BWW Reviews: Edgy AVENUE Q finds its place on Newark's GPS
Weathervane Playhouse managing artistic director Kevin Connell had a sense of trepidation leading up to the July 27 opening night for AVENUE Q. Written by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty, AVENUE Q is classified as "Sesame Street for adults" and is the only show on the Newark theatre's summer calendar to come with a warning label about strong language and adult content. It also may be the only Weathervane production to rhyme the lines "We'll be fine, thank you! See ya" with "Hope you don't get gonorrhea."
"Everyone has been so nervous. Even the board of directors has been nervous (about this show)," Connell said. "I know our audience is an older audience. We have to work to build a younger generation of theatre goers. That's why we do a wide variety of shows."
Judging by the warm reception the off-Broadway and occasionally off-color musical received last weekend, Connell and the Playhouse is learning to trust the palate of its clientele. The summer season closer has a final slate of shows Aug. 1-5 at the Playhouse (100 Price Road in Newark).
Directed by Christine O'Grady, AVENUE Q features a mixture of puppets and human characters who try to make things work on the hard scrabble streets of New York City. The show features several characters that will cause smirk Gen Xers, including Trekkie Monster (Angelo McDonough), a porn-addicted facsimile of Oscar the Grouch, and Rod (Bradley Johnson) and Nicky (also McDonough), a carbon copy of Bert and Ernie (only with Bert being in the closet). Even the late Gary Coleman (Daria Redus) makes an appearance as AVENUE Q's slumlord.
At the center of the show is the romantic tension between puppets Princeton (Johnson) and Kate Monster (Eli Brickey), who juggle maintaining their ever changing relationship and finding their life's purpose. However, human characters Brian (Ryan Metzger), Christmas Eve (Amy Keum) and Coleman add to dimension to the musical. Musical director Kevin N. Wines and Harrison Ponce (keyboards), Melanie Richards (reeds), Gayla Ebersole (reeds), Matt Coombs (bass) and William Blount (drums) keep the show's hilarious score on track.
In some productions, a small army of actors take on the 12 different characters of AVENUE Q. However, Weathervane's production mirrors the original scaled down version with Johnson, McDonough, Brickey (who also plays Lucy The Slut) and Kaitlin Descutner taking on multiple roles. One of the most interesting scenes is a confrontation between Kate Monster and Lucy with Brickey supplying the voice for both characters.
AVENUE Q may not be everyone's cup of tea. It doesn't shy away from unrefined conversations about sexuality and even features a graphic Muppet sex scene that, once viewed, can't be unseen. The show also features important dialogues on social issues like racism, homelessness, relationships, judging others, forgiveness and acceptance.
"We have the naysayers who say they don't like the language but haven't seen the show," Connell said. "But our audiences are always surprising us. I was talking to an elderly gentleman at intermission and he said, 'I saw this in New York 10 years ago and it's one of my favorite shows.'
"Avenue Q is teaching us all something. People need to laugh at their own foibles and realize the show is not as subversive or gratuitous as they have been told it is."
Just five shows remain for AVENUE Q, the Weathervane Playhouse's final show of the summer at 100 Price Road in Newark. Tickets remain for the 8 p.m. shows on Aug. 1-5. Call 7 40-366-4616 for information.