Following its sensational, Broadway-caliber revival of A Chorus Line, 3-D Theatricals now presents the Southern California Regional Premiere of Avenue Q, the Tony-winning Best Musical of 2003, and once again comes up with a production that rivals the Broadway original from start to finish.

 As any Broadway buff will tell you, the Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx, and Jeff Whitty off-Broadway-to-Broadway (and back-to-off-Broadway) smash imagines what might happen if puppet characters like those you or your kids grew up watching on Sesame Street started singing songs and teaching life lessons about adult topics, things like sexual orientation, racism, Internet porn, and Schadenfreude (that’s German for people taking pleasure in your pain).

“Sesame Street For Adults” is just one way to sum up this ingenious blend of fuzzy-faced puppets, live human actors, melodious songs, and “instructional” video segments brought together in a thoroughly entertaining coming-of-age story chili-peppered with R-rated language and at least one scene of puppet-on-puppet sex.

Whitty’s Tony-winning book first introduces us to a dapper young chap named Princeton (Louis Pardo, manipulating a Jim Hensonesque hand puppet as do all but three of the show’s actors), freshly graduated with a B.A. in English and no idea what to do with his life after “four years of college and plenty of knowledge have earned me this useless degree.”

Fortunately for Princeton, his apartment hunting has led him from Avenue A to the far more affordable Avenue Q and a promising “For Rent” sign in a building supered by none other than TV’s Gary Coleman (Angela Wildflower Polk) and peopled by roommates Rod (Pardo playing an additional role as do several other cast members/puppeteers) and Nicky (Nathan Danforth), live-in lovers Brian (C.J Porter) and Christmas Eve (Camille Chen), sweet young thing Kate Monster (Caitlin Humphreys), and upstairs grouch Trekkie Monster (Danforth)—all of the above vying for suckiest life in “It Sucks To Be Me.”

Brian’s been laid off, his dreams of becoming a famous late-night TV comedian put on indefinite hold, and as for Kate Monster, despite having a love of music and art (along with a gigantic heart), the furry young thing can’t help asking herself the age-old question “Why don’t I have a boyfriend?” and answering it with “Fuck! It sucks to be me!” Nicky complains about Rod’s anal-compulsive need to iron his underwear as the latter gripes about finding Nicky’s clothes strewn everywhere, making “that very small apartment we share a hell.” Japanese-born therapist Christmas Eve has two Master’s Degrees in social work (but no clients), an unemployed fiancé, and way too many bills to pay. As for Gary Coleman, well how would you like to make a ton of money that gets stolen by your folks and then have to suffer one stranger after another stopping to ask you, “What you talkin’ ‘bout Willis?”

 In song after tuneful, clever song (music and lyrics by Lopez and Marx), we get to know these self-proclaimed losers-in-life up close and personal. Nicky (and just about everyone else on the avenue) is convinced that uptight Republican Rod is a repressed closet case, and won’t he just do them all a favor and come out? Kate is almost immediately smitten by new-kid-in-town Princeton, particularly when he makes her “A Mix Tape.” Meanwhile, Christmas Eve nags hubby Brian in an accent so sing-song that it would be offensive in any show other than Avenue Q, whose characters celebrate in song that “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist,” or as Christmas Eve puts it, “a rittle bit lacest.”

Not much “happens” plot-wise in Avenue Q, though a night on the town does introduce the gang to cabaret skank Lucy The Slut (Humphreys), much to Kate Monster’s dismay and Princeton’s temporary delight, Princeton and Lucy’s one-nighter leading to some major life changes in Act Two.

Mostly, Avenue Q unfolds as a series of humorous life lessons taught and learned in song, à la Sesame Street, though with considerably saltier language and themes, ditties with titles like “The Internet Is For Porn,” “You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love),” and “Schadenfreude,” German for “watching a vegetarian being told she just ate chicken, or watching a frat boy realize just what he put his dick in!”

 3-D Theatricals Artistic Director T.J. Dawson knows not to mess with success, re-staging Ken Roberson’s original Broadway choreography as well as co-directing Avenue Q alongside Porter, who knows the show backwards and forwards having appeared as Brian in the First National Tour. Also helping to replicate the look and feel of the New York original are scenic designer Anna Louizos’s Broadway set, co-creator Lopez’s original Sesame Street-esque videos, and most importantly, the Broadway puppets conceived and designed by Rick Lyon.

Another way 3-D’s Avenue Q sticks with the original New York concept is in having several of the all-in-black-clad actor/puppeteers play two or even three puppet characters each, the better to distinguish between puppet and human characters. Pardo, for example, voices and manipulates both Princeton and Rod, puppets which occasionally get manipulated by Jill-Of-All-Trades Teya Patt, the better to allow Princeton and Rod to be onstage at the same time, with Pardo continuing to voice them both. Polk, Porter, and Chen, on the other hand, are Gary, Brian, and Christmas Eve and are costumed as the characters they play. Got that?

It’s hard to imagine a better cast than the one assembled on the Chapman Auditorium stage, beginning with the always terrific Pardo, who’s been a 3-D staple since his hilarious turn as Smee in Peter Pan, the company’s maiden production in 2009. Like the Broadway’s John Tartaglia, Pardo creates two very different but equally winning characters, flamboyant Rod and laid-back Princeton, who just happen to be puppets. (Credit director of puppetry Christian Anderson for whipping the 3-D cast into Broadway-ready shape in record time.) CSUF Musical Theater BFA program senior Humphreys makes a stellar professional debut as girl-next-door Kate Monster and tramp-next-door Lucy The Slut, Sandra Bullock one minute and Megan Fox the next, and singing gorgeously as both. The dashing Danforth’s background in both puppetry and musical theater make him the perfect choice to play Nicky, Trekkie Monster, a Bad Idea Bear, “and others” to delightful effect. Chen makes the quirky, ditzy l-&-r-switching Christmas Eve very much her adorable, irascible own, Polk’s perky Gary Coleman is full of boyish zest and pizzazz, and Porter is a big bundle of warmth as Brian. Patt provides expert support, whether portraying Mrs. Thistletwat or a Bad Idea Bear, manipulating someone else’s puppet, or providing Nicky’s and Trekkie Monster’s second arm. Puppeteering behind the set are Matthew Benedict and Adrianna Rose Lyons, who understudy every role but Brian, covered by Dawson.

Musical director extraordinaire David Lamoureux conducts the production’s topnotch pit orchestra, with Broadway’s Stephen Oremus responsible for Avenue Q’s awesome orchestrations and arrangements.

 Adding their expertise to the Broadway design team are local talents Aja Bell (costume designer), Jean-Yves Tessier (lighting designer), John Feinstein (sound designer), and Terry Hanrahan (prop designer/set decorator). (Note: At the performance reviewed, it was occasionally hard to understand certain lines and lyrics, even for someone who knows Avenue Q as well as this reviewer.)

William Coiner is production stage manager, Hanrahan assistant stage manager, and Chris Beyries is technical director. Jeanette Dawson, Daniel Dawson, and Gretchen Dawson are co-producers.

Social conservatives and parents of younger kids are hereby forewarned. Avenue Q gets an R-rating for uncensored raunch and progressive themes, so anyone who might be offended or (worst case scenario) scarred for life should remain safe within the confines of their Traditional American Value homes. For everyone else, Avenue Q is rated F—for fantastic, fabulous fun.

Plummer Auditorium, 210 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton.

Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Boulevard, Redondo Beach.


–Steven Stanley
July 15, 2012
Photos: Isaac James Creative

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