A Terrific Production of “Avenue Q”
When I first saw “Avenue Q” in New York on a hot and hilarious August night in 2003 at the John Golden Theatre I fell in love Princeton, Rod, Nicky, Kate, Gary, Kate, Lucy and Christmas Eve. Even though some were puppets they became real people to me since I knew persons just like them when working in Hollywood.
So on Saturday night I returned to the New Conservatory Theatre Center to this Tony Award triple crown winner (Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score). This was the second time I had seen this brilliant company of actors handle and speak the words of the puppets. Once again I was mesmerized by not only the puppets but the persons who handgrip these puppets. They actually merged with these characters. There were persons in the audience that were actually mouthy the clever lyrics by Jeff Marx as I was silently. Everyone was laughing in the audience at all of gags in this great two hour production.
The is “Sesame Street” for adults with adult predicaments like infuriating roommates, addiction to internet porn and one night stands. The plot centers around Princeton (William Giammona) a recent college grad that moves into a shabby New York apartment all the way out on Avenue Q in Manhattan. Once there, he meets Kate the monster (Stephanie Temple), who lives next door, Rod (also William Giammona) a closeted gay Republican; Treekie (Christopher Morrell) a hairy monster and Nicky (also Christopher Morrell) Rod’s roommate ; Mrs. Thistletwat a teacher (Hayley Nystrom) and Lucy, the slot (Stephanie Temple). Of course he also meets real live humans such as Brian a hopeful comic (Zac Schuman), his intended bride Christmas Eve a therapist (Teresa Attridge) and Gary Coleman the super of the building now all grown up (Paige Mayes)
Robert Lopez’s music is carefree and happy-go-lucky and Jeff Marx aggressively contrasts the effervescent jingles with wonderful chorales like “It Sucks to Be Me” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”.
The small stage is sized just right for this small screen inspired satire with just enough square footage to accommodate Kuo Hao Lo’s colorfully dingy city block without seeming swallowed up. And Dennis Lickteig who beautifully directed this charming musical ideal cast rips into the material with equal parts heart and comic brio.
William Giammona is charismatic as the loveable, confused Princeton and then morphs beautifully into the uptight Republican investment banker Rod who does not knew he is really gay. Christopher Morrell is engaging as both the monster Trekkie and the ineptly well-meaning Nicky. He is terrific singing “If You Were Gay” (‘If you were gay, that’d be okay….I’d like you anyway….It’s in your DNA). Both put their frames to hilarious physical use and achieve an impressive kind of hand-mind meld with their puppets. This is also true of Stephanie Temple who brings some unexpected but delicious dark tones to sweet ingénue Kate Monster. Paige Mayes is hilarious as the adult television icon Gary Coleman, the apartment super who is now broke (his parents took all of his money). She has the look and manners of this grown up television personality.
Zac Schuman and Teresa Attridge give wonderful performances as Brian and Christmas Eve, the odd couple and the only non-puppet characters besides Gary Coleman. Schumann is splendid in the role of the maladroit wannabe comedian who not only sings but tap dances to “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today”. Teresa Attridge absolutely murders Asian-American therapist Christmas Eve dialectally challenged power number “The More You “Ruv” Someone”. Hayley Nystrom rounds out this great cast playing exceptionally Mrs. Thistletwat, Bad Idea Bear and an auxiliary puppeteer.
This comedy’s whole cast quickly avoids every possible crack in the sidewalk empathizing with us over modern life’s clouds as a method of temporarily sweeping them away. “Avenue Q” runs through February 1st at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 100 Van Ness, off Market Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or on line at email@example.com
Photos by Lois Tema