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Review: 'Avenue Q'

The snarky puppets of 'Avenue Q' come to Broadway San Jose

I GUESS when it comes to naughty puppets, you have to be careful what you wish for. Personally, I wish Avenue Q, the long-running Broadway musical touring in San Jose at the Center for the Performing Arts this week, was an edgier parody of Sesame Street’s chipper, overcaffeinated puppetry.

But then, that has been tried, in the form of Peter Jackson’s 1989 cult film Meet the Feebles. It’s a hilarious parody of The Muppets, but its depiction of kinky sex, drug use and violence was so extreme it didn’t even get an official home-video release in this country until a few years ago. Maybe the lesson is that risqué Jim Henson parodies are a funny idea, but mainstream audiences don’t want their felt too filthy.

Avenue Q found a much more palatable balance playing closer to the middle of the road. The puppets living on this alternative-universe Sesame Street swear, screw and sing about racism and Internet porn, but it’s all too good-natured and cheeky to be offensive. It works more as a post-Simpsons take on a squeaky-clean American institution, following Matt Groening’s same general flow of cynical humor tempered by sincere goofiness and optimism.

Broadway San Jose’s presentation of the touring show is excellent. With the exception of video monitors that are far too small for the auditorium (but are only used a couple of times), it’s probably a better experience than even seeing the original Broadway run—the performances are uniformly strong, and the Center for the Performing Arts practically puts this expensive production in your lap.

Most geeks around here know Avenue Q mostly through its famous “The Internet Is for Porn” number, or maybe the much-YouTubed “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” The first half of the show is packed with these flashier, more hot-button numbers (including “If You Were Gay” and “You Can Be As Loud As the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love,” the puppet-sex theme).

Act Two, meanwhile, is more toned down and focused on the musical’s overaching theme of finding a purpose in life. Since that theme is pretty much a throwaway—what can a Broadway puppet parody possibly teach anyone about the meaning of life?—the funniest songs win.

AVENUE Q runs through Jan. 17 at the Center for the Performing Arts in San Jose. Shows are Jan. 13-14 at 7:30pm, Jan. 15 at 8pm, Jan. 16 at 2 and 8pm, San. Jan. 17 at 1 and 6pm. For tickets, call 877.395.2929.