Imagine what would happen if Jim Henson’s Muppets went rogue and were forcibly relocated from Sesame Street to a much less desirable neighborhood in an outer borough of the Big Apple, where they could stay up all night, talk dirty, and have unprotected puppet sex — in full view of an audience — and you have songwriters Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s basic concept for their wickedly funny 2003 Broadway musical Avenue Q, which features satirical songs with bite, such as “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” and a sassy script by Jeff Whitty.
Avenue Q is a whimsical but spot-on parody of wholesome, educational, and uplifting children’s television shows, such as “Sesame Street.” And it won the 2004 Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Book of a Musical, despite a PG-13 rating (for language and the aforementioned onstage puppet sex).
The current national tour of Avenue Q, which delighted Durham Performing Arts Center patrons April 19th and 20th, has an impressive pedigree. Handsomely produced by Work Light Productions of Summit, NJ, and smartly staged by the show’s Broadway director Jason Moore and choreographer Ken Roberson, this vivacious version of Avenue Q also features impertinent puppets by Rick Lyon, scenic design by Anna Louizos, costume design by Mirena Rada, lighting design by Howell Binkley, and orchestrations by Stephen Oremus — who were all members of the creative team of the original Broadway production — as well as an exuberant backup band that includes conductor Chad Stearns (keyboard), associate conductor Jon Balcourt (keyboard 2), Ben Herzick (guitar), Jim Geddes (reeds), and David Jolley drums).
Strutting their stuff for appreciative Triangle theatergoers was a crackerjack cast that included David Colston Corris as Princeton, a cheerful but hopelessly naive unemployed college graduate who is discovering the hard way that there’s not much demand for English majors in the job market (“What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?”), and Ashley Eileen Bucknam as dateless and increasingly desperate girl-nextdoor Kate Monster (“There’s a Fine, Fine Line”), who works as a kindergarten teaching assistant for the crabby Mrs. Thistletwat (Kerri Brackin). Princeton, Kate, and the aptly named, hip-swinging nightclub singer Lucy the Slut (also played by Bucknam) form a Love Triangle that generates some of the show’s biggest laughs as well as a few lump-in-the-throat moments.
Anita Welch is a stitch as pint-sized one-time television child star Gary Coleman (“Diff’rent Strokes”), who now ekes out a meager living as a building superintendent on Avenue Q; and Michael Liscio, Jr. does delightful double duty as the homeless panhandler Nicky, who mortally offends his deeply closeted gay Republican roommate Rod (David Corris) when he sings “If You Were Gay” to him, and the misanthropic recluse Trekkie Monster (“The Internet Is for Porn”).
Tim Kornblum is amusing as the slacker Brian (“It Sucks to Be Me”), who works part-time as emcee at the Around the Clock Café; but Lisa Helmi Johanson is hilarious as Brian’s new Asian-American bride Christmas Eve (“The More You Ruv Someone”), who is already feed up with his shiftless ways. But it is the meddlesome Bad Idea Bears (impishly impersonated by Michael Liscio and Kerri Brackin) who steal the show as they pop up at pregnant moments to give Princeton colossally bad advice on a variety of subjects.
SECOND OPINION: April 23rd Raleigh, NC Classical Voice of North Carolina review by Jeffrey Rossman: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=3310. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the April 18th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/04/avenue-q-plays-dpac-april-19th-and-20th/.)
The Musical: http://www.avenueq.com/ (official website), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avenue_Q (Wikipedia), and http://ibdb.com/show.php?id=11189 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Tour: http://www.avenueqontour.com/ (official website).
Work Light Productions: http://www.worklightproductions.com/ (official website).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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