icy” Moral, Mikey Cafarelli, Jenna Berk and Christian Montgomery. About 2 hours and 20 minutes. Recommended for ages 16 and up. Tickets: $20 - $55. Through Nov. 22 at Source Theatre, 1835 14th St. NW. Call 202-204-7741 or visit www.constellationtheatre.org.