Avenue Q: Message within Joke

  • 10/23/2013
  • Reporters Desk

By John Farrell, Curtain Call Writer

If you don’t get the fun in Avenue Q, then you probably haven’t seen television for about 40 years or so.

But if you are of the generation that was reared on Sesame Street or reared children or grandchildren on Miss Piggy (she has to be mentioned first, it’s in her contract), on Kermit the Frog, Elmo and the Cookie Monster, then you’ll understand all the jokes.

And, unless you are one of those very few who don’t love puppets and muppets (and who don’t remember Gary Coleman at all, you’ll love Avenue Q, either because you’ve always wondered what life on another street in that same imaginary New York was really like, or (for the mean-spirited) because you’ve had a secret hankering to see those characters brought down to real-life, sex and housing problems and all.

This story is about the real life the characters face, not the magical life that Sesame Street suggested.

Avenue Q isn’t real life, either, of course. As it was on Broadway, where it remains one of the longest-running shows, those puppets are played by real actors: sometimes it takes two performers to manipulate the puppets: one to carry the body and voice the puppet, another to manipulate the hands. And, just in case you are worried, there are actors who play themselves: this is a world where humans and sort-of-humans interact, where Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman, played with convincing conviction by Kieara Williams in full building superintendent garb) is part of the very rich and politically correct mix.

Avenue Q takes place in a Brooklyn neighborhood many blocks away from Sesame Street, but still in the same city and with the same values, adults versions of those values, but still a place where everyone is respected and everyone gets along (for the most part).

It’s a cheaper neighborhood, with apartments with low-rent. Coleman is in charge of rentals. Princeton (played by puppeteer Andrew Manzani) moves into a cheap apartment there, and soon finds love with Kate Monster (puppeteer Angela Griswold). He meets Nicky (puppeteer Dennis Dyck) and Rod (puppeteer Matt DeNoto), the would-be Gay couple who can’t quite admit they love each other.

He meets a human couple as well, the delightfully hen-pecked Nicholas Woodall and the loving but exacting Christmas Eve (Sawami Shinohara).

Madison Mooney is Lucy the Slut, who provides much of the sexual distraction Princeton finds before he settles down. She is only a torso, but what a torso, and Mooney provides the swinging hips and attitude that survives even when Lucy’s head is torn off and then restored. The play ends with Trekkie Monster (Brian Bozanich) saving the whole community with the $10 million he has made from Internet porn.

The show was conceived by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. They wrote the music and lyrics and the book is by Jeff Whitty. Directed by the Playhouse’s Artistic Director Andrew Vonderschmitt, it’s a lively and amusing look at another side of life, real life with real problems, even if these problems are sung about and faced cheerily.

Avenue Q is delightful, full of fun and just enough message to make it more than just an in joke. It is not, however, for children. The puppets get naked and have sex on stage and everyone sings “The Internet is for Porn” with appropriate gestures. Children under some age are probably not ready for this (although you never know).

Tickets are $24, $21 for seniors, $14 for students. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through November 16.

Details: (562) 494-1014www.lbplayhouse.org
Venue: Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theater
Location:5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach

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