Review by Mark Andrew Lawrence
“Avenue Q” is an off-beat musical, created by Jeff Whitty, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx who all won Tony awards for this clever, tuneful show. The musical is geared for young adults raised on Sesame Street to help them deal with the frustrations of adult responsibilities. The story begins with ‘Princeton’ played with touching sincerity by Adam Proulx. He is a recent graduate with a B.A. in English that he finds isn’t opening many doors for him. Arriving on Avenue Q, he rents an apartment from landlord Gary Coleman (a hilarious Jazz Testolini sending up the former TV star), and meets up with other disillusioned denizen.
These include an aspiring comedian, Brian (played by a likably goofy Mark Willett), and Brian’s Japanese fiancé Christmas Eve (Amelia Hironaka, who also did the choreography for this production.) He is also advised by two “Bad Idea Bears” (Shannon Dickens & Phil Skala) who, as their names suggest, create more problems than solutions. Skala also plays the slacker Nicky who lives with investment banker Rod and in his song “If You Were Gay” assures his roommate of his unshakable friendship. Dickens also doubles as the nasty kindergarten teacher Mrs. Thistletwat.
The unique concept of this show is that the actors are for the most part carrying puppets, lending these foamy counterparts their voices. The fun comes from watching the performers react to each other. When ‘Kate Monster’ feels unhappy, Kira Hall’s face mimics that sentiment. Hall amusingly also doubles as the nightclub chanteuse Lucy T. Slut, who tries to steal Princeton away from Kate. Hall’s voice and delivery is outstanding.
The tunes may have a simple child-like quality, but the lyrics, as some of the song titles suggest, are loaded with brilliantly barbed comments. The opening number sets the tone as the various characters sing “It Sucks to be Me.” The daily issues become lessons in life for the modern world. “Everyone’s a Little Bit racist” argues that “ethnic jokes may be uncouth, but you laugh ‘cause they are based on truth.” Trekkie Monster (played with gusto by Adam Norrad) instructs that “The internet is for Porn” and landlord Gary Coleman explains the meaning of “Shadenfreude” – deriving pleasure from the misfortunes of others.
The eight-member ensemble does everything humanly possible to establish the friendly relations between those represented by puppets and those who are not. So, when therapist Christmas Eve tries to help the gay, Republican investment banker Rod sort out his feelings for his roommate Nicky; Rod lies with his head in her lap as she soothingly strokes his brow. The audience suspends disbelief, and the puppets become as real as human characters.
A show like this requires performers to manipulate puppets, while singing and dancing. The talented troupe at Lower Ossington Theatre has risen to the challenge admirably. Their strong voices enunciate the pithy lyrics, supported by Robert Wilkinson’s five-piece band. Director Seanna Kennedy stages the piece in a charmingly straight-forward fashion that honors the original New York edition. All in all, it’s a first rate production of this quirky show. Anyone who grew up watching Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster & the others on Sesame Street will find this offering an absolute riot. Avenue Q continues at Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington until Feb 4. For tickets or info visit: lowerossingtontheatre.com