Review: Avenue Q (Mercury Theater, 2018)

| August 12, 2018

Jackson Evans, David S. Robbins, Matthew Miles, Leah Morrow and Audrey Billings     



Avenue Q

Music/Lyrics by Jeff Marx, Robert Lopez
Book by Jeff Whitty
Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport (map)
thru Dec 30  |  tix: $35-$65  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets    


Now extended thru December 30th


Strong performances mostly overcome problematic scenes


Leah Morrow, Christian Siebert, David S. Robbins, Dan Smeriglio, Matthew Miles

Mercury Theater Chicago presents
Avenue Q

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

Avenue Q has not aged well. At all. The puppet-based musical, co-written by Robert Lopez pre-Book of Mormon and Frozen, rocked off-Broadway in 2003 before winning the Best Musical Tony over frontrunner WickedFeaturing dirty songs about loud lovemaking, surfing the Internet for porn and competitions on whose life sucks more, Avenue Q was a hit for Mercury Theater Chicago in 2014, netting four Jeff nominations along the way. Mercury's Avenue Q '18 (Brett A. Beiner) - Leah Morrow (Kate Monster), Matthew Miles (Brian)Mercury’s revival production opened in late June, only to be extended by three months to November 4 due to popular demand. The cast performs Wednesdays through Sundays, twice each on Saturdays and Sundays. On a Sunday night in August, most of them looked exhausted, singing and dancing their way through a show that was positively groundbreaking in the George W. Bush era, but now ranges from lightly dated to downright problematic, depending on whether Asian stereotype Christmas Eve is onstage or the cast is laughing about racism.

Some moments still ring true, however: “What Do You Do With a BA in English?” and “Purpose” hew close to the millennial experience of studying liberal arts and subsequently working one’s tail off in multiple jobs, and for what, exactly? As recent college graduate Princeton, Jackson Evans reprises his 2014 performance in a way that’s equal parts charming and moving. Fellow returning cast member Leah Morrow shines as Kate Monster, a kindergarten teaching assistant who has her purpose – a special school for monsters – but is too broke and love-challenged to really tackle it. Through Princeton and Kate, the audience can find the sweetest, most relevant moments of Avenue Q.

Until the job market is friendlier to Bachelors of Arts, we’re  all struggling to find our place in the world, and the closing song is both nihilistic and comforting, proclaiming “everything in life is only for now.” Similarly, “You Can Be As Loud as the Hell You Want” is a certified jam, a celebration of noisy sex as enacted by puppets and tunefully trilled by David S. Robbins, as Avenue Q superintendent and former child star Gary Coleman. (And Robbins’ Coleman impersonation is spot-on, particularly his facial expressions.)

If only the rest of Avenue Q weren’t so problematic.

Christian Siebert (Rod), Jonah D. Winston and Dan Smeriglio (Nicky)Jackson Evans, David S. Robbins, Matthew Jonah D. Winston and Dan Smeriglio (Nicky)Jackson Evans (Princeton) and Leah Morrow (Kate Monster)Matthew Miles, Dan Smeriglio, Christian Siebert, Jonah D. Winston, David S. Robbins

Though closeted gay Republicans definitely exist – I wouldn’t be surprised if some current lawmakers fall under this umbrella – the plotline of repressed Rod (Christian Siebert), feels decidedly early 2000s direct-to-video movie. The gleefully nasty “Bad Idea Bears” (Stephanie Herman and Daniel Smeriglio) encourage Princeton to have sex with Kate because “she’s wasted!” Never okay, this phrase is especially tasteless in the Me Too era, and though director L. Walter Stearns could have chosen to make Princeton appear just as drunk, he chooses not to.

The worst 2018 offender of all is the popular song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” This isn’t on the cast and crew: legally, they probably can’t cut the song, at least without facing audience backlash. And this version does change a statement about Mexican stereotypes to poke fun at Donald Trump’s Wall. Still, “Racist” isn’t a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that yes, we are all a little racist – instead, it celebrates casual racism and denigrates political correctness. Maybe this was funny when we had a very Christian, sober President, and then a black President. In the midst of Trump’s reign of terror, it’s not funny at all.

Clearly, Avenue Q is making money for Mercury, and of course a theater company must consider what will draw audiences. And an Avenue Q for the Trump era is plausible and could be interesting, though Lopez and company would have to rewrite quite a bit of the songs and characters. As a production, Mercury’s Avenue Q is fine. Just fine. As a show, it may be making money, but at times it’s very difficult to watch.

Rating: ★★★

Avenue Q continues through July 22nd November 5th December 30th at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport (map), with performances Wednesdays-Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays 5pm & 8:30pm, Sundays 3pm & 7:30pm.  Tickets are $35-$65, and are available by phone (773-325-1700) or via their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More at time: 2 hours, includes an intermission. Note: This production not suitable for children.)

David S. Robbins, Dan Smeriglio, Jonah D. Winston, Stephanie Herman, Matthew Miles and Audrey Billings

Photos by Brett A. Beiner 




Jackson Evans (Princeton), Matthew Miles (Brian), Leah Morrow (Kate Monster), Dan Smeriglio (Nicky, Bad Idea Bear), Christian Siebert (Rod, Newcomer), Audrey Billings (Christmas Eve), David S. Robbins (Gary Coleman), Jonah D. Winston (Trekkie Monster, Ricky), Stephanie Herman (Mrs. T., Bad Idea Bear, Lucy the Slut), John Gurdian, Andrew Lund, Maxton Smith, Janelle Villas (understudies), Stephanie Wohar (dance captain, understudy)


Linda Madonna (conductor, keyboard 1), Celia Villacres (keyboard 2), Scott Sedlacek (guitar), Cara Hartz (reeds), Lindsay Williams (percussion)

behind the scenes

L. Walter Stearns (director), Kevin Bellie (choreographer), Eugene Dizon (Music Director), Alan Donahue (scenic design), Dustin L. Derry (lighting design), Rachel Boylan (costume design), Carl Wahlstrom (sound design), Kristi J. Martens (production stage manager), Russ Walko (puppet design and creator), Rick Lyon (puppetry coach), Brett A. Beiner (photos)

Jackson Evans, Stephanie Herman, Leah Morrow, David S. RobbinsDavid S. Robbins, Dan Smeriglio, Jonah D. Winston


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Extensions-Remounts, Lauren Emily Whalen, Mercury Theater, Musical, Robert Lopez

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