'Avenue Q' at Theatreworks New Milford
Avenue Q, the unconventional tuner touted as the "Sesame Street for adults" by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty, is truly the little show that could. It is the musical that snatched the 2004 Tony "Triple Crown" for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book from Broadway juggernaut Wicked. It is the production that set the trend for downsizing Broadway shows to smaller Off-Broadway houses, allowing it continued life. It is the show that launched the career of Robert Lopez, the 12th person to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony and the first to win all four within the span of a decade. It also boasts being the 23rd longest running musical on Broadway.
Under the meticulous direction of Bradford Blake, TheatreWorks New Milford's production of Avenue Q is fresh, entertaining and lovable. The musical, whose primary audience grew up learning from puppets and Schoolhouse Rock, employs the conventions of educational television to impart wisdom of a different sort. Who knew in 2003 how timeless the themes addressed in Avenue Q would be? Underemployment, romantic entanglements, accepting differences and over-idealized expectations of our life's purpose remain at the forefront of so many of our lives, no matter our age. While the subject matter doesn't sound like fodder for a musical comedy, with the help of clever songs, raunchy humor and those adorable puppets, we find our funny bone is being tickled while our heartstrings are being tugged.
For those not familiar with Avenue Q, the story follows the recently graduated Princeton as he takes up residence in a neighborhood in an outer-outer borough of New York City. With his B.A. in English proudly displayed on his wall, Princeton befriends the humans and monsters of Avenue Q, who share similar uncertainties, challenges, successes and failures in post-college life. Lopez and composer/lyricist Jeff Marx provide a witty soundtrack that explores the challenges of political correctness with "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist," or reminds us that the "Internet Is For Porn."
Arguably, the stars of the show are the ones covered in felt and fur, and they are manipulated and voiced by a top-notch assembly of talent. As protagonist Princeton and closeted Republican Rod, Mike L'Atrella masterfully synergizes puppet and actor. There are times the movement of puppet and puppeteer are so synchronized that you don't feel you are watching two separate entities but instead are watching one single character. L'Atrella's facial expressions expertly animated the faces of the otherwise immobile puppets.
As the altruistic Kate Monster, Patricia McCarthy is sweet, sassy and soulful. Her expressive eyes and childlike pout bring Kate an innocence that makes the X-rated tryst with Princeton during "You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want" all the more riotous. Conversely, McCarthy's rendition of the melodic "There's A Fine, Fine Line" is memorable and heartbreaking.
Carey Van Hollen and Jamison Daniels expertly manipulate the two-person puppets of Nicky and Trekkie Monster. Moving hands and mouths in concert is a challenge that the actors rise to without missing a beat. As Lucy the Slut, Van Hollen pulls of the right blend of Mae West vocals and Marilyn Monroe sashay. Jamison's characterization of the lewd Trekkie Monster and good-natured Nicky are perfect.
Rounding out the cast are the humans. Glenn Couture brings a nice sarcastic tone to wannabe comedian Brian. As Christmas Eve, Bo Mi Yim masters her one-liners with aplomb and Jasmin Love Barbosa lends the right amount of snark and eye-rolling to child-actor-turned-building-super Gary Coleman.
Musical director Charles Smith leads a stellar five-person band and mention should be made of one of the most musically poignant moments of the evening when L'Atrella, McCarthy and Daniels navigated the tight harmonies of "I Wish I Could Go Back To College." The band, however, is located in the back of the house and the volume levels sometimes overwhelmed the actors onstage, making it difficult to hear them.
TheatreWorks consistently raises the bar when it comes to the technical aspect of their shows and this production is no exception. Richard Pettibone and Glenn Couture's homage to that familiar street we know so well is spot on. What appears at first to be a simple apartment building façade effectively transforms into the interior of several apartments, a strip bar, the top of the Empire State Building and a bedroom. Mr. Pettibone and Scott Wyshynski's lighting design and Suzi Pettibone's costume design are simple, yet effective. A word of praise should also be mentioned for the stage management crew who helped the actors with what, at times, can be three or four versions of the same puppet character.
In a time when musicals tend to be selected by theatres based on their timelessness, Avenue Q is becoming a permanent fixture in the musical theatre canon. With a bright score and a humorous and heartfelt book, Avenue Q provides an excellent evening of entertainment and it is flawlessly executed by TheatreWorks, proving that they deservedly earned their recognition as the Best Community Theatre in Connecticut.