TR Robertson — “Avenue Q” has been referred to as a “coming of age parable”. It is most certainly a story of friendship and relationships, growing up, tackling challenges, setting goals and dealing with the “real world”. If this isn’t enough, mix in a variety of sexual relationships, racism, homosexuality, pornography, and a little politics. All of these issues are dealt with using what can only be referred to as “Sesame Street for Adults” puppets and a few humans. This popular musical is from a book by Jeff Whitty and the play/musical was co-written by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Lopez is the co-creator/writer of “The Book of Mormon”.
“Avenue Q” was first staged at the National Music Theatre Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in Waterford, Connecticut. It would open Off-Broadway in March of 2003 and on Broadway in July of that same year, running for 2,500 performances. The musical would win three Tony’s including Best Musical and Best Original Score for Lopez and Marx and Best Book of a Musical for Whitty.
Photos by Daren Scott
This final musical for Season 17, at New Village Arts in Carlsbad, is directed by AJ Knox who is making his mainstage directorial debut. This challenging musical features both human actors and puppeteers for the 10 puppet characters. Many of the actors/actresses voice and handle several different puppet characters and at times more two human actors will handle one puppet. Perhaps a line from a song Kate Monster sings best sums up this unusual and very funny musical, “There’s a fine line between reality and pretend”. As the musical moves along, you forget they are being “handled” by humans as you focus on the puppet, what is being said and their situation. This is one musical you definitely would benefit from seeing more than once as the lines come fast and furious, as do the barbs. Jabs at Pres. Trump and V.P. Pence even make this latest version of the musical. Issues dealing with acceptance are dealt with in a variety of ways, especially with the characters Kate Monster and Trekkie Monster.
One unusual character in the musical is the addition of a fictionalized version of a former real-life celebrity, Gary Coleman. Coleman rose to a moderation of fame playing Arnold in the 1980’s sitcom, “Different Strokes”. Later in his life, Coleman sued his parents and business associates for stealing his earnings. In “Avenue Q” he is generally played by a woman. After “Avenue Q” opened, Coleman threatened to sue the producers, but did not follow thru with this threat. Coleman passed away in 2010.
The key to any play or musical is the actors and actresses selected to portray the characters for the performances and those selected for this production are an award winning combination of veteran NVA cast members and several new to the NVA Theatre. Each of these actors and actresses were standouts on their own as they each brought an apparent love for the character they were portraying to the wide range of characters designed for “Avenue Q”. NVA veterans included Chris Bona as Bad Idea Bear and Newcomer (puppets), San Diego Critics Circle Noel Award nominee Melissa Fernandes as Lucy the Slut and Mrs. Thistletwat (puppets), SDCCNA winner Tony Houck as Nicky and Trekkie Monster (puppets), Zackary Scot Wolfe as Princeton and Rod (puppets), Jasmine January as Bad Idea Bear (puppet) and Gerilyn Brault as Kat Monster (puppet). Brault brought an especially tender presentation of Kate Monster, along with an impressive singing voice.
New performers on the NVA stage included Ciarlene Coleman as Christmas Eve (human), Steven Freitas as Brian (human) and playing Gary Coleman is Cashae Monya, a San Diego Critics Circle Craig Noel Award winner. Monya presents a very funny Gary Coleman. Ciarlene Coleman is the co-Artistic Director of MaArte Theatre Collective which showcases Filipino-American theatre artists.
Several other people making their first appearances for New Village Arts included Music Director Nina Gilbert and Choreographer Jenna Ingrassia-Knox. Ms. Gilbert’s orchestra included Chaz Cabrera on reeds, Tim Fullerton on guitar, Nobuko Kemmotsu on drums and Trevor Mulvey on bass.
One of the most notable aspects of “Avenue Q” is the messages delivered via the songs the different characters sing. The titles themselves are a lesson. Some of the songs include “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?”, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, “The Internet is for Porn”, “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want”, “There is Life Outside Your Apartment”, and “I Wish I Could Go Back to College”.
“Avenue Q’ will run until July 1st. Tickets can be purchased at www.newvillagearts.org or call 760-433-3245.
There is a Parental Advisory for this musical, as the musical contains Strong Language, Mature Themes and Full Puppet Nudity. This is not “Sesame Street” after all, but it is so much fun and if you look just deep enough, a “slew” of life’s lessons can be taken away as you leave the theatre.