BWW Review: AVENUE Q Barrels Into Group Rep
Avenue Q/book by Jeff Whitty/music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx/directed by Patrick Burke/choreographed by Michele Bernath/musical director: Paul Cady/Group Rep, Lonny Chapman Theatre, NoHo/through July 7
This, my fourth viewing of the smash Tony Award winning musical superhit Avenue Q, was a treat in many ways.. This little show, like a Sesame Street for adults, plays out like life - only bigger - with off-the-wall grotesquely funny situations, hilarious one-liners and tantalizing music, each and every tune a winner. The show leaves you craving more, but unfortunately you only have through July 7 to see the Group Rep's delicious production in North Hollywood. It's one thing to see this show on the huge Ahmanson or Pantages stages and quite another to see it on the smaller more intimate stage at Group Rep. This close-up intimacy enhances the enjoyment of the show one hundred fold.
First of all, for those who have never seen the show, there are four puppeteers and three actors without puppets. Those pulling the strings may be voicing for another puppet.You watch the puppet and you watch the actor behind him (her). Expressions and reactions clash or blend, depending on the issue at stake. Each actor behind the puppet is giving a full-out emotional performance. It bears repeating that you have to watch the puppet in motion and the actor to get the full effect. Wonderfully directed by Patrick Burke, the cast of characterizations include Princeton and Rod played by totally engaging Joey Flint. Both men are down on their luck, but Flint incorporates such a delightful sense of enthusiasm. Kate Monster and sexy slut Lucy are played lovingly by Hartley Powers... and Nicky, Trekkie Monster and one of the Bad Idea Bears by Troy Whitaker, never better onstage with an exaggerated deep husky voice for Trekkie and "The Internet Is For Porn"...
Harley Walker does a fine Mrs. T and also plays the other Bad Idea Bear with adorable spunk. Actors without puppets are Ashkhan Aref as Brian, Kristina Reyes as Christmas Eve and Courtney Bruce as Gary Coleman. They all possess terrific singing voices and give zesty portrayals of these characters. Reyes could be a bit more aggressive as Christmas Eve. With a myriad of economic and social problems to face, these lower-middle class folks turn for resolution and help to the love and support of friends and community. Unity is at the heart of Avenue Q and this amazing ensemble work at lightning speed producing unbelievably gratifying results.
People identify with "It Sucks To Be Me", "The Internet Is For Porn" and "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist". These feisty tunes not only provoke laughter but also nail society's flaws and human obsessions. Is it really that important to find your purpose in life? Maybe just participating wholeheartedly is enough. Great, ingenious stuff from composers Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx! Chris Winfield's set serves its purpose as tenement style buildings and Burke's staging, just great with the help of Michele Bernath's fast paced choreography! Stephanie Colets costumes are especially bright and colorfully perky for Gary Coleman and Christmas Eve.
Jeff Whitty's book gets unapologetically down and dirty with sexual and political problems. Each and every person living on Avenue Q is different in nationality and whether they are human or furry. When interacting with one another, the real melting pot community comes explosively alive with either happy or sad consequences. That's life, and therein lies the value of residing on Avenue Q, where positive change is the top priority.
Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx's tunes are upbeat with lyrics that really dig into every issue thoroughly and show both sides of the coin. "There's a Fine Line" is my favorite song. It really shows what love is all about, whether it be heterosexual for Kate Monster or for Rod who wants to come out as gay and to be accepted and loved for who he is. "You gotta go after the things you want while you're still in your prime" is great advice. As the folks open up and help each other financially, they end up helping themselves move forward, another cherished goal ("Schadenfreude"). If you really listen to the lyrics of the songs, you'll understand the overall big picture of the show.
There is some lewd behavior in overtly performed sexual acts at the end of Act I, so leave the kids at home. A great, great, completely lovable adult entertainment that will have you jumping for joy on Avenue Q.
(photo credit: Doug Engalla)