BWW Review: AVENUE Q at Stageworks- This is Definitely Not Sesame Street
My daughter introduced me to the sarcastic wit of the music in Avenue Q on the way to college a few years ago, so I sort of knew going in, this wasn't your typical musical.
I did not expect, however, to be laughing so hard I nearly choked on my bottled water. I assure you in our uptight, politically-correct climate, you need this release.
You will laugh. You will cringe and gasp, you will laugh some more and you will file a couple of puppet-simulated scenes in your brain under things that you cannot un-see. Despite an innocuous backdrop reminiscent of my beloved Sesame Street - complete with dented trash can - providing home to eight puppets and three humans, Avenue Q is neither innocent nor a child's production.
I realized as I was taking notes, I describe the puppets rather than the puppeteers because within moments of coming on stage I forgot the black-clothed humans behind the fur and cloth were operating the puppets. Their honest reactions and expressions to their puppets just made them feel like another actor in the scene.
I had thoughts like Princeton has one heck of a voice, the Bad Ideas Bears, so much cooler than their Care Bear cousins, are part of that decision-making process that ends with it seemed like a good idea at the time or Treckie Monster reminds me of some of the guys I knew in college.
Where else can the team of Ashley Lord, Ricky Cona, Cody Carlson, Ryan Sturm, and Angela Tompkins get the opportunity to show off their triple-threat skills of singing, acting, and dancing combined with the difficulty of puppeteering? Derek Baxter, Chelsea Hooker, and Caitlin Greene added to the talented ensemble as the three flesh and blood people living side by side with puppets and monsters on Avenue Q.
Out of the gate opening night, there is absolutely nothing that needs improvement. The director Paul E. Finocchiaro has added mentions of recent news to the script to make the production as relevant as it was at its debut in 2003.
There's no sound or live music overpowering the actors to complain about. The unseen four-piece band of Thomas Guthrie, William Bryant, Jim Rungo, Stephen Padget perfectly compliment the vocals. Not one weak singer or bad actor in the lot. This stellar cast has it all.
The story is puppet Princeton's journey to finding his purpose and the friends he makes along the way on Avenue Q. He an almost 23-year-old new college grad with an English degree, seeking a place to call home. He's introduced to the rest of cast - future love interest, shy, lonely teacher, Kate Monster; couple Brian, an aspiring, unemployed comedian and Christmas Eve, a played-to-stereotypical-perfection Japanese neighborhood door-stoop counselor. Actress Caitlin has some of the best facial expressions and lines in the entire musical. Her song "The More You Ruv Someone" had me and many other females in the audience nodding in agreement.
There's roommates Nicky and deeply closeted gay Republican, Rod (Think what we've pretty much always thought about Ernie and Bert); Trekkie Monster who makes no qualms about admitting his love of porn, and washed-up celebrity building superintendent Gary Coleman (yes, that whatchu-talkin-about-Willis, Gary Coleman), played boisterously by Chelsea.
Ashley and Ryan breathe life into the insidiously adorable Bad Idea Bear #1 & Bad Idea Bear #2. Showing their versatility, Ricky pulls double duty as both Princeton and Rod, Cody as Nicky and Trekkie Monster, and Angela as Kate Monster and the antithesis to Kate, Lucy The Slut.
Though the comic genius in Avenue Q lies in its cynicism and outright naughtiness, it is still a story of finding yourself in your 20s. The cast regularly breaks into songs about struggles most everyone deals with - money problems, relationship issues, finding humor in the misfortune of others, homelessness, noisy sex, and racism.
To complete the Sesame Street-esque feel, throughout the production a video is projected on to the set to provide humorous life lessons with a grown-up twist. "Commitment" and "five nightstands" had the packed audience howling.
Through politically-incorrect, catchy tunes like "If You Were Gay," "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," and "Schadenfreude," the show uses humor to explore and even mock normally sensitive topics and, yes, it's downright hysterical. The extraordinary cast of people and puppets holds a mirror up to society and despite even the most liberal in the audience flinching, it doesn't allow us to look away.
Like the new ad campaign from Campbell's soup - this is real, real life. It just happens to have puppets.