Theater Review: Broadly Comedic And Moving ‘Avenue Q’
NEW MILFORD — TheatreWorks New Milford is currently offering the edgy, puppet populated and Tony Award winning musical Avenue Q, with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marks, book by Jeff Whitty, and based on the original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marks. These are adult-only puppets with a message for the child in all of us.
Set entirely on an urban street, congested with tenements and inner city debris, the story is rife with humanity, bawdy humor and sweet sentiment. Characters in the form of Sesame Street-like puppets as well as real people seek meaning and connection. The initial introduction to the cast of characters is through a song in which they all compete to be living a life that is worse than any one else's, a pity party of sorts.
Princeton, played by Mike L'Altrella, moves to Avenue Q fresh out of college and eager to get started on his life's purpose. There is just one problem: he has no idea what that is.
On his journey he encounters love and lust, by way of Kate Monster (Patricia McCarthy) and Lucy (Carey Van Hollen). He is a lost soul, repeatedly tempted by the Bad Idea Bears (Carey Van Hollen and Jamison Daniels) into poor choices which set him back and leave him further from his purpose.
Other inhabitants of Avenue Q include Nicky (Jamison Daniels), a sloppy, he-man with a serious five o'clock shadow who resides with Rod (Mike L'Atrella), a closeted, and very tidy, gay man who secretly pines for Nicky. Trekkie Monster, a twist on Cookie Monster, is a porn addict with a heart, played by Jamison Daniels. All of these characters are brought to life by very skilled puppeteers who are also wildly energetic actors.
The characters also include Gary Coleman (Jasmin Love Barbosa) — yes, that Gary Coleman — now an accommodating, somewhat bitter building super with a dry sense of humor and adorable overalls. The "normal" people on the street are an odd couple named Christmas Eve (Bo Mi Him) and Brian (Glenn R. Couture).
The action revolves around this eclectic group as they mix, mingle and work their way toward some sense of fulfillment. They yearn for lives of love and purpose, prosperity and connection. Through a multitude of catchy songs and scenarios, life lessons are imparted. The final number reminds the characters, and the audience, that life is cyclical. Better times are ahead, just be patient and keep moving.
Skillfully directed by Bradford Blake, with musical direction by Charles Smith, the production is both broadly comedic and moving. Precision is essential to the success of a play such as this. The direction of this piece is so detailed and precise that it appears effortless.
This entire cast is the epitome of the incredible talent that inhabits community theatres. The cast members who give life to the puppets not only act, sing and dance, they also manipulate the puppets. Many actors imbue several different puppets with distinct vocals and characteristics. It is a tour de force, and incredibly funny.
Jasmin Love Barbosa, Bo Mi Yim and Glenn R. Couture, the actors without puppets, convincingly and realistically interact with the puppets.
The vocal capability of the cast as a whole is excellent. Each carries their solos and ensemble numbers with impressive range and depth. Outrageous and politically incorrect songs such as "Everyone Is A Little Bit Racist" and "The Internet Is For Porn" are delivered with as much sentiment as the ballad "There's A Fine, Fine Line" and the finale "For Now."
This is a true ensemble effort. The generosity of all of the players allows each of them to take the spotlight and shine.
The drab tenement set is a perfect backdrop for the color and fantasy which reveal the life behind the brick exterior.
The playful nature of the presentation does not obscure the emotional impact of this play. Go see it. Be entertained, and enlightened, because "everything in life is just for now."