As a onetime summer camp counselor, my father frequently referenced the “lake rule,” which is to say, if a camper told a joke that was more fumy than vulgar, fair enough. But if the joke was more vulgar than funny—and the campers were the ones that would decide—then the joke-teller would be thrown in the lake. By this rule, the entire Cadillac Palace Theatre would be fully underwater by the end of one performance of the national touring production of “Avenue Q,” two of the most vacuous hours I can recall ever having spent in a theater. This Generation X-targeted and conceived —and believe it or not, triple Tony Award-winning—musical attempts to satirize “Sesame Street”-type children’s shows with Jim Henson-like puppets in a manner so mean-spirited, cynical, narcissistic, sophomoric and yes, even pornographic (ranging from constant obscenities for their own sake to puppets copulating) with a score so trite that the children’s music it derides sounds like high art by comparison. This is no clever send-up, say, the way Eddie Murphy used to hysterically parody Mr. Rogers on “Saturday Night Live,” nor the way “The Simpsons” or “South Park” cleverly lampoon cheesy animation: this is puerile puppetry that forgets that the satirer has to have at least as much imagination as the satiree for parody to be effectual. When a female impersonation of former child actor Gary Coleman, for instance, is revealed as the person who outdraws all of the other characters in “It Sucks to Be Me” by sucking the most, the irony is that putting up with a tired rerun of “Diff ’rent Strokes” would seem like high comedy next to this show. And to have a cheongsam-attired Asian-American actress sing every “l” as an “r” so that “love” becomes “ruv” achieves as indelicate an effect as if an African-American performer had been asked to sing in blackface. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, (312)902-1400. This production is now closed.