For those who don’t know, be warned… The Tony Award winning Avenue Q that opened last night at the new Theatre in the Park Indoor space at the Arts and Heritage Center is definitely not for kids. Yes, it has puppets and looks like Sesame Street, but with songs like The Internet is for Porn and You Can Be As Loud At The Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love) this is most certainly an adult only show.
Conceived and written by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, the show has been hugely successful since it’s inception in 2003. Lopez is the first double EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) award winner most recently winning an Oscar for Best Song with Remember Me from the movie Coco and the writer of the hit Let It Go, which is on every young child’s playlist.
Avenue Q is unique in how it blends puppets and people, with the actors fully visible while performing. Choreographer and Puppet Trainer Guy Gardner has drilled the cast so that the puppetry is so effective they have become an extension of the actors, much to the delight of the audience. With the actors mirroring their puppets, they communicate their emotions while blending together as one.
The show follows Princeton (Austin Stang), a recent college graduate with the world ahead of him… as well as school loans, bills and a job that downsized before he even started. It’s a story many can relate to and in his quest for housing he begins on Avenue A but it’s not until he gets to Avenue Q that he can actually afford to rent a place. Here he meets the many characters living on Avenue Q including a down on his luck Gary Coleman (Shawna Pena-Downing). Yes, THE Gary Coleman.
The cast of characters seem familiar to Sesame Street fans with a mix of puppets, people and monsters that echo our diverse reality. Avenue Q is a place where people go when they have nowhere else and is highlighted by the number It Sucks To Be Me where everyone humorously tells their story of woe. Kate Monster is the ingenue and an aspiring teacher with a dream to open a monsters only school. Nicky and Rod are puppets and reminiscent of Burt and Ernie as they bicker about each other and ponder the sexual orientation of Rod (If You Were Gay). Aspiring comic Brian (David Thompson) and Japanese immigrant Christmas Eve (Kate Narboneta) are engaged and the only actual people on the block.
With a mix of white, black, Japanese, puppet and monsters on stage, the number Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist is a masterful and humorous depiction of everyone having some racists tendencies. Mix in the porn obsessed Trekkie Monster (Chad Burris), who is a cross between Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, the Bad Idea Bears (Emily Vargo and Camerson Mable) and Lucy the Slut (Kristen Altoro) and you have a love story and coming of age story that is hilarious, adorable and risque. And let’s not forget Anne Haines and Katie Pugh who are strong ensemble singers but also co-control the more complex puppets.
Every actor deserves kudos for this wonderful show, but there are some stand out performances. Vargo and Mable as the Bad Idea Bears steal every scene they are in with their cuteness even as they feed Princeton bad idea after bad idea like little devils sitting on his shoulder. KC newcomer Victoria Strafuss is impressive as Kate Monster. She embodies the character and her vocal talents shine. Chad Burris commits to his character Trekkie Monster with a rich character voice that is as much fun to hear as he is to watch. Altoro’s Lucy the Slut is equally seductive as she is disturbing and knocks her song Special out of the park. And Stang is so sweet and innocent as Princeton but embodies the spirit of a confused and struggling 23 year old guy searching for his purpose in life.
Director Tiffany Schweigert has assembled an incredible cast. The acting is as superb as the singing and Schweigert deserves the credit for the depth of the performances and the wonderful comedic timing. Music Director James Levy brings out the best in all the singers and the orchestra, conducted by Matt Fischer, sounds fantastic. They are not in the space, but are across the hall in a rehearsal room. The mix of voices and orchestra is near perfect.
Another impressive aspect of this show is the set. Scenic Designer Doug Schroeder has created a highly effective set with functional second story windows and the spirit of a run down urban neighborhood.
The TTIP Indoor production of Avenue Q is a must see show. It rivals most professional productions in quality, performances, set, music and puppetry. Schweigert and the entire cast and crew deliver a stand out show that shouldn’t be missed.
Avenue Q runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2 through March 25th. For more information and tickets click here.